Ask Esther // 62


Hey Esther,

I’m an aspiring copywriter who didn’t go to any ad school, media or even remotely related school. So I’m trying to build a portfolio on my own. I am usually not afraid to ask questions but this is just something I do not know how to ask the creatives I am in contact with. That question is. What is “The Idea”? When I showed some of my work to people, the common response I get is “you are executing a lot but what is the idea?” and I just don’t understand that. There is nothing on the internet that tells me what an idea is in advertising. To me an idea is “oh lets do this cool stunt that says this message” but when I say that i keep getting redirected to “can you please explain to me what is the idea behind it?” and I’m just confused. A CD once told me “my star creative teams always come into my room with 50 different ideas” or “when you think, make sure you think of a hundred ideas and then narrow it down to 30”. What does that mean? Does he mean he wants me to draw out 30 print ads, radio scripts, tvc scripts, stunts? I always get told this “understand the difference between an insight, an idea and an execution”. And truth be told, I have no clue what either of them are anymore. I suppose my question in short is What Is An Idea in an Advertising context and what are the differences between that and insights and executions? Thank you for taking the time to read my rant. I hope you can help me define this.

Confused Copywriter

Dear Confused Copywriter,

Wow, that’s a big question. First of all, you’re not alone in this. It’s something that even confuses people who have been in the business for years. I’m not sure everyone would agree about this answer, but here’s my take:

When advertising people think of an “idea,” they are usually talking about an unusual way to look at the world that is useful in solving a problem. A famous old advertising guy, Ted Bates (he’s not necessarily remembered for great work, btw) once said “every product has an inherent drama inside it.” An “idea” finds this drama, exposes it, and somehow makes the product suddenly interesting or understandable.

Some examples of “ideas” in my experience are:

GOT MILK? You only care about milk when you run out of it.

JUST DO IT Sports shoes aren’t just for athletes

REAL BEAUTY A company that understands the complicated ways women feel about beauty would make better soap for them.

In an agency, ideas make people want to work on a particular project and get their minds humming. You can feel yourself being drawn to these products when you read the descriptions, I think. An idea becomes the platform from which multiple executions can be generated.

Executions, on the other hand, are the specific ways in which these ideas are communicated to people. A great idea might have hundreds of different executional possibilities. There are probably hundreds of ways to dramatize great “ideas” like the ones above.

Ideas will beget more ideas and executions. If people say “That’s an execution but not an idea,” they are really talking about a certain lack of forward momentum. That the WAY it is done is trying to be the idea and therefore it cannot provide a platform for further extensions.

Putting the cart before the horse to put it another way.

Finally, trying to get into the business without any sort of training is very hard these days. It’s certainly not impossible but your book will have to equal or better your counterparts who have completed relevant tertiary or industry courses.

“Have you done AWARD School?” rightly or wrongly is often the first question an agency will ask you before even deciding to meet you.

So it will benefit you to read some books if you’re doing it all by yourself.

This list is pretty comprehensive. I’d read at least two, if not all of these if you can:

And good luck!

You can ask Esther Clerehan anything about putting your book together, getting a job, what salary to ask for or what to do when someone steals your ideas. Go on, Ask Esther. There is no other creative recruiter with more experience to educate us on the art of the job hunt. You can email her here at junior at (wtf null@null lifeatthebottom

Written by Junior
Originally posted on: 16/03/2015
Category: Ask Esther
Tagged: .