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What is an Idea?

Updated on July 5, 2014
Ad For Tissue Paper - Idea From A Simile - Soft As Cat;'s Fur
Ad For Tissue Paper - Idea From A Simile - Soft As Cat;'s Fur

J. Walter Thompson on Ideas

According to J. Walter Thompson, there is a specific method to evaluate and recognise an idea. One is through ‘vivid demonstration’ – what the brand does. For example, a washing powder washing whiter or a car stopping faster. The superiority or uniqueness of a brand’s performance is the most basic and effective form of idea.

However, when a brand has nothing distinctive about it, the writer needs a metaphor.

Salem Menthol Ad - Greenery As Metaphor For Freshness
Salem Menthol Ad - Greenery As Metaphor For Freshness

Vivid Metaphor or Simile

“My love is like a red red rose” is a simile. “The dark curtain of night” is a metaphor. Commonplace things like the night and love become exceptional. Metaphors and similes can create uniqueness or perceived superiority. But copywriters must keep in mind that whether it is a demonstration or metaphor, the idea must come from an aspect of the brand itself.

In the Salem Menthol cigarette ads, the snow-capped mountains and pine-covered slopes are a metaphor for the fresh flavour of Salem menthol cigarettes.

So What is an Idea?

There are many definitions, but in a nutshell, an idea is a new combination of old elements. An idea attempts to change the way the consumer acts or perceives things. It brings about change.

An idea rests upon the ability to see relationships. To some minds each fact is a separate bit of knowledge. To the creative mind, facts are a link in a chain of knowledge.

The softness of a puppy dog (as in the Ogilvy & Mather TV commercials for a certain tissue paper) relates to the softness of a toilet tissue. The innocent looking blonde in the ads for Timotei shampoo relates to the pure ingredients of the shampoo. This habitual search for relationships becomes the most important factor in the production of ideas.

David Ogilvy Said That Every Copywriter Should Start Out As A Direct Response Writer
David Ogilvy Said That Every Copywriter Should Start Out As A Direct Response Writer | Source

Direct Response – the Perfect Platform for the Fertile Imagination

David Ogilvy considered Direct Response his ‘first love’ and ‘secret weapon.’ According to him, “Every copywriter should start his career by spending two years in direct response. One glance at any campaign tells me whether its author has ever had that experience.”

Direct Response writing enables copywriters to exercise their fertile imaginations. It calls for a plethora of ideas. That's because unlike general advertising, there are so many more elements to play with: the envelope, the letter, the response device, sometimes even a brochure and inserts.

Example of a Big Idea

For the well-known paint company, 'Asian Paints,' a blank canvas completely framed with the target’s name on it was sent to architects and interior designers. They were invited to create their own masterpieces of colour. Asian Paints would create the same shade and name it after them. The mailing drew considerable response and won a gold in the ad club awards in Bangalore.

Timotei Shampoo


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