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Free your mind…and ideas will follow.

Creativity flows more easily from an unstressed mind.

Creativity flows more easily from an unstressed mind.

Has this ever happened to you: You’re about to say something, but you get interrupted and seconds later you forget what you were going to say.

No matter how hard you try to remember, it’s gone.

So you quit trying…and a few seconds later you suddenly remember what you were going to say.

How does that happen?

Simple: The thought didn’t actually vanish; it was just hiding in your subconscious mind. Once you stopped straining to pry it out, it floated to the surface on its own. Funny how that works.

That same principle applies when you’re trying to come up with an idea for an ad, a product name, a visual, or the answer to a problem. Sometimes the best way to have an idea is to simply stop trying for a bit.

When you’ve been brainstorming for a while, the law of diminishing returns often kicks in. The mind turns to clay; the ideas dry up.

What then?

You stop consciously trying. Your mind has all the information it needs. It’s time to let it do its thing.

So you go do something else. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it doesn’t involve thinking about the project. Here are some suggestions:

Take a nap. Ideas will often emerge as you’re falling asleep or just waking up. Somehow that “twilight” region between sleeping and waking provides a natural conduit for ideas to flow from the subconscious into the conscious.

Take a walk. There’s nothing like getting outside and into the fresh air to give you a fresh perspective. The openness of the outdoors lifts that claustrophobic sense of feeling boxed-in by a project. Getting out and seeing some blue sky lets your imagination soar.

Exercise. It’s not just good for your body, it’s good for your brain. Rigorous exercise puts you in a different mental state and causes your brain to release chemicals that give you a sense of well-being.

Take a long, hot shower or bath. Don’t feel guilty about pampering yourself; it’s work-related. Standing in a steamy shower or letting Calgon take you away puts you in a mode of pure relaxation where your thoughts can freely drift. Those wanderings will often bring back useful solutions.

By no means are these the only methods for freeing your mind to do its best work. You can certainly try your own. Whatever you can do to stop consciously thinking about a project for a while enables your mind to work behind the scenes and to unlock all those ideas you have waiting to get out.

Try it for yourself and let us know how you do.

(Note: You can’t predict when an idea will emerge, so be prepared. Make sure you have a pen and notebook handy to jot down or sketch out the idea before it disappears into the ether. Don’t make the mistake of trying to recall it later on; write it down! Most ideas, particularly complex ones, quickly become cloudy unless captured immediately in written form. The mind is always active; ideas start undergoing alterations the moment you conceive them. Five minutes later, your original flash of insight may have morphed into something less useful. Write it down in its pure form the first moment you imagine it, and you’ll capture its essence.)

5 Steps to Having a Great Idea

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The “creative process” is indeed a process.

Some folks think ad agency people “sit around and think up ideas all day.”

This makes the creative process sound random and effortless, neither of which is true.

Agencies would quickly go out of business if they just “sat around” waiting for inspiration to strike.
They need a way to regularly and consistently create interesting ideas for the ads (and other stuff) they produce.

So…here it is, broken down into five simple steps:

1. Preparation

Getting ready to have an idea requires immersing yourself in the product or service you want to promote, learning everything you can about it, asking lots of questions. (Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”)

This may involve talking to engineers about a design, visiting a factory to see how a product is made or interviewing users of a service. It’s a lot of work, but without this necessary step you won’t have sufficient information from which to draw forth a great idea.

2. Incubation

After you’ve loaded your brain with information, it’s time let your mind work its magic. This step is equal parts work and fun, active and passive, conscious and unconscious.

The “work” part is brainstorming different solutions. The “fun” part is doing something completely unrelated, which frees up your subconscious mind to do its thing.

Creative folks have different methods for this: going somewhere quiet and thinking, heading out for a walk, napping, taking a drive, jogging, etc. You’ll need to find what works best for you. But the alternating pattern of working and taking a break seems to do the trick.

3. Illumination

This is where you go, “A-ha!” (or “Eureka!” or whatever it is you say when brilliance strikes). The idea comes to you and you’re ecstatic. You jump up and give yourself a mental high-five, congratulating yourself on your cleverness.

