I have news for you. The most important part of an ad is not the creative execution.
Don’t get me wrong, what everyone sees or hears is certainly important.
But there’s one other part that is just as important. That’s the main idea behind the ad … the creative strategy.
The most successful ads do both very well … they determine one strong idea to get across and then they do it in a very impactful way.
It’s critical you not only recognize the importance of the one main idea, but also develop the skills to determine what the creative strategy should be.
The Importance of One Main Idea
Advertisements these days compete with more noise than ever. If an ad is lucky enough to catch someone’s attention, it won’t have very long to get a message across.
This goes for traditional short ads like outdoor boards, or even organic search results snippets. But it also applies to television spots, radio spots, website copy, direct mail, and more.
“…a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention…”
― Herbert A. Simon
Take a look at this ad for tattoo removal.
11 services listed.
6+ typeface treatments.
No one is going to take the time to read this ad. There is too much going on.
Compare that to this ad that is also promoting tattoo removal.
This ad is much more effective. It promotes one service, with one main idea. Even if you only see the image and read the headline, you get the message.
So you see, the first doctor had the right idea to focus on tattoo removal. But he cluttered up the ad with all kinds of other information rather than focusing on the one mail idea. The second ad demonstrates how much more powerful a single focus can be.
Determine the Main Idea Before Creative Begins
It’s also important to look at the timing for figuring out the one main idea. If the main idea is not determined before creative execution begins, then the creative team will develop concepts against numerous strategies.
And you end up judging not only the main idea of the creative, but also the creative execution.
And you risk letting the better creative execution determine your strategy.
This is wasting valuable time and money developing creative against a strategy that won’t even be used. And it’s a recipe for multiple rounds of concepting trying to get the strategy and creative determined.
It’s better to determine the one main idea before developing creative concepts.
So split it up into two separate processes.
First determine the creative strategy … and get client approval. Then move on to the creative process using the one approved main idea.
How to Figure Out the Main Idea
When a project begins, you know the product or service you are selling.
You know the target audience.
You know what the ad needs to accomplish … the call to action.
You know the Unique Selling Proposition (USP).
And you know lots of other pieces of information that may be important to include in the ad.
But unless your client has invested in research, what you probably don’t know is the one main idea to get across that will get your target’s attention and convince him to act.
So how do you use all this insight you do know to determine that one main idea? Afterall, there’s always a laundry list of things the client wants you to say about the product or service. It’s hard to pick one to focus on.
It typically requires a lot of brainstorming.
You may work on this alone or you may involve the creative team … or even the client. But armed with all the target, competition, and product or service insight, start writing down all the single ideas you can think of as to why someone may choose the product or service.
Don’t judge the ideas, but get them all down. They don’t need to sound pretty or clever or creative. That’s not important now … that’s what the creative team will do later.
For now, just express an idea in plain English. And then do that over and over and over again.
When you’ve exhausted all the ideas you or your group can come up with, then you can start culling out the weaker ideas.
A Tool to Use for This Process
Here’s a valuable tool to help walk you through the process. I’ve used this table to help guide me and my clients many times over the years. I’ve found it oftentimes makes the best creative strategy become very obvious.
Download a PDF of the table here. And here’s how to fill it out.
What brands/products do we compete with and/or are most vulnerable; what state of mind/behavioral habits need to be displaced? Answer these questions … this will be the same for all of the creative strategy ideas.
Key demographics, psychographics, product usage, needs/attitudes/values. Fill this information out … this will be the same for all of the creative strategy ideas.
Key Consumer Benefit
What is the most leverageable benefit brand can exploit? This is where your brainstorming applies. The table has room for six different ideas. Take your six strongest ones and add them each to the table.
Underlying Rationale For this Strategy
What are reasons to support/pursue strategy vs. arguments that refute strategy? Add the pros and the cons for each strategy. You may find some duplicate pros or cons and that’s okay. Just consider each creative strategy and list it’s pros and cons.
Which strategy is preferred and why? How is it superior to the other strategies? Typically going through this process to fill out this table will result in one creative strategy that stands out above the others. Add it here as the recommended strategy.
With the One Main Idea You’re Ready for Creative to Begin
Once you have a recommended strategy that’s been approved by your client, you’ll be ready to move forward with creative execution. You’ll usually have a place on the creative brief to include the one main idea … the creative strategy.
And the creative team will be able to focus all of their ideas on finding the one strongest creative execution of the approved strategy.
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