How creative minds work

Creative processes are mysterious, and never more so than in adland. Harriet Green explores how great creative ideas grow out of a brief

This is how creatives get ideas: they doodle, they juggle, they drink

beer. They may be blessed, like Archimedes, in the bath. Or, as Rodin’s

thinker appears to have done, they might just sit waiting on the loo.

But what should agencies do to encourage creative talents? Current

industry practice suggests two options: i) leave them to muck about in

brightly decorated offices, letting planners occasionally shove a well-

honed brief under the door; or, ii) haul creatives into the process

earlier, putting them amid the suits and planners to help devise the


Traditional agencies favour the first option. At these agencies, jobs

are like relay races: clients make a call, the raw research material is

collected by planners, then parcelled up and delivered to creatives.

But more and more agencies are following the second route, merging the

separate teams. GGT is the latest to signal its faith in integration.

Last week, GGT shifted its planning department on to the same floor as

the creatives. ‘If the whole point of agencies is to solve problems, why

not have the problem solvers working together?’ Jay Pond-Jones, the

joint creative director at GGT, asks. From now on, ‘stimulation and

creativity will be on one floor’.

With planners looking over their shoulders, creatives are less likely to

run off with ‘arty’ ideas. When teams are kept apart, one senior planner

explains, ‘planners always complain that creatives have an agenda of

winning awards rather than creating ads that work’.

And that mistrust works both ways, Andrew Cracknell, chairman and

executive creative director of Ammirati Puris Lintas, says: ‘Many

creatives see planners as spoilsports, getting in the way. It’s not very

nice for the creatives to be told that eight housewives in Slough just

turned down your work and you have to go and do it again.’ (Not that

planners have a monopoly on consumer understanding. John Hegarty,

executive creative director at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, insists: ‘The best

creatives stand in the shoes of the consumer all the time.’)

With merged teams, the process towards successful ideas is fuzzy. Jon

Leach, a planning partner at Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury, explains: ‘It

isn’t as simple as a relay race any more - we see the creative process

much more as a rugby scrum.’

And merging teams encourages all-rounders. Nick Kendall, BBH’s planning

director, hates the term ‘planner’. It puts him in mind of accounts. ‘I

prefer to think of us as catalysts or creative thinkers.’

Indeed, at agencies such as HHCL, planners actually write four or five

mini ads on the brief. But this isn’t designed as the final product.

It’s to give creatives a leg-up. Leach expects rather more from the

creative team: ‘If I’m not surprised by the idea the creative finally

comes up with, then it’s not good enough. Creative people are supposed

to be much more adventurous in their thinking than us.’

Trevor Robinson, now a director but formerly an art director at HHCL,

agrees: ‘You take what the planner says on board and then you go the

other way, put your own personality on it. If you just do what planners

want, it won’t work.’

All right then, but if creatives are central to the strategic process,

does anyone need a planner’s one-sentence proposition? Hegarty thinks

so. Without it ‘everyone would flounder around in a sea of nothingness’.

He recalls a brief for the recent Polaroid campaign, which simply said:

‘Polaroid is not a camera, it’s a social lubricant. It makes a party

go.’ That, Hegarty says, was inspirational.

Cracknell agrees that planners should provide the first creative spark.

‘Planners take the first leap in imagination. Planning is a very odd

job. It’s bureaucratic and creative. Good planners take raw material

from planning meetings, focus groups, telephone conversations - then add

something of themselves or put their own spin on it.’

Ultimately, everyone agrees that creativity is random, anarchic.

Sometimes, looking back, it can seem unrelated to the brief. And

sometimes it is unrelated. Take Orange Tango, one of HHCL’s most

celebrated campaigns. According to Leach, the creatives, Trevor Robinson

and Al Young, had the original notion while working on Britvic fruit

juice. ‘They came up with this idea of a bloke drinking orange juice who

gets a kick in the bum. Steve Henry [HHCL’s creative partner] and I

thought it wasn’t right for the fruit juice but was right for Tango. The

idea was fairly easy to recraft.’

Senior creatives are determined to preserve the random element.

‘Creatives need to keep a bit of distance,’ Hegarty says. Cracknell

believes agencies can become obsessed with new ways of working. ‘Forcing

creatives to sit around tables can be a terrible waste of time. It’s

stupid to go through the whole rigmarole just because you legislated for

it. Intelligent people,’ he insists, ‘will find their own way of


Inspiration or perspiration? How creatives produced six blockbuster

campaigns from planners’ briefs

Haagen-Dazs: Body Texture; Bartle Bogle Hegarty

The brief

Position Haagen-Dazs as the new gold standard by referring to the

pleasure of eating it. BBH’s head of planning, Nick Kendall, said

Haagen-Dazs could be the ultimate in intimate pleasure.

