Disciplined Creativity

 Given a basic understanding of our product (including service) and knowledge of our intended media audiences (in terms of both demographics and psychographics), we can focus on the techniques, processes, and skills involved in creating effective advertising messages. First, however, we must have a clear conception of what “creativity” really is.


The creative writer-poet, novelist, playwright-takes well-known words and phrases and develops a fresh, often brilliant manner of presentation. Thus, a household pet, plus a hazy weather condition, in the hands of a Carl Sandburg turns into the classic: “Fog comes on little cat feet. . . .” And while anyone who so desires might write about revolution, there is only one Charles Dickens and one Tale of Two Cities. Creativity may also be expressed through painting or music. Even a child can draw a picture of a smiling woman, but Leonardo da Vinci’s artistic talents produced the Mona Lisa; likewise, the creative genius of Anton Dvorak displayed simple “impressions of America” in the masterpiece we know as the New World Symphony.


In each of these cases, the creator’s purpose was self-expression. Similarly, when a student is assigned a creative writing or art project, he or she gives imagination free rein and lets ideas come together as they will. The purpose is to achieve a tangible representation of what the mind’s eye can already see-or hear-or feel; and in most cases, the author aims to create in others an understanding of and apprecia­tion for his or her artistic output. By translating ideas and impressions into poems, pictures, or other works, each composer gains personal satisfaction and creates enjoyment for others who come in contact with his efforts.


Creativity in advertising most assuredly draws on “pure” writing talents, but, as should be obvious by now, the nature of the business demands a certain kind of discipline not found in creative writing circles. Granted, every writer, no matter what his field, is expected to be adept at spelling, grammar, and punctuation, and to be familiar with current idiomatic expressions. Successful advertising, however, requires knowledge of overall marketing environments and aware­ness of consumer learning abilities; creativity in advertising, therefore, must be classified creativity.

The advertising copywriter must still write with a purpose-but this time it is to achieve clients’ objectives, instead of his own. Self-expression gives way to expression of features or attributes of particular products and services-presented in psychological terms with which the ultimate audience can identify. In other words the  copywriter translates the selling points of a client’s product or service into benefits for those selected consumers whom the advertiser has chosen to reach through one or more of the mass media.

In this case, the “creativity” involved is really the opposite of pure freedom of imagination. As the copywriter creates, he or she builds messages according to specific plans, to fulfil specific objectives. In the words of research practitioner Alfred Politz, advertising creativity:


… has to follow rules which are guided by a well-defined purpose, by an analysis of the thoughts supplied by imagination, by a selection of the useful ones which meet the purpose. The analysis and the final arrange­ment of surviving ideas is impossible without the employment of our logical faculties.’


Certain “checks” must therefore be placed on the free rein ordinarily assumed by the creative person writing purely in accord­ance with inspirations of the moment. For example:


1          The “communication” check (will the intended ad achieve its assigned persuasive task and thereby help sell its product?)


  • The “image” check (is the proposed message in line with the existing or desired advertiser image-in terms, for example, of ecological concerns, product safety, or company dependability, and will it be legally and ethically sound?)


  • The “audience” check (is the proposed message on target with regard to audience predispositions?)


  • The “media” check (will the intended ad be able to do its job memorably, believably, and convincingly, given inherent time or space limitations, and is it feasible in terms of production facilities and cost?)


Note well that these checks need not be considered restrictions on advertising creativity! Nowhere in today’s society is it more necessary for writers to be allowed creative freedom than in advertising, where the mass media daily-hourly-devour new ideas with insatiable appetites. As long as copywriters are disciplined in the marketing and behavioural spheres relevant to their particular advertising situations, they are free to run the creative gamut.

The Nature of Ideas

It is important to point out that while imagination is an innate human quality, truly creative ideas are not often easy to find. Advertising copywriters must be doers as well as thinkers. They participate-soak up as much of life as they possibly can-for their work demands a heavy reliance on background and prior experiences (a movie or play, a symphony or song, a trip or an accident, a day on the farm, a walk through the park, even a visit to a local tavern) for help with advertising ideas.