4. Evaluation

This step isn’t nearly as fun as Step 3. (In fact, it can be pretty painful.) It’s time to stand back and throw stones at the brand new, shiny idea you’ve just created.

This is no time to be proud or protective. Take a step back and examine the idea objectively. Look for flaws. Is it strong enough to stand up to scrutiny?

If if isn’t, swallow your pride, kick that idea to the curb and get to work on a better one.

Don’t worry; lightning struck once. If you’ve done your homework it will strike again.

5. Elaboration

If, on the other hand, your idea can withstand the slings and arrows you shot at it in Step 4, it’s ready to be turned into an actual ad.

That means writing the copy, designing the layout, creating the artwork. (In other words, a lot of hard work and effort.) But when it all comes together it’s a thing of beauty.

There’s no more rewarding professional experience than being part of a creative team transforming a single “big idea” into a campaign that impacts thousands or even millions of people.

Acknowledgment: Chapter Four of The Copy Workshop Workbook by Bruce Bendinger provided source material for this post.

50 time-tested brand names, A to Z

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You’ll have to read all the way to the bottom to learn why we think this one is good.

Below are some of those well-known “household” names and a brief description of why they’ve stood the test of time, plus a couple of new ones that are exceptionally well done. (You may also want to check out our previous post on what goes into creating a successful brand name.) 

