How to get great creative advertising

Creativity needs a good briefWe’ve all seen them, the ads we wish we’d been part of creating. The ones that stop you in your tracks, make you turn back the page or maybe rewind the PVR. Advertising that tells a story, entertains, or makes you catch your breath. It doesn’t have to be a big budget campaign.

It might be a quirky idea that engages you, a low cost production that just works or the answer to a problem you’ve been agonising over.

But if you want great advertising, the starting point is always the same. The creative team needs a clear understanding of exactly who they are talking to, and the message they need to communicate. You might be tempted to believe that a vague brief allows more creative freedom, more room for expression and off-the-wall ideas, but this isn’t the case. Creativity flourishes when you are not wandering about aimlessly.

You want to reach real people. But if you don’t know who you’re talking to, you won’t know what might matter to them, entertain them, or what issues they might be dealing with.

Imagine, for example, that you want to advertise to women who are pregnant or have recently had a baby. You’d probably have a good idea as to what matters to them.

Now imagine I asked you to talk to menopausal women and men with arthritis in the same ad that talks to pregnant women. Would an arthritic man find animated ducks relevant? Would a pregnant woman see opening a bottle of tomato sauce as a challenge?   And this isn’t a hypothetical example; it’s a current healthcare print ad. Unsurprisingly bland and boring.

So define your target market carefully. Not just by demographics, but by what matters to them. Describe a real person, so you can connect on a personal level. Because if you can’t reach one person; you certainly won’t reach your mass audience.

It’s also critical that you identify the most important thing you need to communicate, your single-minded message. Do you remember the old City Lodge “Feels like Home” TV campaign? One ad had a businessman going to breakfast in his underpants before realising he was in a public dining room, another an inebriated couple getting a little amorous on a couch in the front foyer. Hilarious, and a very memorable execution of their promise; their guests really feel at home. They didn’t challenge their ad agency to include extraneous information about the secure parking, the ease of check-out or the vending machines in every corridor.

Professional and business-to-business advertisers are particularly guilty of falling into this trap; showcasing so many attributes or applications that nothing stands out. Advertising may not always need a “Big Idea”, but stuffing too much into one ad doesn’t allow for functionality, let alone a concept or even good design. As a colleague used to say, you can’t put all the elephants in the front seat.

On the other hand, you do need to give enough information. While perfume and fashion houses can run ads comprising nothing more than mood and visual imagery, categories like healthcare and professional services need to state their case and give their client a reason to believe.

This is true for industrial advertising and business-to-business too. A stunning photograph and a clever headline might be visually appealing, but a rational reason will add power to the promise. And no, “we’ve been around for ten years” is not enough!

Award-winning ads use humour, surprise, envy and even fear. They tap into our need for belonging, security, recognition or status and give us an acknowledgment that we are not alone. They give us information that matters to us. They find a creative idea to make us sit up and take notice.

But the true measure of the success of an ad is how well it builds the brand. Because great advertising isn’t merely creative, it uses creativity to achieve your business objectives.


  1. Harold Shoemarker on May 2, 2013 at 19:08

    “Award-winning ads use humour, surprise, envy and even fear”
    I thought the maxim was ‘sex sells’? Besides, winning awards and selling products are horses of a different colour – I believe Ogilvy had a quote along those lines.
    Still, you make valid points about the appeal of creativity.

    • Ann Druce on May 4, 2013 at 15:17

      Of course there may be ads that win awards that are pure indulgence, and do nothing for the business. Creativity, in itself, is insufficient proof of greatness.

      On the other hand, an ad might sell up a storm, achieving tough sales objectives, and still not be described as great. “Buy 1 and get 3 free” type ads would be examples of this. “Serviceable” might be a better description.

      Of course great advertising must achieve the marketing objectives, but it should also reach out and grab the target audience, engage them and make them take notice.

  2. Yuri on April 25, 2013 at 12:09


    “You want to reach real people. But if you don’t know who you’re talking to, you won’t know what might matter to them, entertain them, or what issues they might be dealing with.”

    Great article!! Always look forward to read what you will come up with next.

    There is the new Dove ad ( A guy painting women- how they see themselves and how other women see them) Its really speaks to the audience and as you know Dove uses “real” women to make us normal ladies feel normal and beautiful.

    Try find it on YouTube and let us all know what you think about it 😉

    • Ann Druce on April 26, 2013 at 14:50

      Hi Yuri

      I do like the Dove advertising (though it is controversial) but I prefer their “Evolution” one. But there is no doubt that both of these ads are based on clearly thought-through marketing strategies that are executed consistently, which is always a great way to build a brand.

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