As creatives, it can be difficult to move from all the ideas, to good ideas, to truly great ideas. And that's where creative concepting comes in. In this final episode of The Anatomy of an Ad, Nathan Spell and Lindsay Boyd will discuss how to dive into ad generation and the tools needed to go from "just okay" to "show stopping".

Podcast Transcript

All great ads have one thing in common. They're built on great ideas, ideas that resonate with deep human truth and inspire action that wouldn't occur otherwise without the power of a great ad at its core, your ad is doomed to be forgotten or worse ignored. In this episode of On the Mic with Ad Results Media, we're finishing up our series on The Anatomy of an Ad with the discussion on creative concepting, also known as idea generation we'll discuss the mindset, techniques and tools Ad makers used to produce the large number of potential ideas needed to find a great idea and we'll share tips on how to go from the big idea to polished ads without getting bogged down. If you've ever wondered what it takes to go from a blank page to a creative ad that people actually enjoy this episode is for you.

So let's get Started. Most people don't realize this, but there's a lot of science About how much problem solving your subconscious does. You never know whenever that flashes can spread. There are no bad ideas at the beginning. If it's a great idea, you'll know it. All right. So Nathan, we have discussed brand we've discussed strategy, and that brings us to the final episode of this series. So what's the next step in the process.

(1m 26s):
Next comes concepting. And all of that means is it's it's time for us to come up with some, some great ideas. And, you know, the emphasis is really on great ideas because there's this idea that good can really be the enemy of great, great ideas that are executed well, they stand out, but you know, a good idea or a merely good idea, even when it's supremely like executed, it's ultimately just gonna kind of fade away into like a sea of average. A great idea is something that can become larger than just a campaign or a one-off. It can really become a brand's platform. And the fact is that there's just no way to stretch something that's just good enough and do something that big. It just will never fit Coming up with a great idea.

(2m 7s):
Sounds easy in theory, but how do you actually come up with that idea? There's this quote, I really like that Hemingway supposedly said, which is writing is easy. All you need to do is sit at a typewriter and bleed. There's lots of hard work that has to happen, but I don't agree that it necessarily needs to be torture. One thing that is really important is that creating and concept, it requires openness. And I think that's a big pitfall for not just people who don't think of themselves as creative types, but especially for creative types, because it's really important that you don't let the sort of censor in the person that is inside you saying no, that's not a good idea. No, this is not a good idea.

(2m 47s):
You know, you got to get your mindset right up front and allow that openness to be so that ideas can come. You want a lot of ideas. You have to digest that brief, that we just talked about how important the strategy is. And the first sort of step as a creative is to really dig into that and process it. Maybe do a little bit of thinking on paper, but at that point it's honestly, I think it's best to, to give it some space if possible. Maybe that means literally going for a walk or even better sleeping on it. Most people don't realize this, but there's a lot of science About how much problem solving your subconscious does. And a lot of that happens while you're asleep. So in a weird way, you can work.

(3m 28s):
Even when you're not working at a subconscious level, your mind is sort of letting that problem marinade, and that really will produce a better outcome. It's it feels like magic, but if you just start rattling off half baked ideas before you've even dug in, you never gonna get the same result that you could. If you let your subconscious really sick sink its teeth in upfront, I feel like my best ideas honestly come when I'm either in the shower or driving to and from work. So I actually have a little booklet that I keep with me a little journal that I jot down notes, no lie. I keep one of my car and I keep one on my bedside table so I can write things down as I, as they come to me.

(4m 12s):
That's great. And that's actually a really good practice for someone whose trying to come up with concepts. Like you never know whenever that flash is going to strike. So writer's in general that want to be prolific. They do keep paper on their person so that anytime that inspiration comes, you're there ready for it. That's absolutely what you need to do at some point, obviously you're going to have to come back and you can't just like go out and say, okay, let me just sleep on it. And definitely that's not at all what I'm saying here. You know, you have to sit down and actually do the brainstorming, but even if it looks weird, you know, like taking the time to really dig in and take a step back and let your mind and your body sort of process things at a subconscious level is still work.

(4m 53s):
Even if it, it looks a little strange, you know, you're starting to get that sort of intuitive grasp that can only come from that really deep processing. So that intuition about the brand that intuition about the target and the proposition and the strategy itself, that's all sort of this fertile soil that you're going to be really using as the foundation for the idea generation. And at that point, you're able to cast a lot of seeds and see what grows. And only at that point, can you really start curating from a vast amount of ideas to find the truly great ones? So how exactly do you go about brainstorming to get a great idea instead of a good one?