They study products from the inside out and from top to bottom. They scrutinise intended audiences (wants and needs, likes and dislikes, media and shopping habits) and the competition (prod­ucts and ads) in painstaking detail. They read and watch, listen and remember, analyse and experiment until they find the “right” words to express the theme, or concept, or idea which is the beginning of a message or series of messages.


Creativity, then, is almost always based on a systematic, logical accumulation of facts that forms the foundation on which insight and ingenuity can build. Both heredity and environment do contribute to creative talent, but effort and motivation are important forces in its cultivation. In “creating,” we associate known facts (or factors: people, objects, issues, events) with one another in order to develop unique relationships. Or, as veteran advertising man James Webb Young 1 has long maintained, creativity is the combination of existing elements in new and unexpected ways.

Or as John Matthews 2, notes:


Many times the most creative thing you can do in your advertising is not to create something new-but to utilise something so old you may have forgotten you had it. Not to discover, but to uncover; not to innovate, but to renovate; not to seek new horizons but to capitalise on an element which is right under your nose waiting for you to recognise its potential.


Remember, though, that no matter how original an idea may he, it must be related to reality or help solve a problem to be considered creative. Clearly, in any case, fact gathering must precede writing; all the “magic of words” a copywriter is able to employ will not produce a successful advertisement if the facts about products or prospects are incomplete or false-or if the evaluation of them is inaccurate or superficial.

1. James Webb Young, A Technique for Producing Ideas, Crain Communications, Inc., Chicago, 1960, pp. 25-41.

2. John E. Matthews, “A Two-Course Survey of Creative Coun”,”‘ Journal of Advertising, vol. 4, no. 2, p. 15, Spring 1975.

Dig for the Facts

Before proceeding further, we should clarify what the word “facts” ought to mean to an advertising copywriter. Definitely, a fact is something that has actual existence, an event.  The copywriter is concerned with absolute facts. Is the price $2.95 or $3.95? Is the fabric Dacron or nylon? Does this engine deliver 105 or 150 horsepower at 3,000 rpm?


But many of the “facts” which are important to the writer of advertising are not so easy to substantiate by observation or test. Is it really a fact that the initial impetus for the purchase of an automobile comes from the husband in two out of three families. We can’t be sure. As the introduction to this particular study carefully states, the findings cannot be projected to the total population because of the inadequate size of the sample.  Nevertheless, lacking evidence to the contrary-or the time and money to complete a study which is statistically projectable to the entire market-the copywriter must make use of the “facts” he or she does have. Nor does fact gathering or research necessarily provide final answers. What it does is reduce the probability of error.

Research cannot substitute for judgment. Research is fundamentally an aid to the decision-making processes. It is simply a technique for minimising the area in which pare judgment must act .


The mechanics of the copywriter’s fact gathering can be quite complex, involving extensive market and psychological research methods, or they may be rather simple. In retail-department-store advertising, for example, the copywriter is usually furnished a “fact sheet” about the merchandise by the buyer in charge of the depart­ment. Frequently this fact sheet and an examination of the merchan­dise give the writer enough data to prepare effective retail copy. If not, the copywriter must be prepared to dig for additional facts.


Whether the copy is aimed at a local retail market, a national consumer market, or a special group of industrial prospects, the copywriter needs to explore a number of different areas in looking for information about the product and the prospects for it. While some areas are more important than others in specific copy assignments, the answers to certain basic questions are needed to write effective copy for almost any product and any form of advertising. Twelve such basic fact-gathering questions-six about the product itself and six about the people who use it-are worthy of consideration now.


Essential Facts about the Product

 What Is It Made Of?

The ingredients or raw materials that go into a product may be a source of effective sales ideas’ For years the Stroh Brewery has made good use of the fact that Stroh’s beer is fire-brewed. The slogan “Brewed with pride for 200 years” has called attention to the element of quality. The Campbell Soup Company has attracted a significant segment of the market to its “chunky” varieties through its claim that the soups are “so chunky you’ll be tempted to eat em with a fork.” And who can doubt the effectiveness of McDonald’s famous (though heretofore highly unorthodox) product description: “Two-all beef -patties-special-sauce-lettuce-cheese-pickles-onions-on-a-sesame-seed-bun”!

