Inspiration can come from anywhere, and there are hundreds of options and settings for brainstorming. But being supposed experts on creativity, ad agency executives have their own unique and personal techniques to get their artistic juices flowing.
Business Insider asked four advertising and design agencies for the homegrown methods that they use to get their employees inspired:
TheCleveland-based small agency Marcus Thomas has created the Sparkinator, an internal app with a choose-your-own-adventure style format that is designed to spark new ideas and thoughts. It is basically an encyclopedia of some of the agency’s employees’ top methods for brainstorming, aggregated in one convenient location for people to use during client meetings and individual brainstorm sessions.
The Sparkinator came into being about three years ago, and was developed by the agency’s own development team. Users can pick from a range of brainstorming cavities, from “What would ____ do?” to “Find a villain,” where they can approach attempt to solve problem the way someone else (let’s say Steve Jobs) would, or come up with an idea based on conflict or tension.
The agency used the latter technique to come up with the idea #PumpkinCan for its food client Libby’s, a campaign which depicted other so-called “superfoods” like spinach and quinoa types as villains.
“The best techniques are the ones that get you out of your normal stream of thought and really make you think of the problem differently,” said Joanne Kim, partner and chief idea officer at Marcus Thomas. “And thinking along the lines of what Stevie Wonder or Seinfeld would do makes it fun too.”
“A lot of people think it’s all about drugs, but I don’t think it’s that at all,” said Lionel Ohayon, founder and CEO of innovation and design studio iCrave, who sends several employees to the Burning Man festival in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada every year.
The idea is that people spend all year round in their offices focusing on creative output, while this retreat is about soaking it all in. Burning Man is a celebrated creative oasis, where people embark on projects and “labors of love” not for any reasons other than “a forward desire to create,” said Ohayon.
Ohayon has been going to the festival himself for the past 13 years and sending employees in groups as big as 20 people since 2008. He said that the excursion has served as a source of inspiration for several ideas, including the New York City Economic Development Corporation.
Jay Gelardi’s career has taken him around the world, but the executive creative director at the digital ad agency Huge has taken his penchant for hypnotherapy — a technique that people use to enter a trance state and supposedly clear their thoughts — with him everywhere that he has gone. Gelardi is “obsessed” with the power of the subconscious and believes it has a real effect on creativity, and is now teaching employees at Huge’s Los Angeles digs to do the same.
Gelardi has taken hypnotherapy classes, and has trained himself on ways to unlock his subconscious self, including how to have creative dreams. He loads his brain up with certain thoughts, for instance, ideas for a potential ad campaign, right before going to bed, and sleeps with a notebook next to him. During the night, he wakes up and takes notes. When he wakes up, he tries to make a sense of all his thoughts.
“99% of it is gibberish, of course, but forcing yourself to make sense of things that seem disjointed or disconnected can often open up new ideas,” he told Business Insider.
New Jersey agency DXAgency wanted to refresh its brainstorming process, and pull staffers out of the rut of undending meetings and eventual burnouts. So last quarter, it devised a new method: coming up with 150 ideas in 50 minutes in sessions called “Idea Sprints.”
“It’s essentially the gamification of brainstorming,” said Ben Hordell, founding partner at the agency. “We want to make the process as fun as possible and avoid anyone in the room not contributing something because it’s not perfect or not fleshed out.”
Once a team finishes with the process, the ideas are put down for all to see and then the team works on taking them further — even a “bad” idea can lead to a good place.
The agency recently used the technique to come up with an idea for a candy brand, where it hosted a Facebook Live game show on behalf of the brand.
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