Adland is a pretty ruthless place. Timelines are tight, briefs are challenging and standards are high. When teams are tasked with creating a killer campaign, they need to come up with game-changing ideas under high pressure, regularly.
But sparks of genius don’t happen without elbow grease. Any road to a great idea is fraught with road blocks, breakdowns and dead-ends. So it’s super helpful to have some go-to tools in the trunk. That’s why top creatives have methods and processes to make sure they get to their destination, every time.
If you need a creative solution to your business problem, or you're struggling to come up with a new product for your startup - employing these tried and trusted agency methods can help you break through and achieve consistent creative results.
#1: Just Go For Volume
The great advertising man Josy Paul, who created India's empowering Share the Load campaign, once told a room full of fellow creative colleagues:
"Leonardo Da Vinci made more than 300 paintings, sculptures and inventions. People only really care about three of them. Creativity is a numbers game."
To get to an innovative idea, you have to get through a lot of ideas. That means pouring them out. Empty your brain of everything it has, and it will run dry. Then you’ll either have something great or having got rid of all the obvious options, your brain can start the real work.
Anne Lamont calls this "The Vomit Pass." Allow yourself to come up with bad ideas - it doesn't matter. Just get them out and keep going. Kill your inner editor. The more ideas you let yourself have, the more chance one of them will be great, or you’ll get to a great one later on.
#2: Ask and Answer
This is simple yet highly effective, and the one that lead me to the best campaign ideas. Here’s what you do: pose your problem as a question, and keep coming up with answers.
When you run out of answers, change the question.
Let’s say the task is to create a campaign to show how Coke is a great Summer drink.
Ask: If Coca Cola is the ultimate feeling of summer, then… what happens when you drink it at -30?
When you run out of answers, change it:
If Coca Cola is so full of sunshine that it makes you feel it’s Summer in Winter, what would that look like?
If Coca Cola is spreading the joy of Summer all over the world, how are other Winter creatures reacting?
And so on. Your answers will trigger larger ideas. And new questions will open new doors.
#3: Go Subconscious
A Technique for Producing Ideas was first published in 1965 and remains a widely read book in the ad industry. (It helps that it’s short).
The paraphrased version goes like this: work on your problem until your brain starts bleeding. Do it until you can't possibly do it anymore – until you feel you’re torturing yourself. Then do something else. Something totally different. Jogging, knitting – it doesn’t matter.
Your subconscious keeps breaking down the problem and crossing the wires inside your brain. Then - in a flash of insight, the idea will come to you.
Sound ridiculous? There's a reason this book is famous, because the technique works.
#4: Metaphors & Similes
Metaphors are used so commonly in our world that we barely notice them anymore: Life is a roller coaster. A couch potato. She was a shining star. All metaphors.
As Roger von Oech says in A Whack On The Side of the Head:
“Metaphors help us to understand one idea by means of another.”
They're also a powerful tool to be harnessed.
Perhaps you’re struggling for a name, a headline or a logo direction for your company. Most people would start by saying “I want something that sounds…” Or: “I want something that looks…” Instead, try coming up with metaphors and similes that come from the core of your business, like this:
Our mobile app car-recovery service is like... a light at the end of the tunnel. (Logo idea)
Our casual, fun-first company culture is like... hanging with your college buddies every day. (Recruitment page photo and headline)
Our unbreakable locks are like… The locked jaws of a great white shark. (Name idea - SharkLocks)
#5: Try to be Wrong
Yep. That's right. Stop trying to be correct and try to be incorrect. Come up with the worst possible answers. Come up with the idiotic, the outrageous, the scandalous.
This is often employed in brainstorming sessions when creatives are exhausted and are taking a gallows-humour break from their real chase. But it's a real part of the process. Because it breaks open doors and avenues that cannot be found when you're trying ...
So don't shoot down the bad ideas in meetings. Embrace them. Make it a part of your process. When someone says: “What if the headline is: Don’t buy this, it’s crap.” Start riffing. What if it was something like that? How could you make that approach work?
Make it Messy
These are techniques I have learned from great teachers and that I have employed myself and seen agencies use. The road to a game-changing idea, whether it's in advertising, business or technology, is rarely a straight one. Use these methods as a mix and match, use one then move on to the other, as part of a messy process.
But just keep them in your toolbox. Tools are always handy.