Great ad. Where’s the idea?

What do you call a machete massacred deer with no eyes and no legs? Still bloody no idea. That’s one of my favourite progressive pun jokes. He hasn’t got eyes so he’s a no-eye-deer. He can’t run because he has no legs. Still no idea. You get the point. When you’re eight it’s hilarious.

It’s the same basic premise as the Wonkey Donkey. Brilliant book, great word play, if you have kids, get a copy. But wait, I’ve missed the point. Sorry, I got caught up in the interestingness of execution and forgot to communicate the idea. And that, indeed, is the point. In an industry built on the power of great ideas, how often do we slip straight into execution and forget to have ideas at all? I reckon it’s too often.

What’s an idea?

An advertising idea is a creative leap designed to connect dots within the zeitgeist and help everyday people remember our messages. It’s that simple. Ideas are a communication tool. One example that always sticks in my mind is the ‘Speight’s on a boat’ idea from about ten years ago. Speight’s wanted people to remember that they make damn good beer. That was the brief. And that got the creative people wondering what life would be like for expats in London who were missing out. So they put a bunch of beer on a boat and took it to London. Then they told stories about the idea and everyone got the point that Speight’s was a damn good beer. And they bought it. Simple.

Simple ideas aren’t simple.

The best ideas seem really simple. But getting there is far from easy. It’s a reductive creative process that usually involves coming up with stacks of different ways to crack the same nut. These thoughts are then filtered through different layers of thinking brains and reduced to the simplest, most appropriate, most cut-through idea. This process includes brainstorming or concepting time, filtering time, any number of ‘overnight tests’ and the importance of fresh perspective and creative guidance. Every creative falls up the arse of their own ideas. It takes a team with time and talent to wrangle, craft, cultivate and simplify an idea into something really good.

Where do ideas come from?

Ideas are simply collisions of different thoughts. They are born of insight and focused through a tight, single-minded brief. Firstly you need to know what you want to communicate. That seems obvious, but it isn’t always. It should be simple, single-minded and founded in a truth about the product. That’s the hardest bit, but it’s essential. Next, you need to mine for a customer insight. Why will our message resonate with people? Not why we want it to. Not the business benefits of customer engagement. But a genuine insight that stacks up and makes sense. We use a simple tool to sense-check that: Why would anyone care? Why would they share? Once you’ve nailed a tight brief and honest insight, all you need is a team with talent and time.

Ideas are the currency of change.

People don’t remember facts. They remember feelings. We know this, because Maya Angelou told us. But we’ve spent thousands of years recording history by sharing stories. Memorable stories are ideas wrapped up in execution.

Another example of a great idea is an Amnesty International campaign that ran a few years ago. They needed to raise awareness of the plight of people imprisoned around the world for crimes that weren’t really crimes. That was their brief. They knew that people were too busy to notice and fundamentally thought ‘no smoke without fire,’ if you got banged up you probably deserved it. That was their insight. So Colenso had the idea to scrape people’s Facebook feeds and highlight imprisonable transgressions that everyday people make every day. What happened? People connected with the idea, understood the need to help and put hands into pockets to make a difference. Simple and effective.

Great ideas make all the difference.

When advertising campaigns are built around great core ideas, great things happen. Firstly, people get it. Multi-channel messages ladder up to one core thought so that everything we say helps communicate the core thing we’re trying to say. More importantly, people remember. Our brains are built to collect, filter and discard random facts but we all remember stories. We remember emotions. And when we get it right, we all remember ideas.

That’s what I reckon, what do you think?

  • Michael Goldthorpe is the owner of creative agency Hunch. 

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Michael Goldthorpe is Managing Partner at Hunch.

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