Tips on Creative Campaign Ideas

No two minds are alike. Two people, given the same creative brief, will produce vastly different campaigns. This is because ideas don’t materialise from thin air. They come from what has been read, experienced and observed everyday.

In addition, some people are more creative than others, because they exercise creative thinking more often. The creative power of the brain is like a muscle – the more it is flexed, the stronger it becomes and the faster the ideas come.

A lot of the techniques art directors and copywriters use to create ads are techniques borrowed from fiction writing, film and theatre. Books on these subjects make good background reading.

Having a healthy selection of art and industry advertising books in the office is a must. Pick up some copies of D&AD and specialty reads like Alastair Crompton’s Craft of Copyrighting.

Here are some techniques you can use to make your campaign creative stronger, improve brand awareness and the response rate of the campaign.

Keep it simple stupid

KISS. Keep it simple stupid. Express the idea in a small space. On a post-it note, on a napkin. If you can’t express your idea in concrete diagram or sentence, you probably don’t have an idea. At most, you may have several unrelated parts.

What many marketers find difficult to evaluate are ideas in their infancy. Without the idea rendered with finished images, they are not able to visualise how far the idea can go, or how campaignable an idea is. However, evaluating ideas without too much polish, is advantageous.

It allows concepts to surface, and good ideas to shine.

Cover territories – own spaces

The more ideas you can generate, the more areas or territories you can cover. Coming up with a few disparate ideas is no enough. Creatives instead map ideas to spaces or territories. They identify these territories from customer insights, research and plain intuition.

An idea may be good, but is it strategically placed in the right territory? Choosing the right campaign can be a matter of finding the right idea, in the most fertile territory.

Creatives hunt for new territories, or new ways of seeing existing territories. Otherwise their ideas are unoriginal and lack impact.

Make your idea a campaign

Creatives and clients loathe campaign ideas which cannot scale across different media. These require too much exposition, and too often only work in television.

Marketers should go for campaign ideas which can work not only in the richness of television, but also in small-space banner ads. Otherwise, they miss important touch points.

Turn it on its head

During brainstorming session, clients and agencies often complain they ‘get the same ideas’. This may be because the group is afraid to challenge thinking, or the group is suppressing ideas which sound absurd at face value.

Unless the group is prepared to take ‘untrodden’ paths, brainstorming sessions will yield the same results every time. Participants should let go of their fears and criticism, and turn their thinking on its head.

If car manufacturers always advertise their cars with four wheels, try an idea which features the car with no wheels. These are the kinds of ideas challenge consumers and give rise to free press coverage.

By incorporating a ‘what if’ exercise during brainstorming can boost the volume of ideas and the effectiveness of the group. Such that the sum of the parts contributed by the group is larger than any one contribution by one mind.

Straight headline, quirky visual

The basic ingredients of a print campaign is a headline and a visual. Creating an ad which shows a quirky visual, and a quirky headline, normally results in an ad which is too bizarre for an audience to interpret. Likewise, if the headline and visual are both straight, the add feels literal and provides no ‘ahhha’.

To get a right balance, it seems you need equal parts of the literal and the bizarre in the advertisement. It is worth mentioning that not every ad has both a headline or visual. Some are simply a visual, and some are just a headline.

Is the headline the same as the visual?

Junior creatives often make the mistake of creating ads with a headline and visuals which say the same thing. Beside is an example. This creative is not working very hard. Both the headline and visual say the same thing.

Instead, try placing an unrelated headline and visual together on the page. Separately they don’t mean much, but when put together, become a riddle for the audience to solve.

Clever? Or too clever?

The debate over ‘clever’ advertising never ceases. Clever ads the risk of their audience completely missing the point. Conversely, lame ads go unnoticed.

Both statements are correct. Lame ads lack impact. And being too clever isolate everyone but the judging panel at the awards. The medium, brand and creative, all have to be weighted to produce the desired effect.

For example, a piece for EPURON, designed to be a viral video, could be deemed as too clever. The idea works on multiple levels, personifying the wind and requiring the audience to watch it twice. You have to watch it to get it.

If this was a TVC, asking the audience to watch it twice is next to impossible. However, give the fact the creative was destined to be a viral YouTube video (so it can be played more than once), the witty element works in its favour to make it more viral.

Reference topical issues

Ads can leverage context from the public domain which is current. Sports, religion, politics, sex – these are all fertile places to leverage reference. Building an idea around a topical issue can be very powerful, and often sparks controversy.

Humour, gags, punch lines, pay-offs

Humour is the gag, the punch line, the payoff – these are good techniques to keep audiences reading. Realise that most advertising is interruptive. Compensating consumers by making them smile is the very least we can do for having interrupted them.

Ideas which feature gags that are genuinely funny can get a lot of love and mileage. In fact the funniest ones often offend some segment of society.

When deploying humour, make sure it is funny and is connected to the brand. Otherwise, the gag will be remembered, but the brand quickly forgotten.

Shock value

For some industries, like anti-tobacco smoking, featuring real people dying of smoking-related cancer is statistically proven to more impactful than other techniques.The problem with shock campaigns, is they get tired quickly. They lose shock-value. What was shocking today is mundane tomorrow.

This forces advertisers to go in pursuit of the next shocking visual or statistic. It is not easy to sustain these campaigns in the long run.

Puns and visual puns

These were once very popular techniques. There was a time when you could flick through a magazine, and almost every page featured a pun.

The smarter puns are not created as a headline, but expressed as a visual. These are called visual puns.Most creative people agree the use of puns should be avoided.

Puns are risky. At their heart there is often no core idea, and therefore they are a menace to campaign.

Puns are really a last resort.


Juxtaposition is achieved when the two dipolar visuals are put together. Take for example the faces of two opposing football team coaches; or a cheap car and a luxury car. These are two extremes which share a common relationship, but are very different. Together they create a striking visual.Their extreme differences give birth to a new meaning when placed beside each other.

Juxtaposition can useful for challenging a stereotype, and changing opinions.

Metaphors and hyperbole

Metaphors are one of the most common storytelling techniques. It is no surprise advertisers use them so often. Metaphors borrow from a construct the audience understands, to explain another construct they have little knowledge about.

For example, power plugs could be a metaphor for sexuality.

Metaphors can be a hyperbole too. A hyperbole is deliberate exaggeration for emotional effect. The effect is intentional, and the audience is not expected to interpret hyperbole literally.


Irony is a mode of expression that calls attention to discrepancy between two levels of knowledge. The definition of irony, in the simplest form, is the difference between what someone would reasonably expect to happen and what actually does. Meaning that something that happens that you would not even reasonably expect to happen is considered irony.


Alliteration is a series of repeated consonant sounds, occurring at the beginning of words or within words. Alliteration is used to create melody, establish mood, call attention to important words, and point out similarities and contrasts. They appear in headlines, in taglines and campaign titles.

Alliteration makes a phrase sound a little catchier, and more memorable.

Sticky ideas

Sticky is normally what you get when one or a combination of the above, works really well. You end up with an advertisement which is talked and written about. An ad campaign that becomes sticky is viral. Without much intervention or media spend, the audience transmits and shares the idea, often modifying it and making it their own.

This recent TVC by Heineken, combined several techniques covered in this article, and nailed it.

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