  1. Ajax: Even if you don’t know the mythology – Ajax was a Greek hero known for his size and strength – the name’s construction and sound still convey a sense of power and authority (hence the tagline that Ajax is “stronger than dirt”).
  2. Armor All: These two words flow like one when spoken, succinctly conveying the benefit this product offers: the ability to protect many items from dirt and deterioration.
  3. Axe: The epitome of brevity. A manly name with a youthful edge (pardon the pun).
  4. Brillo Pad: “Brillo” is a coined name that sounds like a combination of “bristle,” “brush” and “quill” (with an added “o” for energy and lift). Upon hearing the name, who could doubt its ability to scour away even the toughest guck?
  5. Cascade: A perfect name for dishwasher detergent, conjuring images of a crystal clear waterfall leaving everything it touches sparkling clean.
  6. Cheer: A product named Cheer brings a smile to the chore of laundry. It’s a “bright” word you automatically associate with brighter clothes.
  7. Clorox: Combining a root term (in this case a stylized spelling of “chlorine”) with an “x” suffix is a common tool for creating a word with a “scientifically formulated” flavor to it. (Windex and Tilex do it too.) It doesn’t hurt that “ox” sounds hardworking too.
  8. d-CON: It doesn’t matter if no one knows what this name actually stands for. It sounds scientific and just a little dangerous/intimidating. The no-nonsense nomenclature signals that this is serious stuff.
  9. Dove: The name hits just the right note for women. What could be softer, whiter, more beautiful or more soothing than a soap called Dove? (Of course, a male version would need to be called something like “Hawk.”)
  10. Downy: Like a baby bird’s feathers, this name is soft and fluffy too, which is how the maker hopes you’ll envision the product leaving your laundry.
  11. Drano: Like “Brillo,” this name gets forward momentum from the “o” (which could be symbolic of an unclogged pipe too). The name also serves as shorthand for “drain opener.”
  12. Duracell: Eveready and Energizer are solid names, but Duracell is unrivaled in creating an image of a power cell that lasts. Combined with the phrase “the coppertop battery” and the tagline “no other battery looks like it or lasts like it,” the moniker makes for a powerful sales message.
  13. Easy-Off: Easy to say too. The name credibly promises to make the hateful chore of oven-cleaning almost effortless.
  14. Fantastik: Changing the “c” on the word “fantastic” to a “k” transforms an over-the-top boast into a more playful coined term with a sense of “magick” and quickness.
  15. Formula 409: This scientific-sounding name implies that substantial research went into creating the cleaner. (Perhaps it took 408 failures before they finally perfected the solution.) Aided by the “For- and Four” repetitive device, it rolls smoothly off the tongue – much better than, say, a Formula 827 would – despite its six-syllable length.
  16. Fresh Step: A nicely conceived name that’s easy to say and remember, and instantly creates an image of the product benefit.
  17. Glade: This simple name subtly triggers the imagination. Fresh greenery, pleasing aromas, a natural setting…these are the images the company wants the name to create in the consumer’s subconscious mind.
  18. Goo Gone: Not the most artful name ever devised, but its straightforward communication of the product benefit can’t be questioned.
  19. Gorilla Glue: The repetitive G’s are fun to say and the imagery of a gorilla implies that this is strong stuff.
  20. Gumout: Like “Goo Gone,” this name tells you exactly what the product is going to do for you, plus it’s easy to say.
  21. Huggies: Parents want to feel their babies are cuddled in coziness at all times. This name conveys this pleasant notion – plus the more literal benefit of a gapless fit that keeps teeny little messes contained.
  22. Irish Spring: The adjacent “sh” and “sp” sounds are a little tough to say, but what other name could convey the notion of springlike freshness in such a merry manner?
  23. Ivory Snow: What could be cleaner, whiter, or more pure? This romantic, metaphorical name even sounds soft when spoken.
  24. Just For Men: This straightforward name successfully mitigates the self-consciousness older men may have about buying hair dye.
  25. Liquid Plumr: This name lends the product the personality it needs to stand out from the crowd. (One also wonders if Liquid Plumr is friends with Janitor In A Drum.)
  26. Method: The latest addition to this list of names. The “method” name is a stroke of inspired understatement that conveys “practical,” “modern” and “economical” with a simple sophistication and “green” implications. It is unlike other names on this list in that it is more abstract (doesn’t say what it is or does; doesn’t convey a benefit). Yet the thought of working with a “method” implies completing a task quickly and efficiently. And it doesn’t hurt that the packaging clearly reinforces this notion.
  27. Miracle Gro: This name instantly has gardeners envisioning “Jack & the Beanstalk” type results.
  28. Mop & Glo: The floor isn’t just clean or shiny; it actually glows. That’s quite a promise.
  29. Neutrogena: A nicely coined word with numerous word associations: “Neutro” is akin to “nutri,” conveying health and wholesomeness. The second half of the word, “-gena,” is feminine sounding, alludes to “genesis” (life) and imbues the name with clinical credibility (through similarity to words like collagen, estrogen, antigen, etc.). Is it any wonder the word “rejuvenating” springs immediately to mind when you hear the name?
  30. Off!: A perfect name for insect repellent. The exclamation point is a stroke of genius that makes the name active and energetic rather than merely descriptive.
  31. Oil of Olay: Oils are natural and moisturizing. Olay is exotic sounding. The two words sounds soothing together. According to Wikipedia, the name is a spin on the ingredient “lanolin.” And a clever one at that.
  32. Old English: “Old” implies enduring quality, timeless appeal and an air of gentility. “English” implies class and refinement. Together they evoke images of wood-paneled rooms in country estates. (Old Spice is another name that benefits from the “Old” moniker.)
  33. Palmolive: Combining the words “palm” and “olive” creates a single word that embodies soft, supple and organic. Even the way the two words blend together creates a sense of fluidity.
  34. Pampers: Your baby’s backside deserves all the pampering it can get.
  35. Quaker State: Like “Keystone State,” this name is a nickname for Pennsylvania, where the brand was long headquartered. The “long-a” sounds and the order of the consonants allow “Quaker State” to flow smoothly when spoken. (Try saying “Puritan State” instead and you’ll hear the difference.)
  36. Quikrete: Need concrete fast? This is the product for you.
  37. Resolve: This name assures the user that the product has the strength and tenacity to remove tough stains. Who could question that kind of resolve?
  38. Scotchgard: This name capitalizes on the equity of the Scotch brand. The stylized spelling of “guard” is a pleasing phonetic follow-up (much better than, say, “Scotchshield” would sound).
  39. Scrubbing Bubbles: A fun, rhyming name that says exactly what the product is and does. Cartoon “bubble” characters on the can and in the TV spots help reinforce the name too.
  40. Sea Breeze: This name sounds so refreshing you almost expect a gentle puff of cool wind to hit your face when you open the bottle. 
  41. Secret: There’s something about the word “secret” that appeals to women. (Right, Victoria?) Despite the advent of the internet and “Girls Gone Wild” videos, the vast majority of women gravitate to a name that alludes to modesty and feminine mystique.
  42. Slime: Hats off to the person or team who had the guts to approve this unconventional brand/product name. Their gamble has paid off. Who doesn’t love Slime?
  43. Shout: This product avoids the “me-too” naming pitfall by not trying to mimic its competitor Spray-N-Wash. Of course, shouting has absolutely nothing to do with stain removal, yet the tagline “Want a tough stain out? Shout it out!” has been effective. (The word “out” being a part of “shout” helps.)
  44. Slick 50: Like Formula 409, this name uses a word/number combination that slides smoothly off the tongue and indirectly conveys the product benefit. (Slick 49 wouldn’t be the same, would it?)
  45. Swiffer: This is a fun name that sounds lighthearted and promises to take the drudgery out of floorcare. Compared to sweeping, “swiffering” sounds effortless, perhaps because its “wiff” component conveys a light and airy feel. Ending the name with an “er” (as in worker, cleaner, scrubber) makes it sound like it’s doing the work, not you.
  46. Tilex/Windex: There’s no mistaking what these two products are used for. Like Clorox, they benefit from the “scientific X” suffix that connotes a lab-perfected formulation and clinical efficiency.
  47. Ultra Brite: On the brightness scale, ultra bright probably represents the highest end. This is a solid promise of dental dazzle conveyed in a fun-sounding name.
  48. Vigoro: This plant food brand name combines vigor with grow, and rhymes with “Figaro” so although it’s a coined term it isn’t unfamiliar sounding.
  49. Wisk: This name implies that, like a “whisk broom,” the product will remove dirt quickly, completely and without much effort from you.
  50. Zest: Despite the “Z” (typically associated with sleep) this product names implies a refreshing sensory awakening.

