More than a few people who work in agencies would agree that a good creative idea is one that wins awards. An award is recognition from our peers and everyone likes that (including me, not to mention quite a few clients!). The problem is that history suggests that ideas that thrill those interested in communication don’t necessarily thrill customers in a way that meets objectives. Also believing that a good creative idea is one that wins awards doesn’t necessarily create the right mind set for producing effective ideas because such thinking misses the real purpose of the communication. In an ideal world, winning awards should be a side effect of producing effective work. However, making effective communication a side effect of winning awards is a dangerous path to tread.
An alternative way of defining a good creative idea revolves around its ability to be both relevant and unexpected. It must be relevant to the customer and the objectives set for it as well as achieve standout from the communications clutter that surrounds it. This sounds logical and is an advance over the winning awards approach (although it doesn’t preclude winning awards). However, one criticism of it is that it may be too advertising centric. Another is that even in advertising, ideas that don’t seem to satisfy the criterion of being unexpected can perform well in practice. A famous example was Oxo’s use of recipes as ads. It worked because it fulfilled a customer need rather than being unexpected in any conventional sense.
With this in mind, I venture to suggest that there is a better definition. A good creative idea is something that makes customers think and feel in a way that will help a brand achieve its objectives. This approach forces us to do two vital things. First, it compels us to work out what thoughts and feelings might be appropriate. Second, it encourages us to challenge the creative idea on its ability to produce such responses. These steps aren’t easy because they ask us to stand in our customers’ shoes and really think and feel as they do. This takes more than doing a bit of research. It asks us to deeply immerse ourselves in our customers’ psyches. It’s easier to produce an unexpected idea and who knows it might win an award but then that’s not the point, is it?