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What makes a great ad?


The element that all great ads and campaigns share is 'surprise'. Something unexpected has to happen in your ads, in each and every one of them. I remember when I sent a package of ads to a crusty old creative director - he sent them right back to me (I guess he didn't want to soil his garbage can with them) with a one word comment, 'Surprise!'. Learn it he said. I thought he was an ass. A year or so later I learned that the ass was right. Look at your ads and give them a 'surprise' check. Is something happening that we've never seen before? Have you created a new visual we've never seen before? Are you looking at a situation from a new and surprising perspective? Are you adding a slice of relevant humour to your toothbrush or mouthwash ad? Are you delivering your product's message in a manner that no one would have expected? And remember, sometimes the basic truth or promise of a product can be surprising. If it is, take it and run with it. It's possible that you may simply need to take that truth find the best way to package it and shape it – multiplying the surprise quotient. If the truth isn't much help, then we have to start making shit up and exaggerating. That said, you still have to stick to that product truth. Exaggerate the truth, either with words or visuals. You need to create surprise around the selling proposition. Always go back and ensure that you are still clearly communicating the single-minded proposition. The hat trick: Surprise. Clarity. Relevance.

Dale Roberts is a Toronto-based writer and creative director. He was the first ihaveanidea 'creatives' interview and the first ongoing content provider for ihaveanidea. You can see his work at thecrankywriter.com