Have you ever watched the popular Netflix series Workin’ Moms? A poignant and funny commentary on the pressures working mothers face in modern society, the series centers around lead character Kate Foster, a marketing executive at an advertising firm. One notable episode features a brainstorming session where Kate and her team are trying to come up with their latest ad campaign. During the session, Kate microdoses some psychedelic drugs to improve her creative performance. And while high, she has an epiphany that leads her to create the boldest ad campaign her firm has ever seen. It’s an instant success, achieving notoriety and substantial revenue for both Kate and her firm.
This is often the picture we have in mind when we envision advertising agencies. We assume that ideas are formed in a flash of creative brilliance and that a career in advertising is nothing more than a series of inspired sparks. But nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, advertising is a hands-on industry that requires you to get down in the dirt and dig for your ideas. It necessitates long nights and stressful meetings and hours of brainstorming when your brain feels as though it is completely bereft of ideas. It is hours of effort in exchange for the fleeting reward of one beautiful idea. And when you think about it in that context, you’re forced to confront the mind-blowing struggle of what you’re really trying to do. Put simply, brainstorming an ad campaign is an attempt to convey the complexities of the universe — emotions like love, passion, desire, and need — in one 30-second commercial. When you think about it that way, you might wonder why anyone would do it. But as anyone who’s in love with advertising will tell you, it can be the most rewarding thing you ever do — as long as you know the right tricks. Over the course of this summary, we’ll explore those tricks in detail.
Chapter 1: How to Get Your Start
Breaking into advertising can feel as tough as breaking into Hollywood. In fact, if you want to get your foot in the door in either industry, you’ll need to get “discovered.” But how does that happen? And how can you set yourself up for the right opportunities? For starters, you’re going to need a solid portfolio. In this respect, the authors acknowledge that — once again- the advertising agency is much like Hollywood; in both cases, they want to see your experience and what it says about your potential. So, how do you cultivate a stellar portfolio? And what should it look like? Put simply, a portfolio (also known simply as a “book”) is a way of showcasing your talent in much the same way as if you were a model. Just as a modeling portfolio would provide examples of your looks and experience, a “book” highlights your talent and ideas.
If you study advertising or marketing in college, creating your portfolio will literally be one of your assignments, so you’ll have a built-in opportunity to curate this vital collection. But going to school for marketing isn’t necessarily a requirement. As the authors point out, having a good idea can be your ticket into the ad world — as long as you know how to present yourself. So, if you don’t know all the tricks of the trade, don’t beat yourself up or assume that you’re inherently at a disadvantage. Prospective employers care more about an awesome idea than whether or not you know all the right terminology. If you have a sharp mind and a creative streak, you can easily dive in and learn all the technical stuff later!
But needing a great idea to break into the ad world is kind of a chicken and egg scenario, isn’t it? Which comes first and how does it happen? You can’t make it in advertising unless you have a great idea, but without some experience, how do you cultivate great ideas? To help with the process, the author suggests some exercises for thinking outside the box. Anybody can pitch a product that they themselves are passionate about, so start with that. Imagine you have to sell a client on your favorite brand of coffee or your go-to TV show. How would you do that? What would your pitch be? How would you grab their attention? You can use this exercise to sharpen your skills. Then, once you’ve got some practice under your belt, you can move on to the next phase.
The next step is to consider ads that are already successful, whether they’re as recent as last year or as historic as the ‘50s. Study them closely and try to identify their secrets. What made them successful? How did they connect with their audience? Many of those factors are timeless, so there’s a good chance that you can apply them in creating your own ad campaigns. And if you really want to test your skills, move on to the third phase before you interview for a job in advertising. During the third phase, you can apply the insights you’ve gained from the first two steps — but this time, you’ll add a twist. This time, you’ll develop ad campaigns for products you would never use. If you loathe airpods, spend some time getting up and close and personal with them. Brainstorm a way to sell somebody on airpods. And once you can do that, you’ll not only have a host of great ideas to put in your portfolio, you’ll also have some solid experience!
Chapter 2: How to Get in the Zone
There’s no doubt about it: being creative is hard work! As we discussed in the previous chapter, many people choose creative careers because they think it means spending their days in blissful pursuit of fun ideas. But as we’ve already established, that’s nothing more than a fantasy; in the real world, creative careers can be grueling and it’s tough to brainstorm ideas, especially when you’re working on them for a client. In that respect, it’s important to remember that advertising might be a creative career,but that doesn’t mean you’ll get to focus on the topics you’re passionate about. Instead, you need to be passionate about the creative process itself. Because when you’re working on a project for a client, you might be working on something as dull as life insurance or as bright as party planning. And despite the fact that neither of those topics are interesting to you, you still have to do your best on both!
