What is a creative idea?


Every organisation needs creative ideas. That’s why they employ creative agencies: to deliver something that goes beyond what they experience in their regular working days.

They want a different kind of thinking, based more on imagery and inspiration. In particular they want an idea that can take their business forward. But how do you define a creative idea? If you’re a business, what should you actually expect once you’ve briefed an agency?

Well, inspiration isn’t as quantifiable as some other aspects of business. Nor is it just a matter of perspiration. Ours is not physical labour (except when the coffee machine malfunctions) but that doesn’t mean it’s not hard.

Henry Ford himself once said:

“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.”

He was famously hard-nosed, yet I’m sure he would’ve been able to identify a creative idea and know that thinking had taken place.

It has to.

What a creative idea isn’t

A creative idea is not a gimmick. It’s not a pun or a catch phrase. It’s not about using some new piece of technical gimcrackery. Or deciding on the colour green. These may be the outcomes from a creative idea, but the idea has to come first.

So how do you define a real creative idea?

Well the first thing you should notice is that it’s clever. Give good creative minds long enough to think about a problem and they should be able to put the pieces together.

Here are a few other recognisable characteristics of a proper creative idea:

  • It’s highly relevant to the brand’s commercial strategy.

  • It resonates with the needs of the brand’s customers (and often with more serious issues out there in the real world).

  • It has ‘zing’. It stands out. It feels fresh. It’s ‘right’ somehow.

  • It’s roomy. There is a broad canvas for creative expression that goes beyond one or two executions. It should be possible to use it for anything from banner ads to supermarket wobblers.

  • It often seems obvious, and makes people think the job of finding it was easy. Usually afterwards.

Where do creative ideas come from?

Controlled thinking - and lots of it. Whether it’s an advert, a song or a joke, the technique is more or less the same. John Cleese probably put it best.

Talking is good too. Traditionally, advertising agencies would put writers and art directors together to discuss a brief and solve it through the intersection of visual and verbal thinking. These days the team may also include a digital designer or UX expert. But some people like to tinker away on their own.

We do whatever works.

Also, we never forget that this type of thinking must be nurtured. If the creative team are only ever in the office, or commuting or doing domestic things at home, they’ll soon dry up. It’s vital to get out of the office and around the galleries if you’re to avoid getting all your ideas off of the furniture or decor.

We also believe it’s important to keep an eye on the latest films, books, music and news. Real creatives need to be in touch with the world, even the other worldly ones.

But most important of all – we don’t skimp on time.

This may be hard when there are countless deadlines, but the amount of thought that goes into an idea is usually quite transparent - even to people who’ve never stepped near a creative agency.

Inspiration is a strange, unpredictable, mysterious phenomenon. It can land any second, often when it’s most inconvenient, but it usually comes off the back of good preparation.

Good agencies never forget that.

Danny SomekhComment