How to be inspired

Inspiration for a creative idea can come from anywhere. It can stem from the habitual approach - with feet up on a desk - or it can strike while riding on the top deck of a bus or walking the dog. Some leading advertising figures reveal their own sources.

MICHAEL RUSSOFF - Creative, Wieden & Kennedy

Ignorance is inspiring

People think knowledge is power. But not knowing can be just as effective. If you don't know about something, you can look at it afresh. I haven't driven properly for five years, which is great for working on Honda. At the moment, I'm making the ad for the launch of Honda's New Civic, which means when I get in it I notice things people who drive all the time may not. Always be a beginner.

Bookshops are dangerous

The same goes for films, magazines, exhibitions. I realise I'm probably alone in this opinion. I think there's a huge difference between inspiration and influence and it's very difficult for many people to know where to draw the line.

Don't be inspired by other people's ads

You'll just make the same again, or similar. The best kinds of inspiration occur when completely unrelated things come together. The design of a fork inspiring a bridge. The way your uncle talks inspiring an endline.

The thinking rhythm of a bus

Journeys are great for inspiration. They don't inspire you, but they do provide the right conditions. I love the top deck of a bus (old Routemasters are the best). There's something about the continuous rhythm and not having to be in control. Sadly, I've just bought a bike and now I've got big calves and no ideas. Whatever you do, don't buy a bike.

Go somewhere new

It's easy to stop seeing things because they become familiar. Go somewhere you've never been before. Eat new food. Hear new stories. Have new experiences. I try to travel for at least three or four months a year. It sounds like a luxury but it's not. Travelling is like sharpening a pencil. You can't write with a blunt pencil.

Don't wake up properly

I wrote the line "hate something, change something" while I was still half-asleep. The best inspiration can come from your subconscious. I find one (legal) way of getting access to it is to not wake up properly. When I'm working on a brief, I set my alarm for 5:30am, stumble downstairs, turn on my computer and start writing. I continue for half-an-hour, then go back to bed.

GERRY MOIRA - Executive creative director, Euro RSCG

What inspires me? Fear.


A sort of greedy fear.

Music. Most of my ideas come with a soundtrack. The music tells me what kind of idea it is, if that doesn't sound too pretentious. I discard the music. But sometimes I don't.

ED MORRIS - Executive creative director, Lowe

I'm not a coffee bar creative. I can't work walking through a park or an art gallery. I'm habitual; I like the office, feet up on the desk at 8.00am. I stare into the middle distance, in a kind of trance. Willed introversion, it's an intense affair.

Ask the internal questions

Strategic thinking is usually the start point. I consider all briefs guilty until proven innocent. A rigorous set of internal questions ensues. Who, what, where, how, etc.

Find yourself an anchor

I'll whittle it all down to a line that I write at the top of the page. This works as an anchor or a reference point. Then I'll just come at it every way I can.

Feed off scraps

Dave Trott once told me: "The wrong time to look for an idea is when you need one." I've never forgotten it. I keep a big collection of scrapbooks full of anything interesting. I keep scrap reels as well, all types of clips of film.

I try to get to something that's right first with the hope that I stumble across a bit of magic along the way.



SR: Double egg, chips and beans at the New Piccadilly cafe.

YJ: Peace and quiet and loud music.


SR: Sometimes anyone ... most times my creative partner.

YJ: Everyone and everybody has ideas, just don't ask them directly. That's when they freeze up.


SR: My scrapbook of drawings, photographs, newspaper articles, stories and cartoons is never too far away.

YJ: Women's magazines.

The idea behind 3

SR: The campaign thought came from a newspaper article that Leslie Ali and I found, which was about how far ahead of the West the East is when it comes to new technology. The ideas for each ad come from that little corner of your brain you seldom visit ... with 3, what's nice is you get to make quite a few visits.

YJ: With the latest 3 ad ("we like music"), we had the good fortune to start with the Planet Three framework. Music is abstract, and an individual's perception and enjoyment of it is also very personal. With this in mind, we scripted a number of ideas that didn't lock "3 mobile" into any one genre or style. The quasi-organic physical experience seemed to do the trick.