(5m 34s):
We sort of hit on this already, but you had to set some ground rules. There are obviously truly no rules in creation. I'm not going to sit here and say that there are absolutely like the laws, but what I will say is most creative people will agree that the boundaries that they set for themselves are actually part of what makes the creation possible. Its sort of like having all of this water that you could just sort of like dump versus having a nozzle that you can pinpoint and really focus all of that potential energy. Right? So some of the ground rules that I think that you had to set some of the boundaries for yourself, there are no bad ideas at the beginning, none.

(6m 15s):
And if you're like me at all, this is very difficult. It's very difficult. It's so much easy to say no stupid questions, no bad ideas. Just let it all get out there. And that sounds really nice. And then you go to sit down and the page and everything you put down there, you'll find a reason why it, you should just scratch it out. Or if you're typing, this is why you actually probably should not type out your ideas at first, not only because handwriting actually connects to a different part of your brain and sort of allows for some nonverbal processing, but also because sitting at the, at the computer at the word processor, your basically in edit mode As you're in create mode and that's the opposite of what we want.

(6m 56s):
We want no pessimism. We want total play. And that can be scary. I think for maybe for non creative types to see a creative person working up front, it might call into question like why would you even propose some of these ideas? Because there's always some sort of obvious like, Oh, that's a terrible idea. There's, there's always that kind of a response. But when it comes to problem solving like the open-hearted optimism, that sort of childlike almost naive, what if kind of process that is really what what's needed to get the type of quantity of ideas that we're talking about upfront. So that's the first ground rule that's said no bad ideas.

(7m 38s):
Let it all out. It's hard. Write it by hand. Don't scratch anything out. Keep writing, keep writing, keep writing. I think that writing it by hand is a really good piece of advice. I know that personally, whenever I type up ideas, especially creative ones that I tend to get a little too friendly with the backspace button. It's a very bad habit of mine, but yeah, writing it by hand, definitely the way to go. I'm less likely to scratch out an idea. I tend to just kind of keep that running list just going. So I, I think that that, that should be the top of everybody's list. Sometimes you might hear like a platitude sort of like trust the process and it feels vague.

(8m 21s):
Like what does that mean? Trust the process. I think a lot of times this is what people are actually trying to explain, trust that in the process of just generation just generating ideas, something lasting, something that will rise to the top is going to be worth all of that sort of mess that you had to go through. And you know, one way that you can get clear that sort of close mine did since Sorial thinking that we're talking about being sort of the enemy of this is asking the question. What if over and over you don't ask why that ask what if this and then move on. What if this, what if this, it opens you up?

(9m 3s):
It lets you instead take that time to get to all of the ideas that you need because ultimately you're not gonna get it on the first try and you have to let go of that expectation. So with that in mind, I think another kind of rule would be ask those open-ended what if questions and, and do a lot of this on your own don't show these really young ideas to a God. Don't show it to a client for your own good and for their good don't show them the mess and don't show it necessarily even to a coworker or someone who's a supervisor of your creative work. Not because they wouldn't understand, but because it's too easy to be influenced early on by other people's points of view.

(9m 46s):
And it's also tempting to take their feedback as criticism, even if it's not meant to, maybe they're trying to give you generative feedback, but we take it as an, as a sort of personal attack. And you know, there's that, I think we've talked about this in another Podcast, the whole kill your darlings thing. This is not that like, this is none of these are your darlings because they haven't been alive long enough. You know, that saying is all about when you're editing a piece of work and there's that one thing that doesn't fit, but you just love it. Like that's something that you slaved over and you're, you're like doll in my precious that's when it's time to let go, but this is not that this is what we're just trying to actually let it all out.

(10m 27s):
This is digging as far as we can go because we don't know which of these ideas might end up being the goldmine that we need. So we've brainstormed, we've let loose. We've said no to that internal critic. Now we have just this like huge pile of ideas. So what's what comes after that. We should have a hundred ideas if we want to get 10 final ideas or maybe more. And if, and if you want one fun, an idea that you should probably do at least 10 to 20, depending on, you know, depending on what we're talking about here, but in the context of, of coming up with a great Ad, the quantity, his part of the quality. So at this point, like you said, we have this mass of ideas and we don't know like which of these might work.

(11m 9s):
And that's when it's time to go through them critically and to sort of sift through all of these potential ideas, we've compiled and decide, which we think are strongest. And only at this point, are we going to use the tool of Y which is that question? Why would this work upfront? We were just asking, what if we do this? What if we try that? What if this means this? You know, but now we're saying, well, why does that work? Why does that On strategy? Why would it be impactful if it does seem impactful? Why is that? And that's when you get, if you can answer that question, well, you get the idea that could be, you know, the platform, if it's a great idea, you'll know it, one example I thought ahead of this was one of my like favorite just Advertising ideas was that, you know, the old spice guy love that guy.

