In my previous post I stressed the importance of ensuring that your communications campaign contains a ‘big creative idea’ – but how is that actually done in practice?

Following the briefing session, the creative team will use the creative brief, and in particular the campaign proposition, as a springboard to inspire them to make the ‘creative leap’. This is the point where the creative team rely on their intuition, perception and imagination to introduce the element of ‘magic’ into the creative process. According to advertising legend Bill Bernbach: ‘Knowledge is ultimately available to everyone. Only true intuition, jumping from knowledge to an idea, is yours and yours alone.’

It’s important that the creative team explore several different creative routes, rather than only focusing on the single idea that may initially feel to be the most obvious route. If they find this difficult to do, it could be because the campaign proposition is too restrictive. The best approach is often where the creative team (ie the art director, copywriter, creative director) all have an input, generating many different ideas and building on the ideas of each other in order to see which holds up the best.

Once the team have agreed upon a potential big creative idea, the next stage is to ‘stress-test’ it in order to ensure it is as powerful as possible. Is it sufficiently interesting that your audience will actively seek it out? Whilst it’s often extremely hard to gauge the power of your creative idea, the following six criteria can help answer the question: ‘is it really a big creative idea?’:

  1. Big creative ideas are simple yet compelling creative concepts expressed in straightforward language. They can be quickly summarised and understood, and are just as compelling when described in writing. They shouldn’t require lots of additional explanation. A famous example of this is the architect of the Sydney Opera House selling his idea – apparently he summarised his creative concept with the single word ‘sail’.
  2. The power of a big creative idea comes not from merely being simple, but also from being uniquely perceptive.
  3. The big creative idea should be ‘media-neutral’ – ie big enough to encompass all the various media to be included in the campaign.
  4. It should be universally understood amongst your target audience, containing commonly recognised cues and references.
  5. In hindsight, a powerful idea often appears to be obvious (although it probably didn’t feel that way when it was being developed!)
  6. A big creative idea feeds off an underlying element of tension or uncertainty that demands resolution. Note the incredible tension developed over 2 minutes and 20 seconds in the Philips ‘Carousel’ web-spot, where the creative is concerned with conveying the cinematic qualities of the ‘world’s first cinema proportioned TV’. In the related ‘making of’ video, both the director and the post production supervisor agree that whilst the execution was technically very complex, the big creative idea is essentially extremely simple.
  7. Finally, the big creative idea should feel fresh and surprisingly different if it’s going to disarm your target audience. In order to avoid feeling derivative it must incorporate an element of risk – that it has never been done quite like this before. For example, the Levis ‘Flat Eric’ campaign felt totally unlike anything else at the time – and yet resonated perfectly with the young target audience.

I hope this provides you with some useful pointers on how to check whether you really have a big creative idea – or as John Hegarty puts it: how to ‘turn intelligence into magic’

If you’re interested in exploring this area in more detail (together with relevant examples), you might like my recent book ‘Successful Marketing Communications’.  If you have any thoughts or comments, do drop me a line below.

Written by Rob H

I’m a Chartered Marketer with over 20 years’ experience working in digital and offline marketing communications across the financial services, leisure, education and technology sectors – most recently working for a large financial services organisation, managing the acquisition marketing communications team. I gained an MSc in Strategic Marketing from Cranfield Business School in 2005 and the CIM Diploma in Digital Marketing in 2012. In 2012 I became the part-time course tutor at the Cambridge Marketing College for the CIM diploma in ‘Principles of Mobile Marketing’ – also authoring the accompanying Mobile Marketing study materials for the college. In March 2017 I published ‘Successful Marketing Communications‘ (available on Amazon Kindle and Apple iBooks), which has become recommended reading for delegates at the IDM (Institute of Direct Marketing). When I’m not knee-deeping in reading/ writing the latest marketing communications articles I enjoy outdoor swimming and anything involving snow – with my goal for next year being to combine the two…

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