Ad-libs: Say “I do” to the creative process

Ad-libs: Say “I do” to the creative process

By John Foust
Raleigh, NC

I-DoAdvertising is a business which is fueled by creativity. Once you get a handle on how to get ideas – ideas that work – you’ll have a big advantage over the competition.

No matter how much you sell, it all comes down to how much your ads will sell. When the ads get results, your advertisers will be happy. And when they’re happy, they’ll keep running ads.

If you’ve ever recycled old ideas because you couldn’t think of anything better, maybe it’s time for a new approach. One way to generate ideas is to look elsewhere for a spark. For example, my wife and I recently went to a wedding. Along the way, she mentioned the old British rhyme about things that a bride is supposed to wear: “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.” A saying as simple as that could provide the starting point for a new advertising idea. Let’s take a look:

Something old: Think history. If an advertiser has been in business for a number of years, that can give you plenty of inspiration. You can use vintage photographs from their files to demonstrate a sense of tradition and stability. You can feature a side-by-side comparison of their first building and their current building. (“Look how we’ve grown. And it’s all because we have a commitment to our customers.”) You can even feature a quote from the company’s founder – with a tie-in to their continuing business philosophy.

Something new: Although the words “new and improved” have become an advertising cliché, the general concept has been around for a long time, because it is effective. Consumers like newness – as long as it’s relevant.

What is new with your advertisers? Do they have new products? Have new features been added to old products? Do they have new services? New locations? New hours of operation? Is there new management?

If you use this technique, be sure to show how the new things are better than the old ones. Emphasize benefits.

Something borrowed: Why not find someone else to speak for your advertiser? A testimonial from a real life customer can be a powerful advertising message.

A testimonial adds a couple of important elements to an ad campaign. First, by featuring someone who represents the advertiser’s target audience, a testimonial can help consumers identify with the company. Second, a customer can say things that wouldn’t be believed if the advertiser said those same things. (“Their widgets are great” has more weight than “Our widgets are great.”)

Something blue: Consumers get the blues. They have problems that need solving. Can your advertiser reduce energy bills? Or help improve students’ grades? Or take the hassle out of building a custom home? Show people how your advertiser can solve a specific problem, and they will pay attention to the message.

This approach to creativity can be seen as a two-step process. First, get inside information about your advertisers, their products, their services and their customers. Then look for idea sparks from outside sources.


John Foust has conducted training programs for thousands of newspaper advertising professionals. Many ad departments are using his training videos to save time and get quick results from in-house training. E-mail for information:

(c) Copyright 2015 by John Foust. All rights reserved.