Ideas that haven’t been done need new sources of inspiration

Snøhetta book on generating ideas

Snøhetta book on generating ideas

Today in a class I teach at BU, we talked about “ideas that do” as opposed to message-based ads that talk to you. A few years ago, ideas that do were far less common than they are today. For one thing, brands weren’t yet sure what to do with consumers who were starting to make noise in social media. Agencies were still stuck in the mindset that the answer to everything was a TV commercial. True, on the digital side the Razorfish’s and R/GA’s set examples with platforms. And in the more traditional world Crispin Porter Bogusky led the way with ideas like Whopper Sacrifice. But they were in the minority when it came to creative ideas getting produced.

Now, however, everyone has caught on. And so we have smartphone apps, Facebook experiences, crowdfunding, staged events in search of virality, customized digital experiences, transmedia product launches, participatory television,  you name it.

But it’s just as hard, maybe harder, to do great creative in the new space. You may be able to do 10 E-Trade baby spots and still have them be clever. But once you’ve sacrificed friends on Facebook it’s over. Once you’ve tagged furniture on an Ikea manager’s Facebook page as a way to win furniture, it’s an old idea. Once you’ve placed messages on the road with a chalk-writing robot the thrill of a chalk-writing robot may be gone. Once you’ve dropped someone out of a spaceship 24 miles high, what are you going to do?  Drop someone from 25 miles high?

In the old days of advertising you could find creatives sitting in their offices flipping through award show annuals in hopes of finding an idea they might be able to modify. Today you see people searching on YouTube for ideas. But those ideas have now been done.

The trick, of course, is to conceive completely original ideas. That has never been easy no matter what kind of advertising you were creating. But it may be even harder now.

George Lois once said that he was a voracious consumer of photography, art exhibits, and movies, seeking words and pictures that would inspire ideas made from new combinations of words and pictures.

But in months and years to come, many of our ideas have to be actual inventions, made out of technology rather than words and pictures. The’ll have to factor in cultural trends and consumer behaviors, even those that are only beginning to emerge. And they’ll need to be more about place and context than about time and target.

So perhaps we need to move beyond last year’s award show annual, or whatever’s trending on YouTube, or even a weekend of theatre and galleries to find inspiration.

Maybe we should find entirely new sources to snap us out of our familiar patterns.

My thoughts?

To inspire inventions, take a course on Coursera on how to invent a new business. Or if that doesn’t strike your fancy, find something even farther outside your comfort zone.

Mosey over to D&AD and look at the “concept” briefs that brands are posting in student competitions. That might get you thinking about how trends like urban density and hyper-connectedness will inevitably affect marketing.

And if you want to think more about space and context, get out of the app store and familiarize yourself with the architecture of Snøhetta. Who knows, maybe learning how their buildings gather and migrate people through open space might give you an idea for moving people around the web.

You may have better ideas for where to go. If so, please share them.


edwardboches moderator

Dan, You are absolutely right. It's essential to know and thing about physically making things, learning something about programming, and the idea that you can invent something that doesn't yet exist. Ideally, all rooted in a genuine need. So the story is baked on, not frosted on.


Great thoughts here. I'd add go to a Maker Faire, see what people are doing with 3D printers and inexpensive simple-to-program boards like arduino or Raspberry pi. There's lots of creative ideas happening in this world of physical/digital objects that are often very much the definition of ideas that do.