AdVice Articles by Sam Harmon

The following article was published in Media Inc. Magazine

What Makes Great Creatives?

Question: What do the finest Creative minds and the actor John Malkovich (among others) have in common?  The answer may be one of the most important elements in the process of creating truly effective, results-driven advertising.

Answer: They are fantastic character actors.

On any given day, a creative may be asked to play the role of a stranded motorist with a shattered u-joint, a future bride with a dress stain, a first-time home buyer with bad credit, even a cancer victim. Every ad, every slogan, even every media consideration should be visualized from the mind and soul of the target market it is intended to entice. Once the charactor identity is accomplished, all creative decisions become clear.

Brainstorm sessions become refreshing brainshowers that creatives, account executives and clients skip through, laughing and cavorting like children on a Norman Rockwell magazine cover (imagine that). Thoroughly immersing yourself into the target market’s point of view will clarify the most effective advertising direction to take, resulting in a stronger response from the recipient.

Start With Research
Often in our hurry to get out the finger paints and crayons, we assume we already know the target market. Even if we do, this is where we must have the discipline to set our creativity aside and discover the lifestyles and characteristics of those we want to entice. The starting point is the logistical research that has already been done, the additional focusing on the intended target, and investigating our target current relationship with the ever-changing life they lead.

Experience Their Experience
Let’s say your client sells Farming Implements. As much as I would love to recommend spending a week in Tillamook as a barns-keeper with shovel blisters, there are other ways to dive into character: Trade magazines. Livestock auctions. Area diners and taverns. Targeted radio stations and websites. Related retailers. Your goal is deeper than simply learning, it’s becoming. Stereotyping leads to generic, predictable, disconnected communication.

See Your Ads Through Their Eyes Only
As a fellow creative, I have bowed down and worshiped the level of imagination and originality in many ads, only to rise back up to my feet and ask, what and/or who was that selling? Bottom line is: every person is the epicenter of their own reality. To assume your ad will penetrate right to the sweet spot is extremely arrogant. If you readjust your creative direction from the potential customer’s epicenter, pretending you are seeing the ad for the first time, you’ll truly sense the intended effect.

With very ad created, stop and attempt to become the person entended to be enticed. Their body language. Their frame of mind. Their interest level. Their associations. Their distractions. Everything possible. We need to distance yourself as far away from your own opinions, tastes and assumptions as we can. Then, look at the ad or listen to the spot again. If you have to work to understand or keep interest, it’s back to the drawing board. The only way to make such a separation is to become your target market.

So next time you run into Mr. Malkovich, offer him a job. Or at least, hire him for an intense seminar in character acting. Your clients will appreciate it.