The Solution

Rooney Carruthers : ‘The idea for the Haagen-Dazs press ads came

straight out of the client manifesto document. John Hegarty and Nick

Kendall kept coming into our office and saying: ‘It’s about sex! This

tub costs pounds 3.00. It’s an ABC1 product. People in research groups

think it’s about arousal, pleasure, fun. It’s sex!’ Larry picked up a

document attached to the brief and read: ‘Throughout the 60s and 70s,

sales of Haagen-Dazs mounted steadily, relying purely on word of mouth.’

I slapped down a photo of a couple kissing and drew in a tub of Haagen-

Dazs. I blew up the words ‘word’ and ‘mouth’ out of the text. Sex became

sensuality. Without the proposition, we would have concentrated on the

ingredients which went into making the ice-cream rather than on


Art director Rooney Carruthers; Writer Larry Barker (now at WCRS)

Volvo: Twister; Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO

The brief

Volvo wanted to show that the 850 T-5 is an exciting car to drive and to

appeal to younger people - without undermining the brand’s reputation

for safety. The planner was Jackie Boulter.

The Solution

Tom Carty and Walter Campbell: ‘We knew this was a huge opportunity.

Volvo is a great brand that has done loads of brilliant ads in the past.

‘Safety had to move on. So we got to: safety doesn’t exist without

danger. Testimonial was an interesting area, but we needed to go deeper

than just younger people. It needed to be real and it also needed a

twist. So we climaxed the films with a big visual idea, marrying the

person and the car to the core of what they do.

‘We were briefed on a Friday. On Monday we showed three scripts to David

[Abbott]. In the afternoon, they were presented to Volvo. Three weeks

later we were in the Corinth Canal with the best ad director in the


Copywriter Tom Carty; Art director Walter Campbell

Tango: Orange; Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury

The brief

Give Tango an advertising campaign more commonly associated with lager.

The brief, by planning partner, Jon Leach, was: Tango - real fruit, real

people, real satisfaction.

The Solution

Trevor Robinson: ‘The original brief was to convey the ‘hit of real

oranges’. The way Al and I tended to work was to have a laugh. We were

constantly trying to challenge each other with stupider concepts. We

tried to attack the way ads were being used at the time by taking an old

advertising construct - you take a drink and something amazing happens.

This is how we came up with the idea of something absurd - for example,

a fat, orange, bald geezer smacking someone in the mouth because he had

just drunk the product. The over-analysing commentary was based around

American football commentators and the way they over-dramatise sport by

using rewinds, diagrams and enthusiastic technical spiel. Because we

wanted to keep the product British, this later became Ralph and Tony.’

Copywriter Al Young; Art director Trevor Robinson

Levi’s: Launderette; Bartle Bogle Hegarty

The brief

Refocus on the product and redefine a classic jeans look, owned by

Levi’s. 501s are the right look and the only label. The planner was Mike

Willis, who is to return to BBH shortly as a group director.

The Solution

John Hegarty: ‘People went through a tremendous amount of effort to get

their jeans just right. One way to do that was to wash them with stones.

I thought: I must turn that idea into an event. Hence the launderette. I

thought it would be more interesting to do the ad with a period look.

The 50s idea wasn’t in the brief - it just happened and out of that we

established a mythical period for Levi’s. Grapevine, the music that

backed the ad, was a 60s not a 50s song - it came to me simultaneously

and there was no real logic to it. The aim was to portray the US without

the US being boring - a US no-one could object to.’

Copywriter John Hegarty; Art director Barbara Nokes

Holsten Pils: Get Real; GGT

The brief

Over the years the ‘odd lager’ was rapidly becoming the ‘old lager’. The

brief, set by a team of planners at GGT, was to turn this longevity in

the market into an advantage and reposition Holsten Pils as ‘the classic

lager’ substantiated by its lack of gimmicks and its authentic lager

brewing credentials.

The Solution

Robert Saville: ‘‘Classic’ seemed to be a little passive. We

concentrated on finding out about what was in the bottle. Holsten Pils

is brewed according to a German law which says ‘real lager’ is made with

only hops, barley, yeast and water. A lot of Holsten’s competitors add

other stuff such as fish guts, rice or caramel. It wasn’t a huge leap to

the idea ‘real versus unreal lager’ and hence ‘get real’. What’s in it?

Is it full of shit?

‘The Holsten emblem is a black Knight who was around in 1352. We thought

who he would be if he were alive today - a dark figure with attitude.

Denis Leary was starting to make a name. It was like reincarnation. A

modern-day crusader armed with a fast lip and a leather jacket.’

Copywriter Robert Saville; Art director Jay Pond-Jones

Adidas: Just to the Signpost; Leagas Delaney

The brief

The brief, set by Tim Delaney, was to prove to runners that Adidas

understood them. The creative should find simple truths, rather than

write clever headlines.

The Solution

Dave Dye: ‘With most running advertising you’d think runners just glided

along effortlessly (which I certainly don’t). I liked the idea of an ad

being about the struggle.

‘This particular execution came directly from my own experience. (So

much so that when I first wrote it I wondered just how much other people

would relate to it.) After getting the idea I wanted the ad to look hot

and sweaty.’

Art director and copywriter Dave Dye


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