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Advertising ideas – when less was more

In the days when I regularly worked in ad agencies, there was always one sure-fire way of telling how good the agency was creatively: the number of ideas they put forward in presentations.

Agencies that presented lots of ideas are the best ones, right? They must be – they come up with so much stuff.

Actually, no. The best agencies were the ones which showed the client just the one idea.

Certainly, before they put forward that single concept, there were numerous ideas which never saw the light of day. Many never got further than a few seconds flitting around a copywriter or art director’s brain. Others never got further than a scribble on the layout pad. Those that did went up on their wall, before being later taken down and chucked for not being good enough.

A few properly thought through ones were then presented to the Creative Director. Often those would all get rejected, and it was back to the thinking, scribbling, putting on the wall process all over again.

Sometimes all this happened across multiple creative teams.

Eventually, an ad would emerge that was on brief, relevant, and with the power to cut through all the other ads that the average consumer is daily exposed to and duly ignores.

Then and only then would it be polished up a certain amount and presented to the client. All on its own, and with only its own qualities and the skill of the account person to sell it. It wasn’t just a really good idea (and it nearly always was), it was saying that you, Mr or Ms Client, may be good at your business, but we know exactly what will work when it comes to promoting your products or services.

Contrast this with the approach of the not-so-good agencies.  They would put forward lots of concepts. In their mind it showed that they were hard-working, flexible and ultra-creative. What it actually said to the client was that the agency didn’t really know what was best, so go on, you choose. All we want is for something to go through. Anything. Never mind if it’s not quite right, just take it and give us the money.

These days of course, the situation has changed further. Even most of the good agencies have lost their confidence. So you get lots and lots of concepts being presented all the time.  Often, they’re been generated not just by one or two individuals but by lots and lots of them. Via brainstorming. Crowdsourcing. Advertising by committee (whoops, not allowed to say that last one).  Which means that what gets through tends to be what’s acceptable rather than what’s different or radical, or hard to sell.

Then of course you get multiple agencies working on the same brief. Even multiple countries working on even the smallest briefs.

Lots and lots of ideas, left and right, all over the place – and I mean all over the place.  But very rarely hitting dead centre. And those few that do almost never get made. Why? Because just as there are more and more ideas, so there  are more levels of approval to get through – more research, more clients, more people who can say no but never yes. Or if they do like it, they want it like this, whereas the next person wants it like that. Or how about if we take this headline and this picture and ram them together. And so on.

So the end result is that there are more ads than ever, not to mention all manner of  other executions across traditional and digital mediums. And most of them are crap.

Fewer ideas, anyone?


For some adverts with good ideas (even if I say so myself) please see my advertising copywriting page. And if you’re looking for some good concepts or long copy, please contact me


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