How to Have Big Ideas and a Sly Don Draper Grin

How to Have Big Ideas and a Sly Don Draper Grin

Many articles were published about the television series Mad Men from 2007 to 2015, especially the final episode. Not only did this show first air before the onslaught of AI tools, but it was also set in a time often considered the “Golden Age of Advertising” as described by the American Association of Advertising Agencies:

“The 1960s through the late 1980s have been characterized as the “Golden Age of Advertising.” It was a time of big ideas, three-martini lunches, and larger-than-life personalities who graced the society pages and the business columns.”

I’m going to interrupt my article on big ideas and Don Draper for a minute.

Although I’m a fan of vintage advertising and I respect the industry’s pioneers and innovators, I know the 1960s weren’t golden for everyone. I delivered newspapers as a kid, and I could read.

Memories blurred by nostalgia and too many martini lunches in 1960s may be reasons that old Mad Men describe the 1960s as the Golden Age. Although times may have been glorious for them, it’s worth remembering that the decade was not golden for everyone. Assassinations of the Kennedys and King, the Vietnam War, student protests, Kent State, Agent Orange, Napalm, the Civil Rights movement, residential redlining, white flight, and the Cold War were all happening during this same time.

What helped give the illusion of the 1960s being golden was the advertising. Television shows like Dragnet, My Three Sons, and Gilligan’s Island were escapist entertainment and distractions from the often traumatic and disturbing news stories. Even Walter Cronkite and the evening news were interrupted by momentary messages of “Plop-Plop-Fizz-Fizz, Oh what a relief it is”, “Snap-Crackle-Pop, Rice Krispies”, “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should”, “Let Hertz put you in the driver’s seat”, and so much more. These clever catch phrases and advertising jingles and characters were etched into American minds as much as the pledge of allegiance.

If those old ad guys think the 1960s were the Golden Age of anything, good for them.

In my opinion, if you are fortunate enough to now be working at a job where creativity and ideas are valued, then this is your Golden Age. And you have so many creative tools, including AI, at your command.

Now back to my topic. Some of my favorite Don Draper quotes include:

  • “Just think about it. Deeply. And then forget it. An idea will jump up in your face.” 
  • “There’s a rare occasion where a public can be engaged beyond flash…about a deeper bond with a product. Nostalgia. It’s delicate but potent.” 
  • And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams reassurance that whatever you are doing is okay. You are okay.”

To appreciate Don Draper’s creative talent and that last moment of inspired clarity that brought on that big grin, you should binge-watch the series if you’ve never seen it. Supposedly, that big idea he had on the last episode of this fictional television show was the “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” commercial that anyone near my age still remembers.

If he was nothing else, Don was an idea man. I don’t admire everything about his character, but his creativity was undeniable. And although I’m no Madison Avenue advertising genius, I have made my living on ideas.

So, here’s a list of the ten things you can do when you need a big idea:

  1. Don’t be lazy. You’re in a competitive sport; be professional about it. Wherever your creative efforts could be more professional, hire outside professionals.
  2. Never quit learning. Now is the best time to be in marketing; you can make it your Golden Age by working at it and learning and applying your ideas.
  3. Think of great questions. Great questions lead to great answers and big ideas.
  4. What’s your first idea? Sometimes, your first idea is your best. Now, see if you can better it.
  5. What’s your worst idea? When you’re stuck looking for the best idea, switch gears and think of the worst. Sometimes, it lightens the mood, changes your perspective, and leads to a great idea.
  6. What’s your story? Marketers are in the storytelling business. You will find all kinds of good advice on storytelling with a simple search, so read up.
  7. What’s the hook? Why should anyone listen to your story? Draw them in with a compelling question or provoking statement or image.
  8. Don’t limit your time on creative development to work hours. Sleep on it and wake up with it. Write it down if you have an idea, or it will evaporate like a good dream (don’t be like Paul Kinsey). Keep a pen, pad, or notes app on your phone near the bed or shower.
  9. Keep working on it. Marketing is a sport, but it isn’t all fun and games. And always keep an eye on your competition.
  10. Now, cut the content in half. Once you have your marketing strategy and creative ideas worked out, simplify. What can you take out? If it’s not critical, it’s clutter.

My suggestion list differs from Don Draper’s approach, but it’s worked for me, and some of the tips may help you. Some of these ideas might make good ChatGPT prompts; I may try that myself and see what happens. Who knows?

I don’t need artificial intelligence to know this: We think alike if you enjoy collaborating with others on new ideas. And everyone grins when a great idea lights up.

Consider giving STOUT Creative a call. We make ideas work.