That can make it even harder to come up with good ideas (and it’s not like that was easy to begin with!) So, what can you do? How can you get in the creative zone? And most importantly, how can you stay there? To help with the process, the authors suggest a number of tried and true tricks that have helped them. A simple brain-storming exercise is a great way to start. Sure, you know your ad is about a brand of car, but start by writing it down. Literally write out, “This is an ad about… a car.” But of course, it’s about so much more than that and that oversimplification is one way to get your creative juices flowing. You can then follow that up with, “This is an about… a sense of togetherness. Family. Travel. Love.” This can help you form a word cloud of sorts and amass a collection of all the words, phrases, and feelings associated with your client’s product.
But that might not work for everyone, so the authors suggest another tip you can try. Another helpful trick is to pretend that you’re the customer. If you start thinking like the customer, you can consider what they want, how they value the product, and what they hope the product will bring them. This will help you remember that, above all, you’re selling an idea. So, if your product is a new brand of wine, think about how your client wants customers to feel when they drink that wine. Do they want to feel classy, sophisticated, and elegant? Or maybe this is a more casual wine for people who don’t know a lot of fancy wine terminology but still want to have a good time. In that case, you would want them to feel fun, free, and comfortable in a culture that might often exclude them. Getting in touch with this emotional appeal will help you create the perfect ad. And even if you have no personal connection to the product, putting yourself in the customer’s shoes will help you transcend your own experience and hit the right note.
Chapter 3: How to Craft the Perfect Ad
But now that we’ve talked about the right way to get in the creative zone, let’s talk about what makes a perfect ad. Above all, we know that a good ad is one that connects with the customers, that sells them on a feeling or an experience. But how do you do that? Is the secret in flashy campaigns or expensive commercials? Is an ad successful if it’s all over billboards and buses and TV? Not necessarily! For the purposes of this chapter, the authors invite you to think about the ads that resonate with you. Whether they’re classics from another era or the latest insurance ad from Liberty Mutual, the most successful campaigns usually have one thing in common: simplicity.
That might sound, well, overly simplistic, but take a moment to consider that concept. Have you ever noticed how some of the flashiest ads are impossibly vague? The visuals might be stunning, sure, and they might be accompanied by catchy music, but have you ever found yourself staring at the screen and wondering, “What were they trying to sell anyway?” A good ad never leaves you asking that question. Instead, its message is pure and simple from the get-go. You know what it’s selling, you know what the brand stands for, and you know how the ad makes you feel. But whether you’re working with print or digital mediums, creating a simple ad is hard work. (In fact, here’s a little insider tip: some of the flashier ads are created because it’s easier to dazzle an audience with pretty pictures than it is to tell a compelling story!) So, how can you make your ad stand out?
To help you identify your brand’s “story,” the authors recommend brainstorming a single word that defines that brand. For example, in the case of Volvo, that word is “safety.” That’s what they play up in all of their ads. That’s what people remember and associate with Volvo. But are you ready for the shocker? Volvo has never actually been rated one of the safest car brands! In fact, when reviewers curate lists of the safest automobiles available, nobody ever says, “Volvo.” But despite the fact that this impression isn’t built on statistics or any long-standing reputation for safety, Volvo has built their entire brand on the idea of safety. As you can see, this is clearly a testament to the phenomenal power of advertising! That’s because Volvo recognizes two things: the importance of speed and the importance of simplicity. They understand that modern audiences are constantly bombarded with demands on their time and attention; no one has the patience to sit through a long, boring, or pointless ad. So, if you want to make a point, you need to make it quickly, clearly, and simply, drawing on an image, value, or emotion that will stick with your audience long after your ad is over. So, if you want to emulate the success of Volvo, aim for those values in your next ad campaign!
Chapter 4: Final Summary
It’s easy to assume that creative careers like advertising are just one epiphany after another. In fact, people often make the mistake of assuming that creating all day will be so fun and relaxing, it won’t feel like work at all! But as we’ve seen through the course of this book, nothing could be farther from the truth! Advertising is intense and grueling work and brainstorming ideas can be one of the hardest things you ever do. But if you love what you’re doing, then the old adage is true: you’ll never work a day in your life!
Your career in advertising can be even more rewarding if you know the tricks the authors have outlined in this book. By following their tips for curating your portfolio,brainstorming ideas, and staying in the creative zone, you can give yourself a competitive edge that will improve your work and your quality of life. And by keeping your ideas simple — focusing on a single word, value, or feeling that resonates with your audience — you can create a successful ad campaign that will stand the test of time (and your client’s scrutiny).