Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Half-baked ideas: take them home and cook them longer.

        I can always tell when I get a student's first solution to a problem. It usually isn't all that good.

        Somewhere in our education we've learned that once we've solved a problem, we're done. Like solving a math problem. When we've done it, we've succeeded, and can now go on to something else. A true mathematician carefully reviews her solution to make sure it's the best one possible.

        There are lots of ways to do an ad, and our magazines and television demonstrate that most of them are just plain dumb. Or certainly cheesy.

        You're familiar with the quote, "Sorry about this long letter but I didn't have time to write a short one."

        It takes time, patience, and practice to come up with both a good idea and a good way of expressing it.  For example, in coming up with an airline's faster flights to Europe, anybody can quickly write, "Our flights to Europe are now a lot faster". It takes experience and work to communicate that more memorably by showing a photo of an ocean being ripped so it's smaller, with the headline "We just made the Atlantic Ocean 20% smaller."

        That might have taken days of thinking and experimenting with all kinds of visuals and headlines. Probably did.

        One of the ingredients in coming up with good ads and marketing ideas is the freedom to fail. If we were lucky, our parents gave us this kind of unconditional positive regard. Even if we got it, we tend to lose it later on. I can almost promise you that your first idea won't be your best. That's why I give my students the opportunity to improve their work at any time.

       Leo Burnett, the founder of the famous Chicago ad agency, used to say it's never too late to improve an ad until it's sent to the magazine. David Ogilvy, the New York agency founder who went from research to copywriting, said you have to write at least 10 --- and maybe 100--- headlines to be able to tell you've come up with a useful one.

      I have three suggestions of what you should do before you even begin. One, make sure you know what a good ad is. Two, make sure you know all the product has to offer. Three, know your customers inside and out.

      Now put all the ingredients in a bowl, mix well until an idea forms, then flip the pancake and see if it sticks to the ceiling.

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