In advertising, everyone is looking for the creative idea.  But in reality, more sweat is spent on defining the problem and on getting ideas approved than it is in coming up with the ideas themselves.

Defining the problem and creating a strategy is the sweat and inspiration part of the process.  A disciplined approach that asks the right questions and puts the thinking together into a directional blueprint for what kind of idea is needed is critical.

Just about anyone can toss off a couple ideas on what to do, clever headlines, nifty graphic ideas, that sort of thing.  And clients do love those.  But that can be like having a tight bombing pattern over the wrong place.

Defining the right message and the right target make all the difference.  A brilliant creative idea misses the point is not nearly as good as one that hits the target with a relevant and motivating strategy message.

A case in point: We took over the Equal Sweetener business after it had won all kinds of awards for a clever print campaign that had exceptionally well photographed dancers dressed as desserts.  We replaced it with 15 second TV called Equal Has No Equal that featured vignettes of people happily using the product in different applications – coffee, baking, etc.

The result: we sold a lot more Equal but won no awards.  We had a more relevant, if less showy message that actually worked at selling product.  That took defining the problem better.

Many creative ideas, once we have them, face a continuous battering through the agency itself, through middle level clients, through their bosses, through legal departments, through regulators and even through consumer feedback to those people.

People outside the business are always surprised to hear about all the internal approvals, client approvals, legal approvals, broadcaster approvals and so forth that every piece of advertising typically goes through.  Somehow they think it is just a matter of slinging something against the wall and hoping it sticks.

I once wrote an article for NYU’s Communications Department publication on all the steps that a commercial takes to get approval.  It took an entire page of copy in small print, using acronyms, just to cover off everyone who had to approve or comment on a piece of work.  And very few people can review work without making a comment on it, or changing it just a little.

The struggle for getting a great idea to the public is not in its birth, but in its progress through the birthing canal to arrive at the consumers’ doors.

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