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What Were They Thinking? Inside a Creative’s Brain


Everyone loves a good commercial. Sure, we fast forward or skip through a lot of them, but if they’re exceptionally cute, funny or even a little emotional, they tend to stick.

Have you ever stopped to think about a commercial’s genesis when you find yourself smiling, laughing or tearing up? Where do these ideas come from anyway?

We marketers tend to rewind it all the way back to the beginning.

Before it aired, before it got recorded, before the storyboard and even before the first creative meeting, there was a sentence; maybe even just a part of one. Perhaps it was scrawled on a whiteboard or scribbled on a blank sheet of paper. But, it was there.

It was a single goal for the client. It was a challenge to a creative team. It probably came from research, the most important, but unsexiest thing marketing agencies do. It probably produced a lot of chin stroking or blank stares.

Nobody came into the agency and said, “We want a hilarious commercial with cavemen” or “Can we do a car commercial that makes people cry?” The blurbs at those meetings read something like “quick and simple insurance policies” or “the safest cars in America.”

It wasn’t anything catchy, sexy or cute. It was just a few words floating around a room full of pens, pads, coffee cups, beer bottles or empty Chinese takeout containers.

How about “batteries that last a really long time.” What could a creative team do with something like that?

Imagine walking into some massive factory where people and machines pour zinc and manganese dioxide into metal tubes. Imagine the noise, the stinging sensation in your nose and the itch of the lab coat you might wear on a tour.

You couple that experience with who, what, where, when and how of that client’s company, products and goals. You determine that the batteries last a really long time. Eventually, you sit around with some other people, start thinking and get an idea.

Imagine walking into that client’s boardroom, walls covered in mahogany, black and white portraits of the company’s founders covering the walls. Imagine standing to introduce yourself to a bunch of people in suits and looking down a long slab of conference table that seems to go on forever.

You clear your throat, offer some explanation that connects the goal with the concept before unveiling …

A pink bunny.

And a drum.

Imagine the reaction.

Well, I’ll bet you recognized that brand immediately even without a picture. That’s because a pink bunny and a drum isn’t just humorous or adorable, it shows you Energizer batteries last a really long time.

That iconic campaign is still kicking after 30 some years all because some creative weirdo went to a battery factory, looked at a sentence and came up with a pink bunny and a drum.

It’s proof that creativity is the most important element of marketing.

We’re inspired by ideas like that one. We like to imagine what that sentence looked like before it became a story. Marketing is storytelling, after all.

Good marketing is driven by the idea – not the budget.

In fact, there’s no bigger creative killer than a budget. You never go into a creative meeting with a number, because that number might limit your imagination. That number might shift the focus to a medium where it doesn’t need to be.

The elusive pink bunny idea doesn’t have to be a television commercial … or a digital ad or a social media campaign or PR stunt. It just has to stick.

The most effective marketing is driven by creativity and that creativity is driven by one simple sentence or even a few words. You have to trust the creative process and be willing to take chances. Because chances are, a great idea will become a memorable brand.

About The Author

Travis arrived at ABC back in 1995, when photography was his main creative outlet. That passion evolved over the next decade as Travis began thinking beyond imagery and pitching his broader ideas and strategies to clients. It was the birth of the idea-based marketing philosophy: Getting to know the client inside out, learning about the successes and failures, then spinning that into an idea that could build a better outcome. That’s the cornerstone he’s built his creative-first agency on since buying the place in 2005. ABC has grown exponentially since then both in terms of people and clients. Local, regional, national, banking, destinations, nonprofits: Travis has greatly expanded services over the years to accommodate them all. He’s also assembled a talented team. Just like them, he’s greeted each morning by a simple reminder etched on the wall: “Create Cool Sh!t Today!” He’s proud to run the kind of agency that does.