Even the absence of certain ingredients or components may contribute to effective selling points. Mr. Coffee advertisements proudly proclaim: “No oils, no sediment, no bitterness.”

Services, of course, have ingredients or raw materials just as products do. The facilities, equipment, personalities, and performance of a service organisation are what the service is made of-the “raw materials.”

How Well Is It Made?

The same cavity-fighting ingredient, stannous fluoride, goes into a number of different toothpastes. But Aim puts that fluoride in the form of a gel so it can “spread good taste faster.” Or a company might refer to its design and development without actually naming ingredients at all. Turtle Wax has made particularly good use of radio by “dramatising” that “nothing [rain, hail, sleet, or other hazards] can crack the turtle’s back.” Finally product construction or composition may be indicated through focus on sheer “value” or end result. Johnson & Johnson’s baby shampoo expanded its market from children to entire families with its “Gentle enough to use every day” promise.


What Does It Do?

Almost any product may provide more than one satisfaction for the user. A new all-weather topcoat will keep us warm on chilly days and dry on wet ones. The weatherproofing may reduce pressing bills, and the design and fabric may be such that the coat does not go out of style quickly or show wear as soon as other topcoats. It may improve our appearance and bring admiring comments from friends.


It is the copywriter’s task to determine the primary satisfaction or need the product fills and not allow lesser ones to obscure it. An automatic dishwasher may improve the appearance of a kitchen, and it may result in more sanitary dishes and glassware, but the primary reason for owning one is to make a recurrent household chore easier. T


How Does It Compare with Competition?

Few if any products can be rated as the unqualified best in the total field of all products with similar uses. A product that possesses certain advantages is also likely to possess certain disadvantages. Furthermore, what may be a strong advantage to one type of user may be unimportant to another. The advertising writer must determine which of the advantages the prod­uct offers against competition are most important to the particular segment of the market at which the advertising is aimed, and what evidence there is to support these claims.

One washing machine may have an agitating action which will clean badly soiled clothes more thoroughly and more quickly than another machine that is designed differently but sells at the same price. The first machine may he hard on delicate fabrics; however, parents of young children might prefer it. Parents with older children or people with no children might find the second washer more satisfactory. The copywriter should talk to people who sell the product and people who use it and get their opinions on the product features that are most important.


Some product categories (for example, headache remedies or deodorants) feature side-by-side comparisons in their ads and com­mercials. Laboratory tests are often cited to support one brand’s claim of superiority over specified others. Such practices are legal today if handled with restraint.


How Can It Be Identified?

The majority of marketing problems involve the creation or stimulation of selective rather than primary demand. Even when a new type of product is launched, the need or desire for which must be developed, the innovator strives to create a preference for his brand as well as for the new type of product, for he will rarely enjoy exclusive production for long. Competitors are quick to enter new and promising markets. In a few advertisements-notably those of the agricultural cooperatives responsible for the marketing of an entire crop under many different labels or brands, or the cam­paigns of all-industry associations or franchised monopolies-primary demand is the sole objective, and brand identification is unimportant.


With other products , however, it is the copywriter’s responsibility to provide adequate product identification in the adver­tisement and to tell the reader how the product can be identified at the point of purchase. The objective, of course, is to make substitution difficult. In some cases this may be accomplished with nothing more than an illustration of or reference to the package or the trademark. Chicken of the Sea advised “Ask any mermaid,” and, hence, reminds its media audiences to look for the mermaid pictured on its cans. .

In other cases, where the product is a component part, or a subordinate product or process, more careful instructions are needed.


Some ads must do more than tell the prospect how to identify the product at the point of purchase. The writer must tell how to identify the point of purchase itself. Unless the advertisement is for a product which is on sale at every drugstore, supermarket, and restaurant cashier stand, such as cigarettes, gum, or candy bars, it may fail to accomplish its objective if it does not tell the reader where to buy the product.  The copy­writer should know where the brand is sold and let the audience know.


