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Monday, November 26, 2012




“Think of the (Ad) Strategy Statement as a lump of clay. You have to sculpt it into something interesting to look at.  So begin by taking the strategy and saying it some other way, any way.  Say it faster.  Say it in proper English. Then in slang.  Shorten it.  Punch it up.  Try anything that will change the strategy statement from something you’d overhear in an elevator at a sales convention to a message you’d see spray-painted on an alley wall.”


--Fallon Agency copywriter


“(Creative)…the blending of verbal and visual imagery—that inexplicable alchemy which causes one plus one to equal three.”


                                                              --George Lois


When developing communication or advertising campaigns, have you ever wondered, “When or how is it that a strategy becomes an idea (or, better yet, a number of ideas)?”  Or, maybe, a more helpful question might be, “What, really, makes for an idea…as opposed to a non-idea?”  As marketers, by our DNA we are, or should be, lovers and champions of ideas, all kinds of ideas:  product, packaging, promotion, PR, and especially, communication or advertising ideas.  So we really should have a solid understanding and appreciation of creative work that truly qualifies as ideas.  Additionally, we should be able to motivate and guide our agency teammates to consistently bring us real ideas…that we can assess against whatever strategy we have jointly crafted and then check out with our customers or consumers.


And yet, if we’re honest, because so much of what passes for advertising today lacks a real idea and because we marketers tend not to spend much of our time developing communication campaigns, getting good at distinguishing advertising with ideas from advertising without ideas isn’t all that easy.  In fact, in many categories brands tend to follow a common “format” in their communications—a format typically devoid of an idea.  We’ve talked a few times in these Dispatches about the “wallpaper-format” effect within much of skincare advertising:  so many leading brands featuring a model with beautiful skin accompanied by some scientific information (and maybe a graph or two) detailing how the product works, and a big logo at the end…but no idea to engage the target or to dramatize and deliver the brand benefits.


On the other hand, there are some other everyday categories in which virtually every brand’s advertising delivers its benefits via an idea—and a campaign-able idea at that.  Take the car/household insurance category.  Whether considering Geico’s “Caveman” campaign, or its iconic “Gekko” campaign, or Allstate’s “Mayhem” campaign, or StateFarm’s “Discount Double-Check” campaign, all are centered around, are built upon an idea.   So what’s the difference between the advertising in, say, skincare (virtually no campaign ideas) and insurance (many campaign ideas)?


We think the difference starts with having a creative concept, something that we have usually referred to as a Naked Idea.  The creative concept is nothing more than a one-sentence summation—ideally, in simple English (or whatever the language)—of the campaign idea being proposed by an agency’s creative teams.  Importantly, the creative concept is not a re-statement of the strategic benefits nor is it a detailed description of a particular ad.  No, the creative concept pinpoints how the brand’s strategic benefits will be communicated time after time, throughout the life of the campaign.  Just to be clear, if we were to think back upon the recent U.S. Gatorade ad campaign (“Is it in you?”), this might be how the agency first communicated the creative concept to the Gatorade team:


Creative Concept:  Winning, even driven athletes, drink Gatorade and then sweat Gatorade as they perform to the max.


NOT:  Gatorade gives driven athletes the replenishment they need to win—even better than water. (Benefit statement!)


NOT:  The scene opens with a Nascar driver guzzling his Gatorade; we then cut to him in the cab of his racing machine and see via close-up he is sweating some green liquid from his pores; next there’s a cut to him pushing the limits even more…and finally crossing the finish line as the winner. (Only one of many possible executions of the creative concept!)


But why also refer to the Creative Concept as the Naked Idea?  Quite simply because, as expressed in a simple English sentence, the idea has yet to be “adorned” or “dressed up” with more imaginative language (the Key Copy Words, or Campaign Line) or with dramatic imagery (the Core Dramatization).  It’s an idea, for sure; it just hasn’t been turned into a “message spray painted on an alley wall” or via “alchemy,” from lead into gold.


As already noted, naked ideas are created by the agency’s creative teams--using the Creative Brief as a blueprint.  That’s good news for us clients because we’re not in the habit of, nor do we get paid for, coming up with a bevy of creative concepts.  But, what we do get paid for is (1) insisting upon seeing a range—say, 6 to 12—of naked ideas early in the creative process; (2) expecting that the creative teams will always start by saying or explaining each naked idea; and (3) being capable of recognizing a legitimate naked idea from something that is either a benefit, a single execution, or worse yet, not an idea at all.  Clearly, this takes practice!  The more legitimate ideas we see and consider, the smarter we get.  And since we are not usually going to creative meetings or presentations every week, the more we study ad campaigns that are already in the market and try to infer the creative concept/naked idea, the better we get at distinguishing legitimate ideas from non-ideas.


So the implied principle in the above is simply this:  To better ensure that your brand will benefit from ad campaigns built upon engaging, compelling, and benefit-communicating ideas, always start by “getting naked”—ideas that is…lots and lots of ideas to consider, thereby providing a good number of more promising ones to build upon and share with target consumers or customers.




     1. Creative concepts, or naked ideas, are shared and discussed all the time at our ad and communication agencies.  Unfortunately, we clients aren’t usually invited to attend and listen in.  So, the get an invitation to the party, we need to take the initiative and, with our senior management’s support, set up a fair “tissue” meeting process—mainly, meeting with the agency teams early in the creative development process and going through a range of their initial ideas.  We say a “fair” process because these are informal sessions in which no one should be aiming to “kill” or criticize; rather, every client should be geared to “coaching” (as in adding value) the ideas he or she has heart for.


    2. Always ask the agency teams to state the creative concept before presenting any “dressed up” Key Copy Words or Core Dramatizations.  Most agencies do this as a matter of course; but still, listen closely because not every agency creative person is equally adept at encapsulating a naked idea in a sentence or two.  Ask yourself:  “Is it really a concept, or more akin to a re-statement of the brand’s benefit?”


    3. With each naked idea you see, be sure to assess how well you think the Key Copy Words and Core Dramatization match up with the concept.  They should all link together in beautiful harmony!


In a future Dispatches, we’ll look more closely at a number of legitimate Naked Ideas to see what traits they typically share in common.  In other words, traits that make for an idea—as opposed to a non-idea.


Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney

Richard Czerniawski

430 Abbotsford Road

Kenilworth, Illinois 60043

tel 847.256.8820 fax 847.256.8847

reply to Richard: or



Mike Maloney

1506 West 13th

Austin, Texas 78703

tel 512.236.0971 fax 512.236.0972

reply to Mike: or

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