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Making Great Advertising

In the latest in our Big Ideas series, David Ellis outlines a few elements that are essential to making creative -- and therefore effective -- advertising.

Editor’s Note: This post is part of our Big Ideas Series, a column highlighting the innovative thinking and thought leadership at IIeX events around the world. David Ellis will be speaking at IIeX North America (June 12-14 in Atlanta). If you liked this article, you’ll LOVE IIeX NA. Click here to learn more.

Turns out we’re not the rational creatures we think we are. We make most of our decisions intuitively, based on emotion and feeling. Only after our mind is made up do we build rational “reasons why” to justify the decision we’ve made already.  

For any marketer seeking to make their brand more memorable, these feelings are very important. The more creative your advertising, the more effective it is commercially. James Hurman makes a strong case for this, using lots of empirical research in The Case for Creativity.

Here are a few elements I believe are essential to making creative – and therefore effective – advertising:

  1. Start with your brand’s purpose. People don’t buy things based on a checklist of selling points. They buy stories. These often come from your purpose. Why was the brand founded in the first place? What is the job your brand was built to do?  
  2. Really understand your Consumer, Category and Broader Culture. Not just demographics and category purchase facts, but on a human level. If your advertising is true to your Purpose, differentiated from competition, and relevant to popular culture then you have the potential to make great work. A good example of deep consumer understanding for brands with Middle American consumers is the book Speak American Too, by Paul Jankowski.   
  3. Find a motivating consumer insight. Finding a motivating insight is often a marriage of Knowledge and Wisdom – the science of consumer research blended with the art of understanding human behavior. That understanding comes best from getting out of the office and into the lives of your consumer.  
  4. Watch all your competition’s advertising. Define your category advertising conventions. Then break them. If everyone shows a car on a winding road, or steaming plates of food, or long flowing shiny hair, do the opposite.  
  5. Resist the temptation to fiddle. Have great and vigorous debates with your Agency about the insight, the brief, and the creative idea. But once you’ve agreed the Idea, your job is to encourage and support great work, not to micromanage.  
  6. The best ideas are usually very simple, and often obvious in hindsight. Avoid “checkbox marketing.” The more selling points you pack into an ad, the less emotionally engaging it is, and the less likely it is to hit home. An informative guide to the art of making great ads is Hey Whipple, Squeeze This by Luke Sullivan and Edward Boches.
  7. Don’t forget your own employees, especially in a retail business. Once you have a Big Idea, start thinking right away how you can best communicate it in a persuasive and memorable way to your team members that interact with your Guest every day. As a colleague once said, “when you enter the store, you enter the brand.”

Consumers are bombarded with more advertising than ever before. But amid the clutter, there is a spectacular opportunity to stand out if you understand how the consumer makes decisions. It’s not always how they think they think. For more great background on this decision making process, read Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein.

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2 responses to “Making Great Advertising

  1. Thank you so much for sharing. Your thoughts are so spot on.

    One of my favorite quotes about the true power of a story is …. “Stories are equipment for living,” Kenneth Burke.

    No one reads their child a memo about life when they want to engage them. They read them a fairy tale. And just because we grow up, that does not mean that part of our brains atrophy. Quite the opposite.

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