(11m 58s):
The one on the horse. Yeah. Yes. I'm on a horse. Why does this fantastical debonair, old spice guy work? Why does that idea work? You know, like everything is it's, it's absurd. It's, it's a magical realism in that, in that Ad. And it's obviously beautifully produced. It was incredible. But what is it about the Ad that made everyone go? That's a really good, that's a great ad. And, and actually, you know, people were seeking out that Ad. That's what makes it a great idea when people are going knocking down On knocking on your door to say, Hey, do you have any more of those ads? Cause that was really funny that doesn't normally happen. I think the reason that the word is in part, because of this realization that there are actually tons of women that are buying men's body wash for their partners.

(12m 42s):
And when they like posing the idea of like, what if we had this, you know, fantastical, debonair air, the guy who goes around just like basically saying, look at your man, look back at me. Why does that work? It's like, well, because he's the man your man could smell like, and that goes back to that is the campaign idea. And that's actually, I think the tag line of that campaign. So that was like an example of how this all fits together. But one way to like test these ideas and see how well they work is to latch onto one and create something like a manifesto or a mantra, depending on what words you prefer there, what will this will allow you to do is just kind of like play with the verbiage and like, see like how strong is this really? An example of that came to mind for that was, Apple's think different.

(13m 24s):
You know, that Ad here's to the crazy ones. It goes on, that's a manifesto and it has an air of manifesto to it. I can find similar examples for like Nike just do it. And all of those ideas became huge. Platform's in part because you know, you can, if you can write in a manifesto with the idea, it's probably pretty strong because that means that you communicating to some emotional center of the person that you're really trying to reach. And, you know, it's important if you're writing these, not too sort of posture to put on some sort of an air, but actually to find it an idea that it connects to the target, like a friend, generally speaking people don't want to be. People relate to people who act like them. People like us do things like this as Seth Godin likes to frame it.

(14m 6s):
You know, if you take a different tone, like a purposefully lofty tone, it had better be like with a nudge and a wink because generally speaking people, aren't going to resonate with that unless it's done like humorously or sort of with that irony that this is, this is way off from what I expected. If that make sense, the process of far as is just calling it down to like, what works, why does it work? And how can we expand that? And to some truly like emotionally resonant piece of Advertising and to start to sort of sketch the outlines of what that might look like in a broad sense. So, you know, we have to ask ourselves like what kind of character we're trying to really manifest as a brand with this Advertising.

(14m 52s):
I like to think of this as like an archetype. I don't know if people are too familiar with, with Carl Young anymore, but he had this sort of framing of human personality is that we all fell in a psychologically put ourselves into these, you know, I think it was like 12 different archetypes that he kind of saw in all of our shared like mythology. So literature and art and music and such. This is something that you can easily like Google and look up. There's, there's something that you recognize, like in your favorite genre fiction that there's like these like kind of stock characters. It's something like that about how we think of ourselves in this situation, you know, I'm an authority figure and this situation, I'm a caregiver.

(15m 34s):
Maybe I'm a sibling who's taking care of the other person. You know? So all of these archetypes are just an example of like how a character can really be tied to what feels like sort of a stale word, like innovation. We hear that, that kind of a word where they, okay, innovation, that's a buzz word. But when you think of the sort of character that that could evoke like creative person and innovative thinker, what does that person really like? It gives you a way to sort of target the language, to think about how you can mesh with the people that you're really trying to reach. If you're working on a print campaign or any other sort of traditional Media where there's visuals involved at this stage, you might be creating some mood boards to kind of sketch out the vibe that's going to mesh with the target and the vibe that you're trying to really hone in on with the message itself.

(16m 24s):
And then for verbally, I think that's where the manifesto is sort of like the equivalent of a mood board. And then obviously like we work in Audio, there's a whole other component here, which is any sort of human voice that's going to be involved in Audio. There's so much that we associate just the emotional resonance of certain voices, that there's different ways of communicating beyond just the purely verbal. And so whether it's visual, whether it's the verbal, whether it's the Audio that you're going to be using, you want to find the tone and the demeanor that's going to gel most with the target that you're trying to reach. So I feel like we've come a long way. How do you move forward to the finished Ad?

