Sunday, February 08, 2015

Do Ideas Have Different 'Shapes'?

This is one of my favourite ads of all time. It was created by Ben Nott and Adam Hunt at Saatchi & Saatchi London.

(Incidentally, Adam now runs an Asian tapas restaurant in Bondi called Mamasan; it's great and you should totally go there if you're in the neighbourhood. But I digress).

One of the interesting features of the ad is that it has a very distinct 'shape'.

The first three-quarters of the message, while somewhat visually engaging, and somewhat semantically intriguing, are basically pretty straight. The payoff - and what a payoff it is - comes at the end.

So you might say that the 'shape' of the ad is something like this:

(I haven't marked them, but I'm hoping it's clear that the x axis represents Time, and the y axis Reward for the Viewer).

It's very hard to imagine this idea being structured any differently. The first three-quarters has to be quite dry and scientific, and the payoff (as with many jokes) has to come at the end.

So does that mean the idea is intrinsically that shape?

Let's look at another one. The famous Sony 'Balls' ad is kinda entertaining all the way through. There's not really a boring intro part, or a boring 'product bit' at the end, and there's no particular climax at any point either. Something like this?  

Then there's a type of ad I like to call the 'Stepper'. This year's Snickers Super Bowl ad works like that. There's entertainment from the beginning, and it just keeps ramping up, with each gag topping the last.

Sometimes there is information that you just have to get across. The 'Climate Name Change' social idea by agency Barton F. Graf 9000 starts out with a lot of serious factology, before unleashing the humour of its central conceit. And once again, I'd argue that this is the only way this idea can work. Giving a shape something like this:

Finally, there's a type of idea that works almost the opposite to that. Entertainment first, and then product message. Example: Little Caesars 'Arm Cast'.

Personally, I reckon that no one shape of idea is actually better than any other. Success comes from recognising what shape your idea is, and executing it in that style.

But what do you think? Any validity to my shape theory? And do you have a favourite shape, or is there one that you hate?


JB said...

I haven't ever really consciously thought about this. I guess it's always seemed obvious what shape the idea should take. But now that you've put it all out in front of me, I reckon I'll test my next idea against all these shapes and see what happens. I don't hate any of these shapes because all the examples you've sited are bloody good ads. Nice post!

Anonymous said...

I don't really think these are the shape of ideas, it's rather something much more technical and trivial.

If ideas have a shape they're all the same, only the size vary, depending on the quality of idea. From massive (climate name-change) to small (Little Caesar's) via medium (Sony's balls)


Anonymous said...

A question worth exploring on here:
Should CDs think on the brief prior to reviewing work?
It seems they often don't and because they haven't been through the thought process the creatives have, their feedback is hampered. They may ask to explore areas that are flawed but if they'd done some thinking, they'd have realised that.


Scamp said...

Interesting question.

Albeit not about shapes!

I suspect that your question relates to a specific incident, and I can only answer generally - it's very possible that if I knew the exact situation, I'd answer differently.

But in general terms, I don't think CD's should come up with ideas for a brief they're CD'ing. That creates too many problems.

Having said that, the CD certainly does have a responsibility to only send teams into a territory he believes is fertile. This should be achieved by the CD working closely with the client/planner/account team, to ensure a brief is both clear and 'springy', before it goes to any creatives.

So helping to shape the brief, but without actually 'working to it', if you like.

RB said...

Great post. Thinking about ideas in a new way is super interesting. Cheers mate.

Contact: said...

I'm a bit late...but this post has stuck with me.
I thought it's useful to think about 'shape' when you overlay problems like VOD and 'skip'. I'm constantly told by media types that for every second you suffer serious drop off. You're doing well if anyone watches past 80%. You can argue that your creative will be different, because it's amazing, but this doesn't always work.
So shape really matters here. Geico is a good example of right shape for media (and client) . Message upfront and then entertain.

Thx scamp