There’s no one process for coming up with ideas for ads. We seemingly gather the thoughts from nowhere, sometimes stemming from insights, other times generated out of thin air. But when you’re really stuck on a brief, there are some formulas you can use to generate concepts and drive your thinking. I’ve outlined seven of my favorite here with examples.
Make it so good, it’s bad.
Make up a reason why they shouldn’t buy it. But make sure the reason comes from the benefits of having it. Like a gigantic hyperbole.
The trick is to find a way to twist the benefits of the product into a harmless problem. So ask yourself, what’s something negative that can occur if the consumer were to use it? What’s the side effect? The downside? The aftermath?
“Know what you’re getting into,” is a great tagline that drives home the point of winning in this Lotto Fast Millionaire spot. It showcases an absurd problem of becoming crazy rich. The woman becomes so wealthy, she has to get out of her car to go over a speed bump because the weight of her purchases is so immense. That’s a rich people problem everyone would like to have, right?
The product made everything worse.
Meanwhile, adam&eveDDB and Harvey Nichols captured consumers’ attention with their “Sorry, I Spent It On Myself” ads. They claim you’re so likely to want their products, you’ll spend your Christmas funds on yourself.
Think about ways the product or service can create a larger yet unlikely problem for people, and you can curve the message with a benign downside.
Use your enemies.
This one is great to work with, because you already have a starting point.
Black & Abroad took the all-too-common phrase bigots and racists everywhere continue to use to suppress and harm people of color, and twisted it into a positive.
“Go back to Africa” went from an expression of hatred to a statement about the beauty and wonders of the continent. They took real tweets from intolerant people, highlighted the phrase, and turned it into a positive message.
Climate Name Change for 350 Action by Barton F. Graf was a brilliant campaign with the goal of re-naming hurricanes after politicians who are deniers of climate change.
Dammit I wish I thought of that. Rest in peace, BFG and your silly shit.
Drop them in someone else’s shoes.
We hear this expression a lot, probably enough to drive us up the wall. But it’s a good tactic. From social media to technology to hidden cameras and the rest, there’s tons of ways to create new experiences that take consumers beyond their imagination and put them right into the problem.
Dutch agency n=5 created an incredibly effective campaign to show people the effects of alzheimer’s disease. They ran the entire campaign on social media, years before we even had the social tools we have today. On Facebook, you could submit a picture of a friend, and they would photoshop the person into a random image they surely were never a part of. Users could then upload the image to Facebook and tag their friend. It created a chilling feeling of, “who are these people? where is this?,” which is exactly what it’s like to fall victim to the disease.
This instantly became one of my favorite campaigns of all time.
Y&R Miami partnered with Techo, a company that builds homes in Latin American slums, duping people into walking into one to experience it for themselves.
They turned a normal apartment into a rundown shanty house, then posted the listing online. People were brought to the house and filmed on hidden cameras as they reacted.
They were then driven to donate to the foundation and help build homes for impoverished communities.
Use emerging technology.
Tech is ever evolving, and when there’s something new in the field, there’s opportunity for great ads.
Crispin Porter + Bogusky recently created the “Blimp Eclipse” for Fruit of the Loom. During the Firefly Music Festival, attendees could use their phones to control a blimp that blocked out the sun, creating shade just for them. All done via mobile phones and some canny tech.
Irish agency Rothco created a totally new experience for the Times of London. AI-driven data allowed them to use sound bits of John F. Kennedy’s recorded speeches to stitch together a historic speech he was set to give in Dallas, but never was able to after being assassinated. They brought JFK’s voice back to life to exhibit a real-life experience that never actually happened.
The impact of the campaign was so vast that the tech is now being used to help ALS patients regain their voice. Rock on.
Find a way to use the weird things we can do with the tech of tomorrow.
Take something that isn’t yours.
Walk in by surprise, and hijack someone else’s parade.
As we all know, Burger King’s biggest enemy is the clown. So at the German premiere of the creepy clown movie It, DAVID Miami and BK walked in at the end and surprised viewers with a special message.
They set up a projector in the back of the theater, and at the beginning of the credits, gave unprepared movie goers a message about clowns—the moral is, never trust them. They positioned their stunt as turning the movie into their “biggest piece of branded content ever.”
And one of the most infamous Super Bowl ads to hit the screens was given to us by Tide just last year. They took famous ads from other brands and hijacked the message with their own. If the shirt is clean, it’s a Tide ad.
Nothing short of brilliant, funny, and surprising.
Find an artifact.
Look for something that actually happened. Something real that’s tied to the brand. I know I already cited Burger King once, but these prints became an instant-classic. The best thing since sliced bread. A brand new tune. There’s so much to say about “Burning Stores,” but I need explain no further.
Burger King has since produced several more campaigns featuring real events and material, from X-rays to a strange clip of Andy Warhol. (Okay, it was kind-of weird. But I’m a Warhol fan).
Another Harvey Nichols spot from adam&eveDDB took real security cam footage of people caught shoplifting from their stores, and tagged it with a message that there’s no better way to get a “freebie” than the Harvey Nichols rewards app. Cheeky and simple.
Do the opposite of what everyone is doing.
And do it all wrong. Find a reason to break the rules.
Outdoor retailer REI defied all logical odds of closing their doors on the biggest shopping day of the year. Of course, their justification was totally on-brand—tell everyone to go outside instead. Venables Bell & Partners countered everyone else’s move, broke the rules, and tied it all up with a perfect brand message.
Adweek called this next one from the financial investment company E*Trade, “the most subversive Super Bowl ad ever,” and rightfully so. It was different, it was backwards, and once again, it drove home the point with a message that tied everything together. Having a financial company explicitly say they wasted $2m is kind-of counterintuitive, right?
With that, I’d like to conclude that there are endless formulas for helping jump-start your thinking. These are just some of my personal favorites. Hope I’ve helped, I’m looking forward to seeing some new work.
Good luck out there, peeps.