A Sharp Pencil and a Clean Piece of Paper
by Chad Rueffert

Advertising agencies have historically served two, distinct roles in the marketing mix.  The first is media buying.  It makes little sense for a business owner to compile all of the rate sheets, demographics and contact information for local, let alone national, media outlets.  Hence the term “Advertising Agency.”  Originally our industry served as purchasing agents for our clients and received a commission.

For years, all newspaper advertising looked much like what the classified section looks like today.  Display ads were unnecessary. As advertising vehicles became more and more cluttered with offers, sales and product information, clients began looking for ways to make their advertising stand out.  They bought larger size ads, they added bold headlines and color, eventually they began to ad drawings and then photography.  The advertiser who innovated saw his sales rise dramatically.

Advertising agencies who placed these advertisements saw a way to differentiate themselves as well.  They began to hire artists and writers and charge their clients additional dollars to create advertising and add to the profits they received for media placement.

Today, the commission that used to be offered exclusively to agencies of record is now available to any company with a large budget and a successful negotiator.  Many companies are keeping that media savings for themselves by purchasing their own media.  Agency income is more and more related to the strategic planning and creative aspects of the business.  And, in truth, anybody with enough time to educate themselves can learn to be a media buyer.  I’d argue that media planning and strategy takes great talent and instincts and is best left to a professional, but media buying is a pretty straight forward task.  Creative design and copywriting, however, is NOT something that just anyone can do.

Copywriter Luke Sullivan explains the need for creativity in advertising this way:  “It’s as if you’re riding down an elevator with your customer.  You’re going down only 15 floors.  So you have only a few seconds to tell him one thing about your product.  One thing.  And you have to tell it to him in such and interesting way that he thinks about the promise you’ve made as he leaves the building, waits for the light and crosses the street.”  You’re doing really well if you can get your customer to think about your product while your competitor is riding in the same elevator.

So you have to get creative.  You have to come up with something that sticks in the customer’s mind.  It must be something truthful, or you risk alienating your customer for life. You have to get your message across in about 30 seconds.  You’re staring at a sharp pencil and a clean sheet of paper and you have no idea where to start.

The creative process is virtually undefineable.  No two creative writers or artists go about it in the same way.  And not everybody is good at it.  If you are, call me, and I guarantee I can find you a job in advertising.  There are, however, a few simple ideas you can use to get your creative juices flowing


Start With Strategy.

If you’ve read my columns over time, you’ve heard me say this again and again.  Your marketing has a goal.  You must first write a strategy that determines how you will accomplish your goal.  Only then do you start looking for a creative way to implement the strategy.  Always start with strategy, otherwise you end up with something very creative that will not accomplish your goal and you’ve wasted your time and money.  Advertising icon Bill Bernbach said, “Dullness won’t sell your product, but neither will irrelevant brilliance.”  Creativity without strategy is useless, so you must have FOCUSED CREATIVTY.


Find Your Product’s Core Value.

Ferrari’s aren’t about transportation, they’re about status.  Hyundai’s are about transportation.  Find and talk about the essence of your product.


Dramatize the Benefits of Your Product.

In your ad, the man who buys his wife flowers doesn’t get a peck on the cheek, he gets thrown to the floor in a passionate embrace.  The man who goes to the dog track doesn’t win $20, he wins $2,000,000.  This is an old, old tactic.  But it works.


Find a Bad Guy

Every product feature and benefit is a solution to a problem.  That problem is your bad guy and can be creatively exploited.  Remember the Crest Cavity Creeps?   A very memorable “bad guy”.  The bad guy in pizza advertising could be starvation, or broccoli, or the competitor’s slow delivery.  The bad guy in shoe advertising could be blisters or stinky socks.  Sprite used effective twist on this right now defining advertising pitch men as the bad guy in their “Obey Your Thirst” campaign.


Keep it Simple

If you can say it in seven words, find a way to say it in five or three or one.  Use no words if a strong visual will serve.  Get the idea down on paper and then simplify it.  Again, listen to copywriter Luke Sullivan:  “I’ve always thought a stop sign is a perfect metaphor for a good ad.  It has one word.  It says, ‘STOP’.  It doesn’t say ‘Please bring your vehicle to a speed not exceeding zero miles per hour…”


The last piece of advice I will give you on creativity is DON’T GIVE UP.  Spend the time or money it takes to be creative.  Whether you do it yourself or hire an agency, do not fall into the trap of simply assuming buying ad space will drive sales.  In a marketplace where your products and services have the same features and cost as your competitors, your advertising may be the only differentiating point your customers can use to make a decision.  Simply telling the world you have a product to sell is no longer enough.  You must give them a reason to buy and say it in a creative way so they remember it and act on it.  Good luck!