Ideas can come from anywhere. Sometimes they appear in a flash, as though someone’s just unscrewed the top of your head and popped a little spark of inspiration in there (hey, thanks! 👍). Other times, it takes hours and hours, and lots of creative people working together to come up with the killer idea. Some creatives thrive on the stress of the looming deadline, whereas others need to get out of the office and take a walk to clear their head - returning refreshed and ready to go.

In fact, our very own Creative Director seems to think up 90% of her ideas in the time between leaving the office and getting in her car! My point is, there is no hard-and-fast rule for idea creation, but there are things we can do to at least get the juices flowing.

One such idea is using creative prompts - a clever brainstorming tool for idea generation. With creative prompts, the idea is to get yourself thinking about a problem in a completely different way. When you consider new branding or advertising opportunities, it can be easy to find yourself stuck - what’s known as struggling with a ‘creative block’. This probably isn’t news to any of you in the creative industries: coming up with creative, original and effective ideas which will spark brand engagement and commitment can be pretty tricky at times!

So, we can use creative prompts to get us going. To do this, we write out a series of pretty ridiculous questions, and use these as a new lens through which we can look at the problem.

To show you what I mean, let’s create a scenario. Let’s say we own a vacuum cleaner company. Now let’s say that we’ve invented a new vacuum cleaner that’s better than anything else on the market (well done us!). Now let’s say that we want everyone in the UK to have one in their home. To do this, they’ll need to know how fantastic our product is.

So, how do we achieve that goal? A TV advert? An outdoor advertising campaign? Sure- they’re solid ideas! The problem is, they’re also a bit obvious. We don’t always want to use the same old methods that everyone else uses. So, we can do better than that, surely? But to generate better, and more creative ideas, we need to force our minds to think differently. What we need to do here is to think about solving the problem in a way that we wouldn’t normally consider. This is where creative prompts, or our ‘what if?’ questions come in.

For instance, we might ask: what if we had an unlimited budget? (Well, happy days: let’s just pay someone else to come up with all the ideas and go to the pub. See ya!

Okay, okay, let’s take this seriously for a second.) So, we’ve got an unlimited budget. Maybe, then, we could create that TV advert we mentioned earlier- and book out all the airtime so our ad was on all major TV channels, all day long! Okay, this might be a bit annoying - but we’ve got the ball rolling. Our prompt has started us thinking about multi-channel, multi-platform advertising, as well as ways to reinforce a branding message. Great!

Let’s take it a step further. With our pretend unlimited budget, we could give one of our vacuum cleaners to every house in the UK - for FREE! We could deliver it to their door, show them how to use it, give them £50 for their old vacuum cleaner and bribe James Dyson to pop round to their house and comment on how amazing their new piece of kit is, and how he really wished he had one. With an unlimited budget, everyone has one of our vacuum cleaners; they all love it - and they’re all happy.

Of course, we know that back in the real world, there’s never an unlimited budget- not even for Mr. Dyson himself. So, what can we take from these pie-in-the-sky ideas? Let’s take one aspect of it, as an example: we might not be able to pay James Dyson to promote our product, but once again, there’s an idea here: paying someone trusted to promote our product.

So, with our ‘what if’ scenario, we’ve hit on a great idea: social media promotion, from trusted public figures! What if we hired social influencers to post on Instagram and Twitter about how great our product is - now that’s something we can achieve. What else did we come up with through our creative prompt? Well, obviously we’re not going to give away our product for free, but what if an aspect of the service could be provided for free?

To bring this creative prompt into the real world then - what if customers could buy our vacuum cleaner, have it delivered for free to their house, and if they decide they don’t like it, we could pick it back up and reimburse them the cost of the product? Again, that could work.

Right, let’s tackle another one (now that we’re in the swing of things). What if we wanted NOBODY to buy our product? ‘Why would we ever want that?!’ I hear you ask?

But humour me. In this creative prompt, how could we take preventive measures to ensure that nobody could get hold of one?

Well, what if we imposed a ban on all our staff, forbidding them to tell anyone about our products? What else? Maybe we could destroy all our stock (that would be fun). I mean, if nobody knows about our product, or it’s smashed into hundreds of tiny little pieces, how can anyone buy it? Of course, stopping people buying our product isn’t the real end goal here. (We’d all be out of a job, for a start.) But let’s take a closer look at what this curious question has created - there’s an idea in here, I’m sure.

Keeping schtum about our product would at the very least create a sense of mystery. I mean, no one can ever really keep anything to themselves, can they? So the thing that we’re looking for here is the mystery: this is the idea spark which has come out of our creative prompt. Working towards a sense of mystery gives us our fresh creative angle: we could hold a secret launch party, or create a social media teaser campaign showing only a hint of the product and its capabilities. From this ‘what if’ question, we’ve come up with an important aspect of original and fresh advertising.

Even something as silly as our idea to destroy the stock can bring real sparks of inspiration. Obviously, we won’t be destroying our stock. But there might be something in keeping it limited, or exclusive, that can help us with our creative block. What if we kept the stock very limited, or we had an exclusive time-limited offer - this could create a demand and urgency for the product. Another creative ‘what if’ prompt which has thrown up a new way of looking at our problem.

All these ideas came about by changing one aspect. By removing a restriction, or by flipping our objective on its head, we forced our mind off-road and we took the scenic route, picking up new ideas (and a couple of hitchhikers) along the way. So, as you can see, forcing yourself to consider a problem from a different angle gives a new perspective - helping to avoid the classic problems of clichéd advertising and well-trodden routes to market. Instead, you’ve got originality - grabbing attention and creating a real buzz around a product.

It’s not the answer to the question which matters, but instead it’s the journey: the new perspective and the new thought process which has helped us to come to these fantastic and fresh new ideas. Creative prompts are just one of the ways that we at Ultimate are inspired to create new slogans, new campaigns and new strategies to ensure that our clients are always original, exciting and dynamic. Of course, even something like a creative prompt may not always generate that ‘spark’, so it’s always a good idea to keep a bank of ways you can get yourself inspired. Anyway, I’m off - I need to go and smash some vacuum cleaners...

Written by Scott Ashton December of 2019