ROSIE ARNOLD - Creative director, Bartle Bogle Hegarty


It broadens the mind and gets the creative juices flowing. Whether it's taking a different route to work or visiting a far-flung place, it makes you open your eyes more.


My children help me see things from a new perspective and keep me young in spirit. Thanks to them, I have a few award-winning campaigns in my book.


Ever noticed how many ads are just very well-told jokes?


The holidays/journeys that go wrong are the most memorable. When I was little, the car broke down on a journey with my mum. Miraculously, she knew how to fix it. That memory resulted in my first TV ad for Pretty Polly, where the girl uses her stocking to repair the fanbelt.

Cinema, galleries, theatre, magazines

Go see as much as possible. It will keep you fresh. It will stimulate your mind. I think the imagination is just like a muscle, the more you use it, the fitter it becomes.

Good ads

Nothing pushes me more than seeing something and really wishing I'd done it. I feel compelled to be better.

The product itself

When you fully investigate what you are advertising and boil it down to a simple thought, it can be inspiring.


When I'm stuck on something, a long walk - preferably with my dog - does wonders.


The good thing about getting older is you have more experience to draw on.

JIM THORNTON - Executive creative director, Leo Burnett

Immerse yourself in the problem

To me, creativity is a pragmatic, practical thing. It's not about having a great idea; it's about solving a business problem. So you have to immerse yourself in that, sit down with the client and let them unload about the business so you can work out what needs to be done. Start from the viewpoint that the solution might not even be advertising.

Create parameters

The biggest nightmare for any creative is the blank sheet of paper. You need to work out a framework, fill the blank piece of paper with borders you can think within.

Look at the competition

Look at their business and communications strategy and style - if they are over there, go somewhere different. When Scottish Widows came to us needing repositioning, we saw that the competition was tiptoeing around the big subject that everyone was talking about - pensions. So that's where we went.

Know what not to do

We decided not to mention the "pensions" word at all. There are certain words that make people switch off completely and that is one of them. You have to know what not to do.

TV shows

When I sat down to write the Scottish Widows campaign, I thought of the Channel 4 documentary The F***ing Fulfords. There was this guy who was desperately trying to keep his estate in the family, using a metal detector to hunt for buried treasure and stuff, but it never occurred to him for one second to just go out and get a job. So we used that whole Antiques Roadshow, Bargain Hunt thing that people have where they think something is bound to turn up so they don't really need to prepare for the future.

Write your way out of trouble

If you get stuck, write your way out of it. The saying that it's 99 per cent perspiration and 1 per cent inspiration is definitely true for advertising. I'm not someone who wanders around waiting for inspiration to strike, although there are plenty of people who do that. I used to know a guy who would move his chair around the room hoping that at some point he would be sitting underneath the muse. That's just crap.


Thomas Edison

Slept in a chair holding a large ball-bearing. When the ball fell and woke him, he'd write down any idea that was on his mind, as he believed the unconscious state allowed the most creative thinking.

Tim Berners-Lee

Created the worldwide web while looking for a way to organise his notes.

Ernest Hemingway (left)

Wrote standing up.

David Merrick

The Broadway producer found his chorus-line idle while the choreographer was stuck. He ordered the dancers to just do anything, no matter how bad. "Then at least you'll have something to change."

John Lennon

Held his guitar too close to an amp on the intro to I Feel Fine and discovered feedback.

Raymond Chandler

Wrote on tiny sheets of paper with space for only a dozen lines. Putting "a bit of magic" on to each sheet made the completed book page rich in reward.

The poet Friedrich Schiller

Kept his desk drawer full of apples because the smell inspired him.

Alexander Fleming

Forgot to wash his laboratory plates when he went on holiday and found that mould had stopped the growth of bacteria. He'd discovered penicillin.

Billy Wilder

Used rules of drama to inspire him: "A man enters a room through a door - that's life. A man enters a room through a window - that's drama."

Idiosyncrasies, accidents, tricks and discoveries. And if all else fails, two pints of Stella and a bag of peanuts.