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How To Replace Old Ideas With New Ones

Being a copywriter is meant to be a fulfilling, creative and exciting. You can step into the shoes of different types of people, you learn trade secrets and a bit of everything from investment banking to diet pills. However, after a while we run out of steam and run out of ideas.

Why? Because we keep using the same old resources – the current ideas that are in our heads. When we drink from the same bottle of water over and over again, eventually we’re going to end up with an empty water bottle. We need to refill our bottles from time to time – but where do we go and how do we do this?

One of the classic traps we fall into is assuming we know who we’re writing to. We assume we know their personalities, likes, dislikes based on the brief – but we don’t actually go out there and find out more ourselves. We don’t even talk to them person-to-person – but we assume we can talk to them through a series of print ads.

So how do we break through this cycle of recycling our ideas?

Some people look at books, photos, previous campaigns, movies, music and the like. Everyone has a technique that works for them, and what works for some people may not work for others. Here are a few steps that work for me when I’ve exhausted my creative reserves, and hopefully they’ll work for you, too.

Step 1. Walk Away

Don’t immediately do a google search of what your audience is like, or for insight from another research agency. Don’t open that Word document.

Get away from your desk, your laptop, and your office. Bring only one thing with you: a blank piece of paper/notebook. On this piece of paper, write down two questions:
1. What is the problem we are trying to fix?
2. What is the Brand’s best self?

The Brand’s Best Self is not a list of attributes and benefits. It is bigger than that. It is about what the brand is like when it is at its best – what contexts and situations does it seek out and revel in. – Ogilvy & Mather

Ogilvy & Mather have developed a formula of sorts for cracking briefs, which is the method I’m going to use here. You can read more about it by clicking this link.

Now that you’re physically away from your area of comfort, your desk, you have to distance your mind. What does this mean exactly?

Most of the time we already have some sort of idea of what the consumer is like. This mental image of the consumer is built from our own personal interactions with them, movies we’ve watched with their kind of characters, incidents we may have had with them, insight we’ve heard about them and general stereotypes we have built around them.

Wipe this image from your mind. Start with belief that you know nothing about this consumer. Remove any preconceived notions you might have of their likes, dislikes, loves and hates. Do this so that whatever comes next doesn’t come from your own personal reserves, experiences or expectations.

Step 2. Experience the Product

Maybe you’ve grown up with this product or service your whole life and you’ve pretty much understood what it’s all about. This time, pretend like it’s the first time you’ve ever seen it. Go out there and check it out in its element (if it’s a chocolate drink, go to the store and experience buying it. What other brands would you buy instead, and why?). Taste it as if you’re tasting it for the first time. If it’s a service – go to them and test it out as a consumer. Ask the client if you can check it out behind the scenes as well. Check out their factory, or training grounds, immerse yourself in the product.

Step 3. Try Method Acting

You know the target audience you’ve been trying to avoid thinking about this whole time? Become them.

Where do they hang out? What do they wear? Who do they talk to, what do they do in their spare time? Go and actually speak to them. If you’re writing to pregnant mothers who need calcium supplements, go find them. Hang out in hospitals, the baby aisle, the pharmacy, strike up a conversation with them and become one of them.

Before you can even try to write to them, talk to them.

Today, don’t fill your mind with countless facts about the audience, but try your hand at method acting. Understand them. Become one of them. Revisit your product in its element and this time, put use the insight you’ve gained from talking to your audience and imagine this journey through their eyes. Better yet, bring them with you and ask as many questions as you can.

Step 4. Try working somewhere other than your desk.

Sometimes a new environment can be just the thing to get ideas flowing. A new change of scenery can subconsciously affect the way you work, inspiring you with different sounds, smells, sights and emotions. We are constantly influenced by the things around us without realising it, and this small change can actually make a pretty big difference.

Revisit your piece of paper and look at it with your new eyes. You should be able to answer those questions by now, or at least have an idea of how you could go about it.

Step 5. Keep on learning new things.

This sounds pretty simple but it’s something we tend to ignore when we start work, especially for those of us who are in advertising. We tend to naturally fall into a routine of sorts and stay away from anything that may cost us too much effort. By doing this we limit our social interactions to familiar circumstances – we don’t open ourselves up to new ideas, people, beliefs or insights.

Keep putting yourself in new experiences and you’ll learn new things on the way. While you’re at it, you’ll fill up new creative reserves and find new sources of inspiration. Your writing can only be as interesting as you are.

Do you have any tips you’d like to share?
Let us know in the comments below!

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