From Bob Rath, Associate Creative Director, Palio
To creative people, the “That’s it!” moment that gives birth to ideas is part of the problem-solving experience. They first discover it, and then craft it into shape with talent and passion. As creatives, it’s simply what they do. The Creative Brief is their bolt of inspiration. It sums up the communication needs and frames them as simple problems in search of a solution. It connects facts to a benefit, and provides a motivating insight as a logical guide for ideas. The creative’s search for an answer becomes the springboard for ideas.
Ideas are at the heart of every agency. They are the solution to a client’s problem when delivered simply, in a focused and direct fashion. The good ones are so engaging that anyone who “experiences” its logic falls under its spell.
A great idea can be a little scary. It shows up on the wall in every review. It’s the one that worries someone in the first meeting and then often ends up on the floor by the second. It’s on the A-list for weeks, then becomes old news and is replaced by a last-minute entry. Maybe it gets re-drawn, re-designed, re-written… but by then, it’s unrecognizable, a shadow of its former original self.
When the great idea sparks, it’s the creative instinct that sees the glimmer of something special. To survive, the creatives must protect it. That’s their toughest job. Sure, it’s on brief, but that doesn’t make it comfortable – that makes it the most fragile thing on the wall. It takes guts for others to embrace it and for the creative to defend it. If it’s attacked or dismissed too soon, it will fizzle out. Left unsupported, a nitpick or nay-say will be its death. It’s scary.
That scariness is what makes an idea original – the real thing, made up of truth, skill, and cleverness, something that’s never been seen before. It’s too red, it’s the wrong size, and it’s colored with a child’s crayon. It bothers. It zags, and then zigs, always spinning right on the edge of what’s expected, but never quite dipping down into it. The great idea doesn’t look like other ads in the category and it certainly isn’t what the client asked for. It’s quite impolite. It’s the one that makes noise and creates verbal brawls at every presentation. It’s polarizing. Half the reviewers break out in hives while considering it, while the other half wish they had thought of it. Here are some scary idea examples:
Volkswagen, “Think Small“, 1959
All of America loved their big American cars. Until this campaign, all car ads showed the car as part of the consumer’s desired world, one of affluence or power. Ads were always based on positive messages about bells, whistles, frills and fins. Absolutely no car ads would think of mentioning a negative fact about its product. The ad campaign did not start out as a slam-dunk. It was, to some, an amusement to an industry that took itself very seriously. It was radical. Ads before it were either information-based and lacking in persuasion – more fantasy than reality – or reliant on the medium’s ability to deliver repeated exposure. VW ads, though, connected with consumers on an emotional level, conveying a product benefit in a way consumers could relate to in a new, novel way. Plus, the ads were simple. One ad featured only a small picture of the car with the headline “Think small.” Copy highlighted advantages of driving the small Beetle vs. a big car. The small car presented itself as the anti-consumption vehicle and became a badge for those who wanted to feel they were immune to being led by typical advertising. The youth rebellion of driving age boomers embraced it as their car. VW sold 120,000 cars in the U.S. in 1959, four times the number sold in 1955. “Think small” was quite a big idea.
Avis, “We try harder“, 1963
At the time, a 50’s-minded America believed we were the ”Top Dog,” #1. We were still high on coming out on the winning side of WWII. American’s believed in winners and that winning was the American way. Second place was still losing. Saying “We’re No. 2, We Try Harder” was very “un-American” at the time. The Avis campaign dared to boast about being #2 and seemed at first look to exalt the position of being an underdog. They used the negative to grab attention and then focused on good old-fashioned service. One ad even showed the contents of a filthy ashtray as the main visual. Unsurprisingly, it failed pre-campaign testing as people thought the ads meant that Avis was second best. It was an inspired decision to run it. The result: customers admired its refreshing honesty and it was a runaway success. Prior to the campaign, Avis had only $34 million in revenue and losses of $3.2 million. One year later, revenues had jumped to $38 million and for the first time in thirteen years, Avis turned a profit of $1.2 million. In 4 years Avis market shares grew from 11% to 35%. Zigging when the competition is zagging is a scary idea.
Apple Computer, “1984“, 1984
The entire Board of Directors at Apple hated it. Steve Jobs loved it but was warned by his Board not to run it. He didn’t listen. This TV ad ran only once in the third quarter of the 1984 Super Bowl; it was strange and very different for a celebratory Super Bowl advertisement. It opens on a strange gray “Blade Runner” world. Chased by storm troopers, a beautiful woman athlete breaks into a room pushing aside lines of mindless drone-like workers and then throwing a sledge hammer into a huge screen face of Big Brother, destroying it. The voice-over ends with saying “On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce the Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like ’1984.’” Apple associated the Macintosh with an ideology of “empowerment” – a vision of the PC as a tool for combating conformity and asserting individuality. This dramatic act of aggression and rebellion explained the Apple philosophy that people, not just governments and business, should run technology. “Don’t be controlled by computers, take them over by making them accessible,” was the message based on the insight. A.C. Nielson estimated the commercial reached 46.4 percent of the households in America, a full 50 percent of the nation’s men, and 36 percent of women. The commercial recorded astronomical recall scores and went on to win most every advertising industry award out there. This one spot changed the way we looked at a commodity and changed both buying patterns and even career paths. This was a very scary way to sell technology.
Within every client pitch should be one scary idea. Keep it alive. If it needs adjustments, let the authors do it. Don’t over think it. Don’t try to tame it or fix it too much, and be careful what you add to it. Don’t make it look or fit with others on the wall. Keep it original and let the target be taken by its originality.
It just might be the Big Idea.
Palio is a full-spectrum global pharmaceutical and consumer advertising, marketing, and communications agency that excels in brand creation and specializes in brand strategy, product launches, global marketing, and digital and integrated media.