(17m 6s):
Well, we're looking at it as at a high level, so it's a bit of an oversimplification here, but you've been coming up with these ideas and you've probably chosen at each point, you're choosing like, here's the best idea that I have right now. And that idea is not itself the execution. It is the place that you're going to kind of look to as the starting point for these tactics that you're going to develop. So a tactic in this case means, you know, how does this idea translate in different mediums? So in traditional media, how does this look visually on a billboard or digitally? How does this look as a banner ad? How does this feel on the web experience? How does it maybe translate to the product itself? Is there a way that we can bring this idea into something like an outside of the product itself is really a process of, again, for each of these tactics, you start with the rough jot down the QAPI in a rough way and think about the differences in those audiences.

(18m 2s):
You know, this is going to be a very different expectation. If I'm listening to an Audio spot in the radio ad, then what I might expect and social copy or an web copy, or what's going to work in a billboard. For example, I think the studies have shown that past seven words on a billboard it's it's, most people can't retain it. So you have to think about, okay, how much time and attention are people realistically going to devote to this Ad? You know, if someone's reading a magazine they're in gross in the Ad, they flip the page. There it is. There's something that they might just flip the page or they might not have, it has to grab them instantaneously with a Podcast. For example, you know, there's some of the similar I'm engrossed in a show and you have a moment where the host, who I've been already kind of drawn into, they start to talk about a product and I'm either drawn in immediately, or I start to skip.

(18m 52s):
And so we had to ask like, what is it that is going to work in all of these channels? That's the tactical kind of aspect of this. So its kind of like a mini brainstorm, but it's around this one idea now. And you know, you want to keep this process of roughing out the ideas to loosen up so that you're not getting bogged down in the refinements too early, but you also don't want to go so far off that something that you've developed for the product itself completely mismatches something you developed for the social to the point where they almost seem to be from two different ideas. If that makes sense. And then ultimately there's an endless amount of refinement you can do. You can, as you begin to like continuously tweak the layout, tweak the copy, tweak the, you know, the performance.

(19m 33s):
If it's something that's done as a, like a, maybe it's a television spot or Audio spot, there's an endless amount, no matter what you do at some point, the ad has to get shipped. So this is always going to be up to a certain taste maker, someone who is directing this to kind of say, Hey, here's our standards. And we started rough. We're revising the heck out of it. And we're going to rewrite it and rewrite it until it sings. People know like, okay, this is great. This is not. And sometimes it's hard to do that with your own work. And that's why having someone like a director who comes in and says like, you guys have been kind of in the trenches and I'm seeing this from a top level, I can say, this is, this is right or this isn't, that's super important.

(20m 14s):
But at a certain point they have to say, okay, we're done and kind of let it be what it is. And it's, it's a little hard sometimes to say like, okay, we're finished. I mean, we can put this away, but if you've done the work as thoroughly, as we've talked about up to this point and you have that critical eye coming in at the end to Polish things and Polish things until it's crafted really well, then you're going to end up with something that is powerful. I know that that was an interesting change for me to make personally kind of stepping away from being, as you said in the trenches to coming in at the end in saying yes, this works. No it doesn't. I know how difficult it can be for people to say, yes, this is, this is perfect. It's great. Especially when it's your own work.

(20m 55s):
I feel like it's something that's easier said than done for sure. Part of it is because you're going back and forth like the generative to the critical, just coming up with the ideas can be intoxicating. Sometimes that gets mixed up with the refinement stage at a certain point, if you can look at two versions and say, is this the same draft? You know, or is this the same execution? What's once you started having to do that game where it's like spot the differences and you can't decide, which is better, do you might be doing it to death and that's ultimately why the last stage of this all is always going to be getting feedback, showing your finished advertisements with someone who has closer to the target that you are is one good way to do that. It's way too easy to like, just find someone who's like a friend and things like you do.

(21m 39s):
And they're going to get all your jokes probably will. That's not what we want here. We want to know did someone who is liked the target, get this Ad and did it grab them. Don't just get feedback from your peers. Get feedback from friends who are maybe closer to that. Or maybe even from strangers and they'll start by showing a piece of work and saying, okay, so here's what it is. Don't explain it. Cause that doesn't, that's not how it works in the real world. No one says, okay, so for this next spot, we're going to have this character come in and he's going to do this and that's going to be the joke is that. And then you're going to get to know like that's not how it works. You know, it's in the wild, it has to live on its own, show the work and ask for their reaction, but don't preface it.

(22m 19s):
That's going to give you a pretty good idea. If you have something that's that's working with in the field, If you enjoyed this episode, be sure to subscribe for updates on future episodes and leave us a comment with your feedback, questions or ideas for future segments. If you would like more info on Ad Results Media and what we do, please visit us online at Ad Results. Media dot com. This podcast is an Ad Results, Media production.