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No campaign ideas? Maybe it’s time to let inspiration look for you

By Caroline Petvin

There’s no single formula for generating a great idea. In fact, the best ideas often sneak up and tap you gently on the shoulder when you’re looking in a completely different direction. 

It’s no surprise then, that some of the world’s most life-changing inventions have been discovered entirely by accident. Think penicillin. Think x-raysThink chocolate chip cookies.

In the words of Isaac Asimov “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ (I found it!) but ‘That’s funny …’”

Embrace the unexpected

Idea generation relies quite heavily on exploring subjects, concepts or issues that might not initially make much sense. On putting yourself in the thick of things you don’t quite ‘get’ and having a good poke around, rather than sticking safely to the things you already understand. 

This principle applies when starting work on a marketing campaign. By grilling Google or asking Alexa, it’s easy enough to deliver something acceptable. To fulfil the brief. But coming up with ideas that lead to the exceptional, ensuring audiences sit up and pay attention? That requires far more digging beneath the surface. 

Just like the accidental inventions mentioned earlier, the most effective marketing concepts often appear in unlikely places, when we’re least expecting them. The throw-away comment at the end of an input call that ultimately inspires the look, feel and strapline of the whole campaign. The golden nugget of information hidden in ten pages of notes that makes the spine quietly tingle. The wildcard design route that was only added to make up the numbers, and suddenly takes on a life of its own. 

And you can be sure when you leave your laptop and head out for a run, that’s precisely the moment your brain will shuffle together everything it’s heard and seen, and deal you a thought that’s more inspiring than anything you’ve come up with all day. (Luckily many smartwatches now come with voice recorders.) 

Be open to inspiration 

There are lots of things we can do to encourage the ideation process, but often it’s just a case of being aware of, and open to, those fleeting ‘what’s that?’ feelings. And more than just being open to moments of intrigue, we also need to provide the right environments for them to happen. 

Creating opportunities for inspiration is something that’s important to us at Beneath. Before starting any project we talk to subject matter experts and steel ourselves to ask the ‘stupid questions’ (if such things actually exist). Rather than sticking strictly to an interview script, we’re happy to let the conversation take its natural course and to explore the tangents, ears pricked for the topics our clients are most enthused (or perhaps incensed) by.       

This is how to get the good stuff. The interesting and emotive parts of the story. The anomalies that don’t quite fit the preconceptions. The parts that would get overlooked if work was based solely on online research.  

Let creativity breathe 

Whether you’re a strategist, writer or designer – on the account team or client side – it’s important to build in opportunities to let creativity breathe and ideas flow throughout the course of the project. To make time (deadline permitting) to think, to research, to explore and to pull on any threads that might be intriguing. 

Testing ideas and getting things ‘wrong’ (once again a concept of questionable existence) should be part of the process. It’s all about maximising the opportunity for those lightbulb moments.  

Exceptional ideas tend to reveal themselves when you’re not looking directly at them, so identifying a fool-proof process for ideation will always be tricky. But being aware of, and open to, Asimov’s ‘that’s funny’ moments is a very good start.