Back when I was a freshman in high school, I decided I had found my calling. My creative problem solving team was challenged that year to write a commercial as part of our performance - and our team got a chance to tour some of the best ad agencies in the Twin Cities as research.
I thought these ad agencies were the coolest places on earth because the entire companies were built around coming up with ideas! (What more could you want?!!!)
Obviously, over the years my plans have changed somewhat and I've fallen more in love with the process of coming up with ideas. But I still have quite a soft spot for the work that goes on in the ad agencies.
So, when I got asked to review All You Need is a Good Idea by Jay Heyman for the 2nd stop on its online tour, I jumped at the chance. After all, I'd be stupid to throw away a chance to pick the brains of someone who thinks of ideas for a living.
All You Need Is A Good Idea is a book about advertising and how to come up with copy that gets attention (and causes action.) If you love to play with words as much as I do, you'll enjoy it just because Jay gives so much solid advice about how to write really good advertising copy. He also has very good examples that will show you how to do things right... and avoid the mistakes he's made in the past.
But I also think All You Need Is A Good Idea has a lot to offer anyone who works with ideas. As I was reading through the book, I was struck by the number of insights that apply to all creativity. For example, Jay writes about a great idea he had as a young creative that really impressed the top management of his agency.
At least, it was a great idea... until people ranking higher than him all made their little tweaks to the concept. The end result turned out to be as boring as any idea that was designed by committee - and the idea ended up in the trash bin.
That chapter really struct me because it's so easy to let an idea get corrupted beyond recognition... especially when people are just trying to help.
Because I was curious about how a seasoned creative deals with that situation, I asked Jay how he determines whether a helpful suggestion adds to an idea, or detracts from it.
When a suggestion makes the idea more familiar, or the thought less surprising, it is a sure sign that it is detracting from whatever made you like it in the first place. One sure-fire test is that when you hear a suggestion, and your response to yourself is, “I
knew I should have gone into the wholesale produce business, like my dad,” well, it is probably not a suggestion you will be comfortable with.
And watch out for being pecked to death by ducks. That’s what I call it when each suggestion changes just one word in your headline. Initially, the new word can seem to add to the idea, not make it worse. But change enough words, though it is only one at a time, and your thought ends up dead just the same.
I'm sure most of you can relate to having your ideas weakened by helpful, well-meaning people. (I know I can!) Just like that example, a lot of the stories Jay tells can help creatives with their creativity/thinking challenges. It's not just for writers.
Since I'm always curious about the process that people use to come up with ideas (so I can get new ways to think myself), I also asked Jay how he personally comes up with great ideas:
When possible, I try to see what the product’s marketing history has been, old advertising campaigns, ads created but never produced.. And of course what the strategy is (and why). Then I write down virtually every idea and thought that comes to mind, leaving the editing process for later. Two other things help the process. Looking at what similar categories, though different products, are doing. If creating ads, for instance, for an expensive timepiece, I would check out what high-end automobiles, premium alcoholic beverages, first class hotels are doing with their marketing.
Not to steal—which is never a good idea—but rather to get a feel for their language, graphics, positioning and how they appeal to their audience. The other important part of the process is taking a break, walking away from the computer, sleeping on it. Let your subconscious work on it a little, you have other chores to do.
Finally, since ideas are useless unless you can successfully convince others of their value, I asked Jay about how he typically presents to a client, how many ideas he shares at once and what he has found to be most effective:
I try never to present more than three [ideas] to a client [at a time], with a recommendation as to the best one. Presenting too many choices to a client is a bad idea. It shows a lack of judgment, is confusing, and leads to the inevitable, “How about taking this part of this headline and adding that part of that headline?”
I usually like to present what I call “copywriter’s roughs.” Each of these draft versions has a headline, suggested graphic, and occasionally some directional copy. They are rarely close to what an art director can do, but they present each concept in a form the client can understand. It is efficient because it is only after the client has settled on the creative direction that we go to the art director. Therefore the AD does not have to start from zero, since the page is no longer blank, which saves the client time and money.
What's really interesting to me is that while Jay presents ideas that are very well thought-out, he still presents an unfinished idea to his clients. That gives them the ability to make minor changes and feel some ownership of the idea, while allowing Jay to come up with more ideas in less time (since they don't have to be completely polished for the presentation.)
All You Need Is A Good Idea is a very interesting book and will give you a fascinating insight into how people who think of ideas for a living come up with their best ideas. (And, will also show you some mistakes that are easy to make.)
Be sure to check it out... and take a look at Jay's blog while you're at it!