10 creative approaches that sometimes work

Hack the environment. Turn non media into media. From Allison Penn and Alexandra Mattaway, BU COM.

Now that you’re ready to start generating creative ideas, it helps to have a few tricks and formulas you can rely on when staring at that intimidating blank page.

Presuming you know what you’re trying to say or do, have a clear image of your audience and user, and understand the problem you’re trying to solve, here are a few approaches that work.

Some of them are focused on content-based advertising, a few on creating experiences and social engagement.

By no means are they all inclusive, but they can help you get started generating ideas.

In class, we’ll cover this more in depth and try some exercises that help.

1. Say something interesting (different for the category)

Pose a question, comment on a current trend, confront a belief, interpret the benefit in an off beat way. Say it straight, then put the twist on it. Here you can see that ABC, rather than doing tune-in ads, is simply suggesting that TV’s good for you. A far more interesting message in an attempt to position the network.

Chiat Day

Here’s another example based on saying something interest. It doesn’t come right out and tell you not to steal music. Instead it demonstrates that creating original music is hard work and time consuming.

2. Dramatize the benefit

The Polo GTI gets you there fast.

Always loved this ad for GT bicycles. It exaggerates fast, but in the negative way. Fast ain’t always good.

The way to try this is to reduce your message to a single word, ideally an adjective — fast, big, smooth, bright, comfortable, etc. — and then start thinking of visuals, situations, scenes and stories that bring that to life.

3. Dramatize (or exaggerate) a product feature

Pretty simple. Tabasco is hot. Exactly how hot?

It’s an approach that works equally well in print or posters, offline or on. This Bic marker is long lasting. How long lasting? Longer than you might want. In futures sessions we’ll talk about how you get to this place, using mind-mapping and other techniques that help you explore how to move farther and farther away from the literal interpretation of your message or strategy.

4. Dramatize the problem you’re trying to solve

Note this campaign was created by a couple of students at University of Texas and generated a fair amount of attention and press coverage.

Here’s another student project from BU. Seems we have a restroom theme going on here. Purely a coincidence. Using a restroom as a setting is not one of the 20 approaches. In this case the problem is presented in a way that arouses your curiosity and involves you with the question. Anytime you can put the reader or user into the experience, you make the advertising more compelling.

Allison Penn, Alexandra Mattaway

5. Tap into the cultural moment

The brilliant strategist Gareth Kay suggests we don’t start with what’s interesting to us, the advertiser, but rather we start with what’s interesting to our users. When everyone was paying attention to the Supreme Court’s approval of same sex weddings, it created an opportunity (a bit self-serving I might add) for lots of brands.

Of course, Oreo made this approach famous.


Last winter, when Boston was buried under more of the white stuff than any city had seen in a century, Sleek Machine, an agency that generates “Ideas that matter at Internet speed,” did this for the Gardner Museum.

Sleek Machine

6. Find an enemy

Tension, conflict and rivals for your brand are always great, especially if you’re audience wants to be on your side of the battle. Converse has an enemy. Shoes. BTW, your enemy can be another brand, it can be a category, it can be the status quo, it can be a behavior (lethargy) or a practice (political correctness, for example.)

Here’s a great one from Under Armour. Brilliantly presented.

Droga 5

7. Create juxtapositions

Re-interpret the visual with a headline or the other way around. A couple of oldies, but goodies.

Grace and Rothschild

8. Make a comparison

By comparing your product or service to anything that is lesser or different, the more you can emphasize its virtues or attributes.


9. Do something worth advertising

This is where it’s going. Forget about simply making a message, unless it’s a wonderfully entertaining or interesting story. Instead do something that’s either useful, buzz worthy, or interesting enough to become the advertising.

Perfect idea, not all that useful to the user, but buzz generating for sure, was Harvey Nichols’ line of cheap, but branded HN, Christmas gifts. Part of its I spent it on myself campaign.

Another great example. This was merely an experiment, but worthy of an ad. VW kids kids to draw their parent’s speedometers with messages imploring them not to drive so fast.

10. Celebrate the user

We all want to be part of an exclusive tribe, or made to feel that we’re on the inside, or that we get it, or that they get us. There are lots of ways to do this. Toyota sold minivans to cool, suburban parents with this take on hip hop.

HBO go did it differently. Suggesting that they get teens and know they don’t want to watch TV with their parents. God forbid.

1st for women celebrated its community by showing what idiots its non users were.

I’ll be back with another 10 approaches that work. In the meantime, get creating.

If you’re just stopping by and peeking over our shoulders, please feel free to leave your tactics and approaches that work.

And if you can, help me out with agency credits. I have files of ads, but sadly, not all came with agency credits.