The Dancing Dead

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“Danse macabre” really gets things moving.

The dead rising from their graves and making merry on Halloween night: That’s the story told by Danse macabre, an instrumental piece written by the 19th century French composer Camille Saint-Saëns.

The work is based on an old French superstition in which Death appears at midnight on Halloween and plays his fiddle, calling forth the dead to dance to his tune. As you listen to the piece, you’ll have no trouble envisioning a throng of grinning skeletons reveling through the cemetery as they celebrate their annual night of freedom from the grave.

Near the end of the piece, a rooster crows (an oboe, I think) to signal the coming dawn. The skeletons recoil in fright and glumly slink back to their tombs for another year.

My elementary school music teacher introduced me to Danse macabre waaay back when I was a little kid and I’ll always remember hearing it that first time. Every October I put it back into heavy rotation on my iPod and let the dead dance through my mind again and again.

The tune is about seven minutes long and is available on iTunes. You can also sample it with various video accompaniments on YouTube.

How to build a creepy Tim Burton Halloween scarecrow

Want something cool for the front yard this Halloween?scarecrow

If you’re a Tim Burton fan like I am, you can easily make a pumpkin-headed scarecrow straight out of Sleepy Hollow or The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Start with a couple of long, fairly straight tree branches. Try to find one about 8 feet long and another about 6 feet long. Lash them together with some rope to form a cross. (The long one is the vertical piece.)

You can use a couple of thinner branches as supports for the crosspiece. Tie one end of a thin branch to the vertical piece and the other end to the crosspiece. Allow part of the branch to extend beyond the crosspiece; this is where the “hands” will go. Do this on both sides. (You can kind of see how I’ve done it in the photo.)

You can give the scarecrow “hands” by tying a few sticks together with twine and attaching them to the ends of the diagonal support branches. (I don’t know why, but those stick hands take the scary factor to a whole new level — perhaps because it’s creepy to imagine them grabbing you.)

