Emotion Trumps Idea

In advertising, idea is king. Big ideas. New ideas. Relevant ideas. Innovative ideas. Our days are spent coming up with them, crafting them, selling them. We praise and reward work built on ideas we love and rail against work that has ‘no idea’. But what’s so good about ideas? And is it possible for advertising be great without them?

This debate has come up many times over the years in the context of great ideas vs great craft. While Sir John Hegarty famously said great work is “80% idea and 80% execution”, advertising creatives have traditionally viewed craft as the slightly less important element in the conundrum and looked at craft awards as less prestigious than ‘proper’ awards – awards for ideas. On balance I’m with Sir John in that I don’t think you can have great work without both idea and craft. But there’s one thing that I think trumps ideas: emotion.

The point of an idea is to disrupt and engage, to persuade people, get them to think and act in a way which is advantageous to the brand. But what if you could skip the ‘idea’ bit and cut straight to the emotion? What if, like art – which is usually ‘idea-less’ – you could go straight to making people feel something…and then relate that emotion to your brand? This classic Levi’s ad by Jonathan Glazer kind of does that, but the line at the end pulls it into having a loose analogy-based idea. This Lacoste ad feels like it’s all craft and no substance, but it actually has quite a big idea at its core (reaching out to connect with people is like a leap into the unknown…but it’s worth the risk). Whereas the Coke ‘Parents’ ad, above, which won a Gold Lion at Cannes last week is literally idea-less. There’s no new or interesting take on a problem, no lateral thought and no how-did-they-come-up-with-that? moment. Just a slice of life brilliantly shot with the near perfect music track, talent and performances (particularly the guy from the 40-50 mark). It’s probably my favourite idea-less ad ever.

I’m absolutely not saying ideas are dead, let’s all make mood films. But I do think pieces that can shortcut the head and get straight to the heart have a great chance of being effective. The difficult bit is that they need to be a fusion of insightful thinking with bloody brilliant craft chops…which is seriously difficult without an idea. So unless you’re working on the next Coke ‘Parents’: Practice safe advertising. Use a concept.


About antmelder
Executive Creative Director at Host/Havas Sydney; passionate vegetarian; lover of books, boxing and Bruce Springsteen.

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