Q It Up: How Do You Make Your Commercial Copy “Creative”?

Q-It-Up-Logo-sep95Q It Up: This month’s question is for those of you who write commercials. How do you make your scripts “creative”? What resources do you use to generate creative copy? Do you have an idea bank? Do you use online services of any kind? Do you have brainstorming sessions? Perhaps you just take a walk outside or listen to a sound effects CD. Tell us how you inject creativity into your commercial scripts.

Jim Kipping [jkipping[at]ev1.net]: My inspiration? Life!

If there is one thing that I can’t stand is when an AE, or other folks I know in the industry, tells me that they can’t come up with any ideas for a script. They must be dead. Because if you actually breath in and out, if you put your clothes on this morning and drove yourself to work, you can write copy!

Anywhere you go, any experience you experience. FOR ALL THAT’S HOLY LOOK AROUND YOU! Be a student of life!!!! Don’t make things up when you probably have a wealth of untapped experiences locked up in that noggin!!!

Example. I just wrote and produced an insurance commercial that started like this:

“No one wakes up with the expectation of getting in an accident today. But if you were in an accident, would you know what to do?” (protect yourself…)

Did I make this up? No. My wife was in an accident a few years back. She knew what to do. She was able to call for help, EVEN THOUGH HER CAR WAS TOTALED BY ANOTHER VEHICLE!! No this was not a nice experience, but it was an experience. Fear is very motivational. It was something I could draw from to make a spot that was far different from anything else, like: “XYZ Insurance wants to be your insurance company. XYZ has been in business since 1998, and they can meet or exceed your every insurance need!” That’s crap, and you know it. Stop throwing your hands up in the air!

Another example of drawing from experience, even though it wasn’t my personal experience, was when one of the largest universities in the world, The University of Texas, was hacked into and something like 50,000 social security numbers where stolen. This is great fodder for a company that specializes in Internet, Intranet and network security. This is what I came up with:

(computer sfx clicking) The room is dark. (computer key) Illuminated only by the faint glow of blinking LED’s and the flicker of the flat screen monitor where a lone teen sits... hours, upon hours. (clicking continues) He knows no job, other than sitting at his computer. Relentlessly, effortlessly, prying into machines a world away. (computer beeps) Well... lookie there. That’s a whole lot of social security numbers. He can use that later. He has bigger fish to catch. The really scary thing, is this is one of thousands of hackers out there. Now... how confident are you about your network? Your clients’ confidential data. Your employees? If it can happen to one of the biggest universities in the world, do you think it could happen to your company? Firewalls, intranets, VPN, disaster recovery. IOCOM. If it was good enough for the Bush campaign, they’ll work for you... IOCOM. 462-0999. 462-0999.

Very un-script/commercial like. More story telling. A few “creative” types have really bastardized our media. If you don’t believe me, listen to damn near every car commercial.

By the way, the first client, the insurance client? That got us a $100,000 buy, then second a $25,000 buy for 3 months. You tell me what is better. Crap copy that yells at you or letting the listener participate?

If you are breathing, you can write copy. Using that breathing and experience can help you write copy that gets results.

And don’t steal my copy above.. get your own! :0)

Troy Duran [troy[at]troyduran.com]: Most of the time my best ideas come while doing the most mundane things — mowing the lawn, sweeping out the garage, running (until it started to cut in on my smoking time) — things like that. Usually the ideas don’t necessarily have anything to do with a client I’m currently working for; if I’m smart, I’ll stop what I’m doing and write it down, but I’m not usually very smart. Sometimes the idea will stick with me long enough to actually apply by adapting the concept to a product or service a client offers. Or I can mock up the concept and cold call a potential client with the idea.

Generally speaking, good ideas to me are like sex: They’re best when they arrive spontaneously.

