Tuesday, March 13, 2012

How to Be More Creative & Make Money! or: How advertisers come up with their campaign ideas (my non-expert musings)

     First, let me say I am by no means anti-advertising; I appreciate really creative ads a lot, and I think the people who come up with such stuff deserve admiration. And secondly, I pulled this essay, which might sound knowledge-based, out of my ass (which is excellent!).
     So, how do they come up with their ideas, those ad people?? On Mad Men, which I take as a historical document and gospel truth, they were always drinking. Well, that Draper was, anyway. But the thing is they had to hire some creative people to come up with those winning (or not) ad campaigns. The agencies valued these creative people immensely-- the creative people were magic geese laying golden eggs, and the agencies couldn't do without them.
    In the 80s, they had cocaine. Quite a bit of it, I'm told. And they'd do coke and come with ideas and think all their ideas were great because good, top-shelf coke apparently makes you feel like you can do no wrong. Still, specific people were hired because someone thought those people were creative enough to come up with winning campaigns. You couldn't hire just anyone to do the creative work. These people were seen as special, with or without their magic powders.
    Since then, a lot of how-to books have been written and seminars have been given-- given greedily, paid for handsomely, and taken hungrily-- on how to be more creative, how anyone can be (more) creative, how to "unleash the artist within," the magic secrets of great marketers, and so on. Some of the advice they dispensed may have been of the blowing-smoke-up-one's-ass variety, but some of it was legitimate. A lot of it, probably. And they taught have people, those who were listening and willing to actually try things, many processes and tricks for coming up with and developing ideas, with the aim of turning this inner human magic into marketing gold. Tricks. Lots of tricks. Parlor games, you might say.
    So how do people nowadays come up with their advertising ideas, whether brilliant or not? Probably some still use liquor, coke, Adderall, or who knows what else; undoubtedly some people just have a natural or studied "knack" for spitting out ideas.
    I know how at least one "Creative" person at an ad agency does it. I doubt I've met this person, and I have no first-hand knowledge of any of this, but I've seen many of the end products of their creativity. Somehow I know that at least this one person, if someone asks them how they come up with their campaign ideas, and if this person is actually willing to let on any of their secrets, says "Easy. I've got a trick. It always works."
    One of these easy tricks is just to close one's eyes and let pictures come in to one's mind. And then they just brainstorm ways to relate these pictures to the product they're aiming to advertise. This can be remarkably effective, and can be tried and retried all kinds of different ways. The results are not always genius, of course, but they are often mistaken as such by the non-creative people who employ them, people who never bothered to learn how to be creative or how to apply creativity to things like marketing. And the "creatives" come up with this stuff because it's their job to come up with ideas, not because any of their ideas will necessarily any good. Because the non-creatives see creativity as a mysterious black box, and they really don't want to know what might be inside, so they farm this task out to others who won't be afraid. These others get paid to be unafraid.
    And that's why occasionally you will see some ingenious ads on TV, and much of the rest of the time... Oh, I don't know... You might see a bunch of app icons floating over a town, and that's supposed to be really exciting.