How Much Does It Cost?

In almost all retail advertising, price is an essential element in the copy and is given display emphasis in proportion to its strength as a sales point. In much national advertising,  it is difficult to quote retail prices because they vary from area to area and frequently from store to store. Nevertheless, the copywriter should know the recommended retail price of clients’ products (and of competitive products), and should be able to give prospects some idea of price range or cost. If a specific product costs more than competitive ones, there must be a reason why people will pay more for it-a reason that may be used to attract other buyers.


Essential Facts about the Prospects

Is It Gender specific? (Used by Men, Women, or Both?)

In most instances, women buy their own foundation garments and shaving cream is used by men. Both men and women use deodorants, drive automobiles, watch television, and drink Coca-Cola. The advertising writer needs to find out whether the product is used by men, women, or both, and if by both, which sex accounts for the larger share of the market.


Does an Age Group Dominate?


Is Income a Critical Factor?

Obviously, the desire for certain products, or the degree of satisfaction they deliver to users, does not necessarily parallel either total or disposable income. Although the relation of income to buying habits cannot be ignored, it may well be the least important factor for many products.


Does Occupation Affect the Purchase?

It is obvious that certain vocational groups are of primary importance in the creation of trade, industrial, professional, and agricultural advertising. There are few prospects for seed corn who aren’t farmers and few prospects for log-loading equipment who aren’t in the lumber trade.


But differences among occupational groups may produce quite different market potentials for consumer products also.

There is a close relationship between occupation and social status, and the symbols of social status may vary widely among different occupations.


Educational levels may also be important factors in determining the best markets for certain products.


Who Influences the Purchase?

Some buying decisions are made by one person. Few of us consult anyone when we buy a candy bar, a package of gum, or a soft drink.


What Other Characteristics Identify the Best Prospects?


Facts should he constantly updated (as often as information is available), and at least annually. Look, for changes, particularly for chang­es in the characteristics of users and owners.’ ‘


Analysis of Key Selling Points (Benefits)

Once the copywriter has collected all possible data about the product and the people who buy and use it, his or her role changes from fact gatherer to analyst. The next step is to develop from these facts a set of key selling points  (benefits).


A selling point for a product, is a characteristic of the product  which can contribute to the satisfaction of a need or desire of the buyer. A benefit, then, becomes the satisfaction received from purchase or use.

It is up to the copywriter to select the most valuable product “feature,” or “value,” or other item, and mentally match it with its “other half.”


How are specific advertising appeals (selling points and benefits) selected from the (often long) list of potentials? First, the copywriter must remember that one of the most important functions he or she can perform for an advertiser is the creation of campaigns from the outside in-looking at the product through the eyes of prospects and seeing it as something they may willingly buy, rather than as something the advertiser must sell. Second, the copywriter notes that people are not interested in the advertiser’s product per se; they are interested in the rewards the product promises-the values it holds in terms of want or need fulfilment.

Charles L. Whittier, former creative vice-president of one of the largest American advertising agencies, suggested the copywriter use a checklist of basic advertising appeals or benefits the product may deliver. While it does not include all the wants buyers seek to satisfy, Whittier found this list of 10 questions a practical guide in his own creative work:


Will the product make the purchaser feel more important?

  • Will the product make the purchaser happier?
  • Will the product make the purchaser more comfortable?
  • Will the product make the purchaser more prosperous?
  • Will the product make the work easier for the purchaser?
  • Will the product give the purchaser greater security?
  • Will the product make the purchaser more attractive? Or better liked?
  • Will the product give the purchaser some distinction?
  • Will the product improve, protect, or maintain the purchaser’s health?

Will the product appeal to the purchaser as a bargain?’:’


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One thought on “Disciplined Creativity

  1. An extremely detailed analysis of creativity and the advertisement. Although insightful, the main thrust of any ad should be on the benefits to the prospect. More emphasis here would have been helpful. In the final analysis benefits are the only reason anyone buys anything.

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