The creative industry’s full of advice about how to come up with great ideas. After all, ideas are what the industry’s built on, they’re often referred to as our ‘currency’. But there seems to be less said about the trickier issue of how to keep them alive once you’ve had them.
At H+K we’re great at coming up with ideas. We have the talent, we’re trained for it, and we have processes in place to help us have them. Swarms of ideas arrive every day like baby turtles hatching on a beach.
However, a while ago we noticed a trend. Great ideas that our clients absolutely loved at pitch were arriving at launch months later – how can I say it? – simply not as great. What was happening? Was there a metaphorical seagull swooping in and ruining their dash to freedom?
In my role, I work across both big ‘earned first’ ideas and craft/production briefs; the pitfalls are common to both. Here are some recurring themes and, crucially, how client and agency teams can get around them…
We changed the big thing…
“The client loves our concept based on drinking whisky in fully autonomous vehicles, but is worried that it sounds dangerous.”
“Shall we change it to apple juice?”
“Yes, much safer.”
Boom: at the exact moment the idea becomes buyable, it loses any impact.
Learning: New ideas are inherently scary. In fact, academic studies have proved we’re hardwired to avoid them, as an evolutionary response to the uncertain. So they’re hard to buy, hard to push through layers of sign-off in a big business. Of course, we can reassure ourselves through focus groups and testing, but it’ll often end up in the same place. Instead, refer back to what we’re trying to achieve and why. As the name suggests, in earned media we need to earn attention and the best way to do that is through a bold idea that has a bit of tension or edge to it. Hold your nerve!
We changed the small thing…
The design that looked incredible in Pantone 021C bright orange looks rubbish in dark blue. Or that quirky typeface swapped out for a corporate one. Or a different v/o. Or change of soundtrack. Or any number of small things that seemed not that vital to the whole. But they are.
Learning: Yes, your idea needs to be more than the sum of the parts. But the parts add up. The days of the creative prima donna are long gone, instead replaced with a culture of teamwork, discussion, and iteration. While this is undoubtedly a good thing, it can result in a watered-down concept as creative development follows the path of least resistance. So regularly review how it started / how it’s going, referring back to whatever spark in the original made it, well, spark. And if it’s missing then fight to get it put back.
We binned it as we thought it looked like something else…
We’ve all seen great concepts get rejected when somebody suddenly called up a campaign from 10 years ago than ran for two weeks in Turkmenistan that felt vaguely similar.
Learning: When I was at art college there were about ten design books in the library – so, other than collective memory, there wasn’t that much angst about whether ideas had been made before (and, particularly pre-internet, there wasn’t much of an idea of what happened outside of the UK). These days if you look hard enough you’ll be able to find a version of your new idea somewhere, whatever it is. Of course, I’m not condoning stealing other people’s ideas but there’s always a way to put a spin or a twist on an idea to make it unique; you don’t always need to reject it.
We mixed A with B…
We presented two routes. Can we combine them? Yes, that would be great, much as I enjoy coffee and tea in the same cup.
Learning: Hands up, this is something I’ve agreed to many a time. Sometimes it’s fine – for example, where swapping a colour palette between design routes has improved the chosen design. But when it comes to conceptual ideas we have to be careful; we show different concepts to show different viewpoints, and mixing them can ruin them. The answer here is robust discussion and not being afraid to say ‘no’ when something won’t work.
We changed it as ‘somebody’ didn’t like it…
And yes, that’s often me. But as a 40-something(ahem) creative, it would actually be weird if I fully understood why that proposed TikTok dance contest was great, so it’s fine if I don’t like it; I’m not the target audience.
Learning: It’s rare we are the target audience, yet often we react to ideas as if we are. Keep teams diverse and check with your audience where necessary. #Obvs really.