Ten Ways To Make Smarter Ads

First quarter of portfolio school (at the Creative Circus) felt more like Finger Painting 101 than Intro to Creative Thinking. I didn’t appreciate it much then but I actually use some of the techniques I learned back then sometimes – like mind maps and word association.

I was cleaning recently and found my old “journal” (for lack of a better word) that I kept that quarter with ideas, collages, font explorations, ad ideas, drawings, poetry, quotes, short stories and all manners of randomness. Some of it made me laugh, some of it made me think, some of it actually inspired me.

Like this gem (that I painstakingly retyped to share with you. I deserve a cookie.)

Ten Ways To Make Smarter Ads

1.     Ask yourself: “What’s the benefit?” Write it down. Memorize it. Live with it for a while. Mull it over while you do other stuff. You can’t make the ad unless you know what the benefit is. If you can’t say it clearly, you can’t restate it in a unique way. And that’s what good ads do – they say the benefit in a unique way.
2.     If you’re a writer, think visually. If you’re an art director, write headlines. Neither side of the equation is proprietary.
3.     Go watch somebody buy it. You don’t have to go up and ask them anything. Just look at who they are, how they look. Figure out what kind of kid they were in high school. One key to a good ad is to approach the proposition form the customer’s point of view.
4.    Headline: “Blah-blah-blah-blah-blah, dumb shit.” Every human being that ever lived engages in a running dialogue with him or herself. Within the context of that dialogue, the tone is candid and forthright – and virtually universal. They don’t pull their punches. Since they (we) are familiar with it, you (we) should use it where appropriate.
5.    If you borrowed any interest, march right over and return it. Borrowed interest is a crutch we’re all tempted to use. It takes something vaguely related to the subject and tries to center the ad up over there. Like building an ad about remembering your new area code by having an elephant dial the phone. Borrowed interest is a creative cop out. It says “We couldn’t find any interesting way to couch the proposition, so we gave up.”
6.    More ideas, dammit. Too many young creatives mistake thinking real hard for thinking real well. It’s not about sitting there, grunting and straining. If you do that, you’ll just pull a mental muscle. It’s more about having a lot of ideas. How does the proposition look from over here? What about up there? How would a comedian say it? How would it look upside down? Take the benefit statement and say it/ show it as many different ways as possible.
7.    If you can’t split it with a meat cleaver, skewer it with whimsy. We tend to see or accept one tone as appropriate for whatever the subject of the ad might be. (For example: Beer is about belly laughs for guys.) Sometimes (and it’s painfully obvious in retrospect) another tonal approach might not only be appropriate. It might also open up whole new areas for you to explore.
8.    Never smother your partner’s baby. Creating ads in teams isn’t about “my idea” vs “your idea.” It isn’t about voting on concepts one at a time as they happen. It’s about fostering a mutual respect – a generosity of spirit that lets you volley and serve and work in tandem.
9.    The middle of the night is nice. Make yourself get up out of bed and start thinking about the proposition. Sit somewhere deathly quiet and stare at a blank piece of paper. When you’re tempted to get up and walk around, don’t. Sit there and stare at that paper until something happens or you crawl back to bed a failure in total self-revulsion. And if the great idea doesn’t come, don’t worry. It’ll probably happen in that state right before you wake up.
10. Work on it subconsciously. There’s a little trick to teach yourself. You can work on the proposition when you’re not working on the proposition. You can shove it down into a deeper part of your brain and roll it around while you’re sleeping or doing other things. It really works. I’ve dreamed One Show Ads that way.

- Author unknown (well, to me at least.)