What makes a great ad a great ad?

The danger is that it’s like trying to explain why a joke is funny:  in the act of explaining, you destroy it. And anyway, it’s not a question that comes to mind very often these days – you don’t see a great ad for weeks on end.

I think the answer is something to do with the combination of originality, surprise and complete clarity:  a way of communicating something which is completely different from the ways that you’ve seen that thing communicated before, but a way which is nevertheless immediately, joyously and rewardingly meaningful.

It’s what the great Samuel Goldwyn was getting at when, complaining that all the film scrips he was seeing were either tediously derivative or hopelessly obscure, he came up with one of the most famous of all Goldwynisms, “Bring me some new cliches!”  It’s a way you’ve never seen something shown or said before, but a way of saying whatever it may be which you suspect will never be surpassed, which sets a new gold standard for delivering that particular message.

And if a picture, especially when perfectly matched to a headline, is worth a thousand of these rather rambly words, then imagine that your client is Heathrow, and they’ve asked you to produce a poster telling families that they’re now going to find it a whole lot easier to get through the airport.   And ask yourself if, given that brief, anyone could ever come up with a better execution than the poster written by my very good and very talented friend Surrey Garland:  11379_sumservicebuggie_cbs-48sheet-crosstrack_no-crops.pdf.

2 thoughts on “What makes a great ad a great ad?

  1. I’m embarrassed – partly because the credit’s by no means all mine – Paul Ridley drew a buggy and we both spotted the resemblance; I banged out the headline; Adrian Kemsley stopped me putting a floor behind the buggy, and set it at an angle (which makes the composition); and the client spotted that it was worth making into a 48-sheet (rather than just the M4 torch). It’s a text book collaboration of creative people dedicated to not impeding a neat idea once uncovered. The only disappointment is that Campaign would not allow it into Private View! Thanks for your comment

  2. Happy to put the record straight, Surrey – especially since your comment adds a different and rather more interesting perspective on the question I asked in my original headline. There certainly are plenty of examples of great work produced by lone wolves, but I’d guess there are at least twice as many resulting from felicitous teamwork. And either way, the absolutely critical skill isn’t having the great idea – it’s knowing when you’ve had it. It doesn’t really matter whether it’s the same person who draws the buggy wheels on the pad and realises it’s brilliant, or one person who draws and another who realises. It’s the combination of drawing and realising which makes a brilliant outcome possible.

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