(Almost) Anyone Can Be Creative
by Chad Rueffert

No matter how many other services advertising agencies provide, creativity is what drives customers to our door.  Very few people are impressed with our approach to media buying or print coordination or database management.  If that’s all there was to advertising, clients would do it themselves. 

But not everyone can afford to pay professional art directors and copywriters to be creative for them.  So here are a few tricks of the trade to create your own, impactful advertising.  Creativity is often about inspiration.  But that inspiration is usually the result of hard work, research, trial and error and genuine effort.  So don’t expect good ideas to come right away.  Put some effort into it, though, and you may be surprised just how creative you really can be.


Tip #1:  Stop acting like you own the company.

Instead of acting like you own the company, start acting like a customer.  Disguise your voice and make an anonymous call to your salespeople.  Ask them difficult questions, pretend you know nothing.  Stop by your competitor’s place and buy one of their products.  Play with it, take it apart, give it as a gift, break it and then try to return it to the store.  You’ll be amazed the insight you’ll get by acting like a first-time customer.  Now write down all of the good and bad things you’ve learned.  Each one of them is an ad idea.


Tip #2:  Find the central truth about your product.

The old adage is that people don’t buy ¼ inch drill bits – they buy ¼ inch holes.  Quit trying to sell the drill bits.  Women don’t buy make up – they but beauty.  Most teenagers don’t buy basketball shoes so they can jump higher, they buy them to “Be Like Mike.”  My customers don’t buy ads, they buy revenue growth and profitability.  When someone asks me what I do for a living, I don’t answer “We write ads.”  My answer invariably is, “We help small businesses grow.”


Tip #3:  Borrow, Steal & Plagiarize

Undoubtedly, there are people out there more creative than you are.  Study them, use their ideas and make them your own.  It’s unlikely that you are going to invent something truly unique, so don’t waste time trying.  Read magazines, surf the web, gather your competitor’s materials and dissect them.  Find a great idea and adapt it to fit your product or service.  No one can copyright a concept, so if you like it, use it.


Tip #4:  Dramatize the benefit.

Once you’ve found the central truth of your product, dramatize the benefit.  What if your new eyeliner makes you so pretty, men line up outside your door and follow you everywhere?  How cool would it be if your new gym membership made you so strong you were constantly breaking things by accident?  By dramatizing the benefits of your product, you imply that you’ll greatly exceed your customer’s expectations. 


Tip #5:  Find a partner and play the “What if?” game.

One of the best brainstorming tools you can use is the “What If?” game.  What if we used frogs to advertise our beer?  What if we hired a celebrity to pitch our product?  What if we made our painkillers bright yellow?  Follow each question to its conclusion and you’ll find that you have ideas for more than ads, you may find a new marketing strategy altogether. 


Tip #6:  Find a bad guy.

One of the easiest ways to write a creative ad is to find the worst possible aspect of your product or industry and take a shot at it.  If you sell carpet, your bad guy could be ugly linoleum, or cold tiles, or wall-to-wall green shag, or dirt floors, or anything other “problem” that can be solved by purchasing new carpet. 


Tip #7:  Explore the opposite of your product.

What’s the opposite of a new car?  A used car?  Walking?  Bicycling?  Air travel? The bus or subway?  You could make an entire campaign just toting out the various “opposites” of your product.  This is much like finding a bad guy in that it gives you an effective way to dramatize the benefit of buying your product.


Tip #8:  Be different just to be different.

When everyone in the formalwear business was showing photos of men in tuxedos, we showed sultry shots of women wearing them instead.  Your ad should be more than a copy of your competitor’s ad with your logo.  Agency creative types will do almost anything to make their work stand out from the crowd, and they are usually willing to take some risks.  You should do the same.   Even if you choose not to use your “different” ideas, just thinking about it will improve your creativity.


Creativity is often a process rather than a result.  It might take ten “bad” ideas to find one good one.  You have to put in the effort to come up with the bad ones so that you’ll even be able to recognize the good ones.  But your advertising will be all the better for the effort, and the process is almost always invigorating, fun and a positive experience for everyone involved.