those brilliant marketing ideas

The common perception of advertising and marketing is that it is built on brilliant brainstorming and shouts of Eureka! In reading The Last Original Idea, authors Alan K’necht and Geri Rockstein remind me that in the late 20’s, Allan Odell helped save his father’s company, the Burma-Vita Corp from certain bankruptcy with series of roadside signs. For example:

Are your whiskers
When you wake
Tougher than
A two-bit steak?

Imagine your delight in driving the highways, seeing the first sign, the second, and so on until you get to the punch line. Depression-era consumers thought it was pretty nifty, resulting in over three million dollars of annual revenue at the height of the depression (from $60,000 during the previous decade).

Hollywood has done its share to perpetuate the notion of creativity-driven marketing, with TV shows like Bewitched and Madmen, movies like Cohen’s Advertising Scheme (1904 from the Edison Studio!),  How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and dozens of other films that portrayed the advertising and marketing executives experiencing that great “AHA!” moment.

Many marketing agencies seeking business go into initial client meetings with a portfolio of imaginative ideas, and in turn, many executives have grown to expect those types of presentations. In doing so, however, smart marketing process is usurped, and neither the agency nor the business benefits.  In fact, it can lead to a sort of locking in to a concept before the business requirements have been fully developed resulting in wrong-minded and wasteful campaigns.

One of the most oft-cited campaigns in recent history was also associated with men’s body products. It must have been some exciting brainstorming meetings that led the Wieden + Kennedy creative team’s development of the Old Spice campaign. But even that campaign went through a series of developments, originating with the television ads, the online videos to social media responses.  Even then, creative directors Jason Bagley and Eric Baldwin credit much of the magic to actor Isaiah Mustaf’s on-the-spot humor. A lot of people were involved in a series of online interactions that developed over a small period of time.

We all want to create those magical campaigns as successful as Burma Shave and Old Spice – those bits of marketing that become part of our cultural heritage and win industry recognition and dramatically increase revenues as well.

Instead of leading with the brilliant concepts, marketing campaigns can be developed using a series of steps that help the marketer:

  • Understand goals and objectives
  • Audience segmentation
  • Audience segment needs
  • Influencers

Time must be made in the daily and weekly busyness, though for the creative spark. The time must be built into the process. There are at least two major moments for the creative brainstorming to be considers:

  1. When the project plan is being developed – right then and there, make sure that time is allocated for creative time
  2. When objectives aren’t being met – We were supposed to have 10,000 Facebook fans by this week, and we only have 5,000? Time for a creative meeting.

Creative Brainstorming

Brainstorming will be more effective if you separate your team from the normal distractions of the office, like email and phones.  Ask that all cell phones, smart phones, and tablets be turned off. Even going off-site can help, by changing patterns of thinking.

Our daily work can help reinforce our cognitive patterns, so that when it’s time for creative thinking, it can be challenging to get out of the rut. While they might seem preposterous at the moment, small changes in our collective behavior can get us out of those ruts, and bring in fresh thinking.

Ceremonial Beginnings

Creative brainstorming sessions can be kicked off with a formal announcement of ground rules – such as “all ideas have a place” and “make room for your other team members to be heard”.  Avoid getting fixated on the quality of any particular idea, but move quickly to get a lot of thinking out on the table.

Starting with a moment of breathing exercise, or a game of “what is your spirit animal today” can help to isolate the workshop from the rest of the day, and help to put everyone at ease by changing the pace.

Changing the Pace

Jazz musicians will often take a piece and go into double-time for a few bars, then bring it back to the original tempo. If you feel that the brainstorming is plodding along, do something to change the pace. Ask everyone to write down 3 new ideas in one minute.  Ask them to write down 3 new ideas that someone else would come up with (such as a co-worker, or a celebrity).

Letting Voices be Heard

Liz Strauss shared the concept of “silent brainstorming” (also known as the group passing technique), where team members are asked to write an idea down on an index card, pass to the person next to them, and repeat – and then discuss the ideas.  This allows for less vocal team members to get their ideas out.

Toys and Props for Creative Thinking

Rolls of paper, markers, stickers, scissors and magazines that can be torn up are all excellent items to have in the room.  Abstract puzzles (such as building blocks) can help bring an element of play to the room, and in turn, help change how people think.  Even wearing masks can help dramatically change the way people think, and get the group in a more playful spirit.

Creative Thinking at the Right Time

These are only a few examples of some of the activities you can try in your next creative meeting. The two important takeaways here are:

  1. creative brainstorming is built on the fundamental thoughtful work of marketing – not simply pulled out of the blue, as they portray in cinema.
  2. Time must be built into the marketing process specifically for creative time

What techniques have you used to pull out the creative?

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