Go play.

Indulge me if you will in one of my meditation exercises.

You’re standing on the edge of a green field. It’s a spring day. The breeze is gentle. The sun on your face is warm. Above you white clouds float effortlessly across a deep, azure sky. In the distance an occasional birdsong welcomes you in. You take off your shoes and socks. Then with your right foot, you take your first step into the expanse of childlike beauty and joy. The soft breeze seems to whisper, “Go play.” And the moment your bare foot touches the cool, fragrant, fresh-cut grass, you are jolted from your reverie by the sounds of a wooden chair being smashed over the head of The Undertaker.

It’s hard to meditate when someone in another room has just turned on the TV to watch WWE. But forget that part.

Let’s go back to that green field and the whispered invitation, “Go play.”

Ad agencies don’t make laundry detergent. They don’t make tires. They make ideas. And the better the ideas they make, the more effective the results will be.

True, anybody can have an idea for an ad at any time. Take the time I was lying on an operating table and the Anesthesiologist looking down on me said, “I’ve got this great idea for a Gecio commercial.”

Who knows. It may have been the greatest idea in the history of ideas but I never got to hear it. I was counting backwards from 100 and by the time I got to 97, I was gone.

Obviously, it’s not a matter of just coming up with an idea. It’s coming up with an idea that will solve your client’s problem.

As a Creative Director, it’s your job to create an atmosphere that will generate the best ideas in the shortest amount of time. You don’t have months to solve your client’s problem. Volatile market conditions. Competitive threats. Budget cuts. Org chart musical chairs.

Sometimes clients need your ideas before they can even articulate the problem.

Every Creative Director works differently on how to get the most and best ideas out of their teams. This is how I work.

The open grass field is a good metaphor. Nobody knows where the next big idea will come from. Nobody knows who who will discover it. But one thing is certain. The more restrictions you put on your creative teams in the beginning, the more fences you put up in that beautiful open field, the less space there is to explore and discover. It’s simple geography.

No, you can’t play over there. We’ve thoroughly explored and mapped that area, and there’s nothing new to discover

No, that area over there is strictly off limits. It’s full of land mines that will blow up in our collective faces the moment we bring it up to the client

Oh, that area in the distance? Unexplored territory. There may be something way out there but do you really want to travel that far only to come back empty handed? It’s better to stay and play where we can see you.

If it’s this kind of thinking that’s driving your creative process, it’s time to take a step back and do a little meditating of your own.

The client isn’t paying you to play it safe. If they are, they’re wasting their money and your valuable idea resources. They’re paying you to protect and grow their brand. Let me repeat that. The client is paying you to protect and grow their brand. And the only thing you can offer them, the only thing you make, the only thing that will make a difference, are your ideas.

On average consumers see 5,000 ads a day. You can just as easily say 5,000 ideas a day.

One school of thought says, it’s all a matter of repetition and media tonnage. The more often and the longer you say the exact same thing, the more likely the consumer will remember it. Throw enough money at it and problem solved.

The other school of thought says, it’s not how much money you spend, it’s how quickly your idea can cut through the ad clutter.

Personally I’ve always been a student of the second school. The more breakthrough the idea, the more effective it will be and the less money the client will spend to get their ad, message, and brand noticed and remembered.

One of the most famous and remembered ads of all time, the 1984 ad for Apple ran only once. One time. But the idea was so powerful, so different, so breakthrough, running it more than once would have been a waste of the client’s money.

Want to be a better Creative Director? Stop shrinking the playing field. Tear down the fences. Remove the warning signs. Rules and regulations are for swimming pools.

The ideas are out there, just waiting for you. Please, just take the first step and go play.

Published by bassetts49

50 years in advertising, 20 years as the creative lead on Geico. A life in creative thinking.

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