The easiest way to put the scarecrow up is to insert the bottom end into a piece of pipe (about 2-1/2 feet long is sufficient) that you’ve pounded halfway into the ground. I’ve found this works better than trying to dig a hole for the base or supporting the scarecrow with ropes and stakes.

Decorating the scarecrow is the fun part. In the past I’ve tied on torn strips of old sheets. More recently, I bought some cheap black fabric to give it more of a “cape” or “batwings” effect.

Top it off with a pumpkin (larger ones look better) with an appropriately sinister grin applied with thick black magic marker, and you’re done! (Shining a light on the scarecrow at night is kinda creepy too, and it makes an eerie shadow on your house if the light and scarecrow are positioned right.)

So there you go. Have fun! Bwaaa-ha-ha-haaaaa!

Naming, Part II: To create a name that’s on target, get ready and aim before you fire.

Firing Squad

Before you can develop an effective name for a brand or product, you need to do some homework. Rush headlong into the brainstorming process without asking some questions and setting some parameters, and you’re almost certain to be wasting your time. (We discussed the challenges of creating brand and product names in Part I of this series.)

Here is some information we request from our clients before we begin work on a name:

  1. Complete product description: what it does, how it works, what makes it different/superior, etc.
  2. Description of the person buying or using the product. What is important to them?
  3. Product attributes the name should convey (e.g., ease of use, speed, durability, the results it produces, etc.)
  4. Are there any client-imposed prohibitions (e.g., name can’t have the letter “X” or the word “green” in it, can’t have any military connotations, etc.)?
  5. Does the competition have a similar product? What is it called?
  6. What kind of tone should the name convey (e.g., aggressive, relaxing, friendly, reliable, etc.)?
  7. Does the parent brand have an established and recognizable image that the name should relate to?
  8. Does the name need to relate to other names in the product line (e.g., are all the products named after an animal)?
  9. Does it matter if the name is literal (Quarter-Pounder, Shop-Vac) or metaphorical (Whopper, Dirt Devil)?
  10. Are you open to having a coined name created, providing it conveys the appropriate attitude and imagery?

Asking these questions – and getting as many clear, definitive answers as possible – is crucial to creating a memorable, likable name that makes a positive connection to the customers.

Want to see 50 examples of great names?

 

Staff member dodges locomotive to get the perfect shot


OncomingDesigner/photographer Josh McLaughlin recently put himself in harm’s way to snap this gorgeous color photograph of a vintage Norfolk Southern steam locomotive (subsequently featured on the front page of the Lakewood Observer).

As the steam engine passed through Lakewood on May 12, Josh crept up to the tracks and snapped away at the oncoming train with two cameras, capturing color and black-and-white images along with a peppering of soot from the coal car.

He says it was a small price to pay to get the pictures he wanted: large-scale color to convey the size and power of the engine, and monochrome closeups of the wheels and gears to illustrate its complexity.*

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Big dramatic events are obvious attractions for shutterbugs, but Josh also keeps an eye out for things of interest in his everyday travels.

“I run and bike, so I have plenty of time to look around and enjoy the view,” he says. “Many times after a long run I grab my camera and hike back to the place I just traveled to get a shot of something that caught my eye.”

flowerJosh’s two young daughters, as they progress through childhood, have been frequent subjects of his photos. In fact, family has been his inspiration from the start.

“I became interested in photography at an early age thanks to my grandfather,” Josh explains. “He always had a camera and would take pictures of anyone and anything. He was great at getting people to smile and that’s what showed me the way.”

He shares his grandfather’s passion too.

“I have shot a wide range of photography over the past 15 years, professionally as well as personally, and I’ve loved every minute of it. I enjoy the unique challenges that each product, portrait or fine art piece entails.”

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* The b/w locomotive image was taken from about 6-8 feet away from the moving train. Don’t try this at home.

Cartoons have gotten a lot smarter.

Adventure Time

Adventure Time characters

The other day I asked my 14-year-old daughter what “Adventure Time” was. (She has a couple of T-shirts that say “Adventure Time” and have wacky little characters on them.)

