The wall has twenty or thirty sketches pinned to it, and you're in a big group of designers, account managers, project managers, and other creative types trying to determine which ideas make the cut and get executed for the big client meeting. The creative director turns to the group and says, "So, which of these ideas do you like the best?"
Always a loaded question.
Does it boil down to how I feel about it -- the gut level reaction?
To me, a great concept will always inspire some sort of emotion, twanging the heartstrings, so to speak. It also has some kind of poetry or sizzle that takes it to a place that demands some form of attention.
But is that what the client wants? Is that what the creative brief demands? And is that what the audience needs to hear?
All valid questions, which lead to great concepts being spiked before they reach the light of a Web site or a billboard -- and if unasked, allow the wrong kinds of concepts to slip through to the client.
After going through a few hundred of these concept evaluation meetings, I decided to get smart about forging a process to focus my concepts before they're evaluated.
Before I concept, I look at the chart above and determine in my head where my design work should land based on the business case. Different marketing needs call for different kinds of ideas. Before I go off into dreamland, I have an idea of where I need to steer to fulfill the client's objective.
Then, after I've got a few awful sketches and well-refined umbrella concept rationales and headlines, I'll pin them up on the wall and I'll ask myself the following three questions, keeping in mind the baseline strategy I've staked for the project:
1) What kind of emotion is evoked through the communication?
If I'm creating a product brochure with dry descriptions of enterprise-level accounting software, the kinds of emotion I'm seeking to express may be quite different from a global campaign selling soap. Understand where you need to land on the scale between logic and emotion ensures that the audience receives the right effect from the communication. Ideally, you're using the right blend of the two to address an audience's need or "pain point."
We always groan when we see the mother making the Prego spaghetti sauce, but it does evoke the right emotion and I remember the ad enough to write about it here. Plus, it addresses a real pain point: do I really have the time to go spend two hours in the kitchen making slow-cooked tomato sauce?
2) How tangible are the benefits in the messaging?
How many commercials have you seen where you remember the gimmick, but not the product? Usually the gimmick is only tangentially related to the tangible product.
At some agencies I've worked at, the art directors have said, "Be sure to make the product as small as possible in the corner." That umbrella solution sure doesn't work in the long run if you need to show tangibility, which in the long run points to sales, not awareness.
Remember that Infiniti car commercial campaign where they never showed the cars, just natural forms like leaves floating on the wind? The press positively glowed about it. Quite a good idea, but the lack of tangibility proved to be the ads' Achilles heel. The ads were found to be ineffective when it came to selling cars.
3) Is it evocative or just an echo of the mundane?
If you don't create something expressive to market your product or service, you aren't going to keep audience interest -- your work will veer from the poetic to the mundane. It's hard to create poetry with a tangible expression of a product like, say, toilet-bowl cleaners.
This is where real understanding how your audience approaches your product makes such a big impact on the quality of a creative idea. If it's evocative, you've reflected the audience's mindset and tapped into their impressions and emotions. And by evocative, I mean that it ceases to function in the realm of the literal and becomes figurative, metaphorical, or expressive in a way that transcends our notions of our day-to-day lives.
I think it's easy to play on the axes between logic/emotion and tangibility/intangibility. Where we really show our stripes as creative thinkers is where our ideas land on the axis between the mundane and the poetic. This is why many designers struggle when they can't create a communication that has a measure of poetry in it.
In my estimation, if you've come up with a really poetic idea and it creates the right emotional reaction in your target audience, and the tangibility of your product's benefits are visible in some way, you've found the "sweet spot" for your concept. From our recent bevy of Super Bowl spots, ones that caught my interest were the Monster ad with the two guys on bikes at the center of the Earth and the Tide commercial with the talking stain. Both of them expressed these three criteria in a measure that worked.
If the client just wants a rational comparison between three types of software, then you know your concepts need to speak to rational decision-makers. It's not going to veer into the poetic.
If you're selling a politician, you may veer into pure emotion and poetry and for a time, forgo all those things like, say, facts.
If your client sells security systems, you'll likely have an ad that implies that someone tried to break into your house, inspiring fear and playing on the literal risk of being hurt by a burglar, then it isn't likely you're going to shoehorn some kind of poetry into it. I can imagine it now... Security Alarms: The Musical.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on whether this model holds up beyond advertising and also can help designers determine their best work in areas like branding, identity development, and designing compelling environmental graphics. Thanks!