Most people take brainstorming for granted; a method of coming up with ideas that has been in the workplace for what feels like forever. Fact of the matter is, brainstorming is still a relatively new concept and has only been around for a little over 70 years.
First coined by advertising executive Alex Osborn, and outlined in his book Your Creative Power in 1948, Osborn referred to brainstorming as a means to “storm a creative problem” by using the brain. He laid out four rules for brainstorming:
- No negative feedback
- Focus on quantity over quality
- Use others’ ideas as launchpads
- Encourage big thinking
Now while these “rules” certainly aren’t set in stone, nor are they the only ways we can brainstorm (we’ll get to some of those in a bit), they do provide a good framework to help tackle a creative problem or idea while in a group setting. When brainstorming, we want to create an open space for individuals to let their ideas run wild.
Individuals should be able to come to the group without fear of judgement or dismissal, which would lead to them potentially not sharing all of their ideas. That’s why it’s good, at least in the beginning, to not put too many restrictions on the brainstorm. Allow individuals’ minds to roam free and come up with ideas no matter how big or impractical, logistical issues will always be resolved later. As Scientific American states, “What makes a mind fertile? For one thing, it is the freedom to venture without the confines of traditional thinking or the burden of practical concerns.”
In the initial portion of a brainstorm, we should try and focus on quantity over quality, we want to get a bunch of potential ideas onto the table. These ideas, no matter how bad or absurd, can become a launchpad for another team member to either further a concept or take the idea into a completely new direction. That’s the wonderful thing about brainstorming, each idea has the potential to spark more ideas within the group.
Try Brainstorming Backwards
There are some more unconventional methods of brainstorming as well. President and co-founder of The Growth Engine Company LLC, Bryan Mattimore coined the term “worst possible idea” as a way to flip the script when coming up with creative solutions.
The concept involves having team members share their worst ideas to a problem, whether they be bad or unfeasible. This allows individuals to relax and helps take off some of the pressure of having to come up with the best solution. With a multitude of bad ideas, the team can then work backwards to turn them into good ideas. By looking at the bad suggestions, we can analyze why they are bad and then “search for the opposites of their worst attributes”.
Inspiration & Goals
But where do our ideas come from? Well, simply put, they can come from anywhere. Just because we work in advertising doesn’t mean we just look at ads for inspiration (though that’s perfectly fine). People can get ideas through individual experiences, life stories that others can potentially relate to, perhaps a song, a film or a painting. That's one of the advantages of brainstorming with a team, different people bring a variety of experiences and influences to the table.
Of course, we’re not just brainstorming in an empty vacuum, usually there is a problem or goal we are trying to tackle. This goal or problem acts as the first launchpad for the brainstorm session. Are we looking to push a product or service? Are we simply trying to get more brand recognition out into the public eye? These questions help start the conversation, and steer the brainstorm at first.
It also helps to think about the brand before and during the brainstorming session. It can be beneficial to see what the competitors in the industry are doing, to see if there’s anything that can be utilized or potentially improved upon in their attempts at video marketing.
Sometimes these attempts can act as cautionary tales and can help us avoid some of the missteps that other companies have taken, especially if there was a poor or even negative reaction amongst the audience. At the same time, we can also look and see what has worked for competitors. This can help cultivate ideas around a specific strategy that has been proven to work.
We’ll also want to take a look and see what has worked in the past for marketing your brand. Is there anything that could be improved upon? Were there any pitfalls along the way that should be avoided? Again, all these questions help steer the conversation, and if thought about before the brainstorming session, can help streamline the process.
How to Stick Out
Now we need to think about which angle we’re going to take the idea. A lot of times, this can be difficult because there are so many potential places to go, each one with their own set of avenues and obstacles. Of course it can be as easy as showcasing a product or service visually, with a voice over detailing what is happening on screen, but it can prove difficult to stick out from the crowd.
To get a little more creative, it may be important to think about placing the idea in a story and genre. Though there are many ways to structure a story, the key element is typically a conflict that needs to be resolved. In advertising, this conflict is often the very same problem the brand and or product is trying to fix.
As for genre, Webster’s dictionary defines it as “a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content.” In movies and television we have many genres, each with their own subcategories and tropes that can be combined or subverted, so the palette is especially huge.
For example, we can aim for a dramatic or heartfelt undertone to really pull on the heartstrings of the audience. Maybe something more explosive and thrilling so that the brand is ingrained into the excited viewers mind. Many times a comedic piece works well to make people laugh and easily recall the ad and brand. Exploring different aspects of the human experience can also be very beneficial. Though not required, having relatable situations or emotions help drive a connection between the audience and the content. With all this in mind, the possibilities are truly endless.
Look and Style
On top of choosing a genre, we also must brainstorm on the style or look of the ad. Each genre can be portrayed in a variety of ways, some more conventional than others. Take the drama example listed above, we could have a very modern looking commercial set in a realistic world, or we could create something more retro or abstract, set in the past or future or even animated
Budgetary concerns should also be considered when whittling down to a great idea. Budget can affect a number of things, including the amount of actors, potential locations to shoot at, and any special logistical needs the ad may require. Obviously, an idea can always start big early in the brainstorming session (and that should be encouraged), but those ideas can later be reworked or scaled back if needed.
We can start with a large idea and can always think of a way to make it work in a smaller setting, though this may not be possible all the time. In this case, it may be best to rework the idea even further or abandon it altogether. As stated above, these restrictions shouldn’t be used to squash any initial concepts as to inhibit creative thought, but they will have to be acknowledged at some point during the idea’s journey. Typically these concerns will be considered as we settle into a final concept, helping to shape the end vision.
Above all, it doesn’t hurt to strive to create something unique, something that stands out from the rest in terms of either content, story, visuals, etc. Ogilvy & Mather Germany’s chief creative officer Stephan Vogel states, “Nothing is more efficient than creative advertising. Creative advertising is more memorable, longer lasting, works with less media spending, and builds a fan community…faster.” This is perhaps the hardest part of brainstorming. Trying to trudge through an abundant array of ideas and find the one that is rare and unique. Picture it as if foraging for a diamond, scraping away the noise and clutter to find that precious stone.