As far as actually injecting creativity into a commercial, I think Nick Michaels said it all in the last issue: I try to resist the temptation and pressure to say, “WE have this and WE offer that.” I try to think about how my client’s product or service fits into a circumstance that would affect the listener on a human level: Selling fire extinguishers? Think about how much it would suck if YOUR house burnt down. Cotton panties? There are plenty of reasons to fidget on a first date without making it worse by wearing polyester. Etc., etc.

Sean Bell [seanbell[at]yahoo.com], www.nypd.co.uk: When I try to explain to somebody what I do (which is no easy task in itself), I always get asked, “How do you come up with the ideas?” I have many different approaches, and I find I write better and more efficiently when I’m under a bit of pressure, with the work piling up and deadlines looming.

I do have quite a few decent books — facts, figures, categorized jokes, etc., so if I get asked to write a spot for a dentist (for example), I can look up a load of one-liners or facts under the heading of dentist, mouth, teeth or whatever.

Sometimes I will brainstorm, perhaps with the client directly, the salesperson, or I’ll take a loose idea home and mention it to my wife. She’ll come back with a point or observation, which can be quite beneficial as she’s not close to the concept and she might look at the idea or message from the customer’s point of view. This pulls me up as sometimes (as I suspect we all do) I’ll get lost trying to be too creative or develop an idea “just because I can,” though it might lose direction because I’m trying to be clever.

Occasionally, when I come up with an idea without a specific campaign to write, or when I hear something which I really like and can adapt, I’ll make a note and keep it for future reference. Of course, the ‘net’s really useful, and so is a short walk, to clear your head and see something that inspires.

However, when I really do get a block, I turn to the 150 or so voice-over demo CD’s on the shelf. I pick one at random and listen to it. I’ll hear a production style, a character voice or delivery, maybe a sound effect or word, phrase or line, whatever. But in there, I know I’ll find the seed that plants the idea.

Above all, I’ve learnt not to worry when I do get a block. I know now that it will pass, and when all else fails, I’ll re-read the brief late on a night, and somehow (magically?), I’ll wake up the next morning with a good idea and the problem sorted.

Thank goodness for the “ideas fairy” who visits each night!

Todd Carruth CPCC [Todd[at]RAB. COM], Radio Advertising Bureau: How to make it creative? One of the first things that I do is place myself in the mind of the potential customer. If I were going to purchase the product, what would I want to know about it? What would grab my attention? Is the price really low? Then say the opposite to grab attention. Take a cliché’ and twist it around. Also, sometimes I write the first 30 seconds and then email the unfinished work to another copywriter and he wraps it up. Between the two of us, we usually produce a script that’s better than either one of us could come up with on our own.

Johnny Milford [studio[at]prodgod .com], Johnny Milford Productions: If only I had an easy answer! Every client is different, every spot is different, and every situation is different. I still haven’t found that magical formula for creativity, and when approaching each new writing project I’m always secretly convinced that I’ll come up dry and finally be discovered for the fraud that I am. Luckily, that hasn’t happened. Yet.

Sometimes I’ll consult a file that I keep of potential ideas. Occasionally I’ll enlist an associate to spawn some ideas. However, most of the time (and I’m not proud of this), the looming threat of a last-minute deadline somehow forces out some fairly creative ideas. In fact, most every award I’ve ever won for creativity has been for spots that I slapped together under the duress of an impossible deadline. I can’t say that I enjoy that process and I certainly couldn’t recommend it, but the ends tend to justify the means. Sometimes ideas occur to me in the shower, while driving, or when I least expect them. Other times, I’ll ponder some ideas prior to bedtime, and then awaken in the morning with the perfect spot racing thru my mind. I can’t explain THAT one, either.

There doesn’t seem to be any perfect panacea that works every time for me. Different circumstances inspire creativity in different writers. I know of terrific Production Directors out there who can sit in front of a word processor all day and spit out one great script after another. I wish that were me, but I can’t think of a more stifling environment for me. I suppose the bottom line is, after all of those stunningly creative ideas are transformed into dazzling audio, all that REALLY matters is how effective the spot is in conveying the client’s core message. THAT should always be the primary goal of the creative process.

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