“It’s a show,” she replied (in that way teenage girls have of wanting to keep something secret yet implying you’re incredibly out of touch for not having heard of it).

“Is it for little kids?” I asked. (The primitive randomness of the characters on her T-shirt seemed tailored to an audience of 3-year-olds. I figured she was wearing it just to be ironic, the way all the kids have lately glommed onto “My Little Pony.”)

“No, it’s funny,” she objected. “We all watch it.” (“We” being herself and the Greek chorus of giggly, shrieky girls with whom she has surrounded herself.)

“So and so’s parents watch it too,” she added, as if to further emphasize my squareness.

The gauntlet had been thrown down. (For those of you under 30, that’s a medieval challenge analogy.) It was time I found out what “Adventure Time” was all about.

So I watched an episode. It was only ten minutes long. But that’s good, because if it had been longer I might have passed out from laughing.

It was really funny. And clever. And, like the characters, randomly wacky.

There were unicorns. There’s a talking dog that’s all stretchy and stuff. And there’s a little vampire girl who feeds on the color red instead of blood and plays a mean bass guitar.

The show, as it turns out, is also big hit and has been on for, like, four years. (Okay, Dad’s a little slow.)

But now I get it. I’m 100% on board with “Adventure Time.” In fact, I’m also on board with “Phineas and Ferb” and a bunch of other cartoons that I’ve discovered are a lot more sophisticated – and much funnier – than the ham-fisted, slapstick stuff cartoon stuff I grew up with. (Seriously, how many times can you laugh at a bowling ball dropped on a foot or an anvil falling on a coyote’s head?)

I’m not sure what to attribute the improvements to. It’s likely that making the humor interesting enough for adults as well as kids to enjoy improves viewership. Maybe the competition of numerous cartoon channels requires a show to be a cut above to be successful. Maybe kids have developed a taste for more sophisticated humor (Zack & Cody notwithstanding). Whatever the case, it’s a positive development.

Out of appreciation, I might even get my own “Adventure Time” T-shirt. (Plus, it’ll be fun to watch my daughter roll her eyes and sigh with embarrassment if I ever wear it in public.)

How limitations can actually fuel creativity

TheEdge1987Any U2 fans out there?

Do you know that song of theirs where the guitar player, Edge, has that really fast solo? The one where he’s burning up the guitar like Eddie Van Halen?

Just kidding. There’s no such song.

Edge doesn’t play flashy “guitar hero” stuff. In fact, he could barely play at all when the band started in 1976.

But Edge didn’t let his lack of traditional guitar chops stop him. Instead of bemoaning what he couldn’t do, he made the most of what he could.

As it turned out, his limitations proved to be a huge asset because they forced him to take an entirely different approach to playing the guitar:

• Rather than try to play lots of notes, he’d only play a few.
• He experimented with echo (lots!) and reverb to get cool sounds and textures.
• He used unconventional fingerings and left some strings “open” so they could ring out for a “bigger” sound.
• He avoided anything bluesy or minor-sounding, which made the band’s music “brighter” and gave it a kind of youthful exuberance.

The result of all this was that he ended up creating a completely original sound and style of playing, something every bit as identifiable as Bono’s voice and equally crucial to the band’s success. It’s a style that continues to inspire musicians to this day. (Edge explains his creative process in Davis Guggenheim’s 2008 documentary It Might Get Loud, which also profiles Jimmy Page and Jack White.)

Now imagine for a moment if, back in 1976, Edge had said, “Well, I’ll never sound like Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton, so forget it.”

There’d be no “Where The Streets Have No Name” or “Beautiful Day.” I know my world would be less rich if those songs had never been written. Yours too, I imagine.

The lesson here, then, is pretty obvious. If you have a passion for something, don’t put it on the shelf because you don’t think you’re “good enough.” Don’t compare what you can’t do to what someone else can. (Comparison is the thief of joy.) Do your own thing and let it be unique. Whether it’s making music, writing a poem, designing clothes, creating a new vegetable soup recipe, building a table or painting a picture — do it. If you’ve got the desire, that’s more than most. Put yourself out there and see where your passion and your own distinctive approach will take you.