The challenging journey to create powerful ads

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We may all agree that it’s really tough to create powerful ads. In fact, in almost every country around 90% of the advertisements are blunt or boring. In case you wish to test this for yourself, just browse 10 minutes of your social media feed and write on paper out of 100 advertisements how many did really impress you.

Why are most ads low quality?

Well, the main reason is that you need to create memorable ads you need to be edgy. Moreover being edgy is something that scares a lot of people, not only in the marketing team but also in the advertising agencies.

Throughout my career, I have seen probably hundreds of thousands of ads. I remember that 15-18 years ago I was watching year after year the whole directory of submitted ads from Cannes Lions in 3 categories (print, TV, outdoor). And although Cannes Lions is la creme de la creme of advertising festivals, very few ads were markable.

Infographic: Why do people hate ads? (Hubspot study on ad blocking)

The truth is that people hate most ads, but not all of them. What can we expect when 90% are low-quality advertisements, right?

How to escape from ads: Use technology or simply go offline

Today, the best ways to avoid ads is by using ad blockers or by paying premium subscriptions to our favourite apps (the best examples for me are YouTube and Spotify), but only the ones that are poorly creative.

Another variant is to simply go offline or to set a “digital sunset” daily habit at home, putting all devices away after let’s say 7 PM.

Infographic - why do people hate ads study

What is the role of advertising?

Through ads, we try to capture human intelligence and turn it into money. This process is not straightforward, as it isn’t easy to stimulate every single brain to break barriers or to invent fresh ideas.

When a consumer wakes up in the morning she or he doesn’t have “I want to watch some great ads” on the list for the day. Through advertising, we manage to get into peoples minds but also their office, kitchen, sleeping room so we need to be very careful what we say, how we address and put ourselves in their shoes.

Why is advertising so powerful?

Advertising has the amazing strength to change peoples minds and preference when it comes to brand choice. Also advertising in many cases is enough for a product in order to generate millions in revenue.

We might notice a marketing campaign is successful when it becomes the talk of the town, or when it’s being forwarded or shared on social media. From that success to generating revenue candy but shorter or longer path, given the complexity of the customer journey.

Beware not to settle for less

The biggest enemy when creating creative marketing concepts is the compromise to create good instead of great commercials. I have written before about compromising in this article: 3 Rules to writing a slick Creative Brief. If you have some time I recommend you read it in case you want to write inspiring creative briefs.

What is the cause of bad ad campaigns?

This enemy called “compromise” usually makes us settle for less. I have encountered in my career various situations and reasons when it happened and when I see a bad ad, I can think of possible reasons:

  • The brand lacks charisma;
  • The production budget is discouraging low;
  • The creative agency worked for too many years for the brand and lost its edge;
  • The client is simply not a creative person or lacks experience in writing briefs;
  • The competitors have also boring, rational campaigns;
  • The local culture doesn’t appreciate creativity in marketing campaigns (e.g. everyone looks for low prices);
  • Marketing and creative teams failing to get out of their own ego bubbles.

The journey to create powerful ads

Great creative ads usually have a strong consumer insight, a viral concept, but most important a powerful strategic idea.

Creating a memorable campaign is not the one man’s job but the results of great teamwork. I’m sorry to say to my creative friends (even they know this already), but the ad itself is just a piece of the puzzle that we need to solve in order to achieve greatness.

A memorable ad campaign is the results of great teamwork

Every creative process in advertising starts with a client brief or a pitch brief, which is followed by consumer insights research, a creative briefing session, a presentation to the client and lots of adjustments. The whole decision process usually involves more than 15 people from the marketing team and the agency.

Size the ads themselves (what is being seen by the public) there are several processes that support the entire project:

  • The business plan;
  • Marketing plan;
  • The brand architecture or brand pyramid;
  • The advertising idea or big idea;
  • The creative brief;
  • The selling pitch (the presentation to the client).

Creativity is a big, blue ocean

Any creative person needs to have an open mind and be capable of identifying a big idea even if it’s not looking for it, precisely because a big idea could be the last thing that person would look for.

Finding a creative idea is a mental fight, and for that, you need experienced or super motivated strategic planners, client service managers besides inspired copywriters and art directors.

The creative team is usually made up of an art director and a copywriter. Each pair works on the same projects, so they are experienced in handling different creative challenges and usually are very efficient in working together.

What stimulates creative people’s minds?

I might very well see everything because, in advertising, we usually gather any disruptive stimulus related to art, news, books, brands, apps, creative concepts, and last but not least advertising awards.

McCann Erickson Romania found the “secret recipe” to create powerful ads

Romania, the country I grew in had experienced 20 years of post-communism advertising frenzy, with hundreds of new candidates knocking at the doors of big advertising agencies in search of a job. At the beginning of 2000, I was one of them and I had the privilege to work with quite a few remarkable creative minds.

Romanian advertising during the period was extremely successful, managing together more and more international creative awards, becoming often the talk of the town. The most prominent agency was McCann Erickson Romania, which by 2019 won 35 creative awards for 9 years in a row at Cannes Lions awards.

ROM chocolate, Vodafone, Coca-Cola Romania received were some of McCann’s big winners, with campaigns that proved also sales success at the Romanian Effie Awards (click to see the winners).

Behind a great ad is always a great client

The man responsible for creativity is the agency but that magic happens when the client is aligned with the creative’s on their common goals the creativity can deliver: brand awareness, improved brand image, winning awards.

How do teams get to a powerful advertising idea?

Different teams have different habits and ways of working, so the creative process is non-linear.

A copywriter and his art director come up differently with creative concepts and they have their own way to split assignments when solving a brief. Usually, copywriters keep the agenda for the art director too, writing emails replying to client service or strategic planners on behalf of the team.

The client brief dictates who is in charge

Within the creative team, there is no boss and either one can lead the show. As a consequence, the two members of the creative pack have to divide arbitrary their duties.

If the job is to come up with a new slogan, then the main responsibility belongs to the copywriter. If the job is to create a mood board for a client presentation, then the person in charge usually is the art director.

Work (real-life) scenarios for creating powerful ads

There are several ways in coming up with a big idea, from the most common to the worst possible:

  • SCENARIO 1 (the most common): They brainstorm and share ideas until the two creatives identify the one having the highest potential;
  • SCENARIO 2 (common): Either the copywriter or the art director comes up with the concept, and the other agrees to get to work on it;
  • SCENARIO 3 (the “10% salary cut” case): All their ideas are rejected internally and they get the inspiration or the direction from their Group Creative Director or Creative Director;
  • SCENARIO 4 (“what are friends for” situation): The account planner (or strategic planner) comes up with the idea during creative briefing;
  • SCENARIO 5 (the worst case): The client asks for a creative route, with the apocalyptic request that a member of her/his family should judge the final creative proposals.

The greatest barriers to creating powerful ads

In advertising being nice or compliant to a poor brief won’t get you to spectacular ads. However, that is not the only barrier for creative teams. Tom Monahan, the founder of Domino Pizza listed in his 2002 book “The do it yourself lobotomy” several barriers encountered by creatives. Here are some of them to which I added some barriers I’ve seen on my own:

  • Unsolved uncertainty;
  • Fear of being ridiculous;
  • Being superficial in judging the client brief;
  • Attachment to ideas that worked in the past;
  • Too much ego;
  • Not embracing new challenges;
  • Lack of respect for consumer research;
  • Short attention span;
  • Unrealistic deadlines;
  • Low involvement that is usually caused by their focus on other projects (which usually offer more potential to win awards).


Creating powerful ads doesn’t have a recipe and could not be standardized for great results due to the numerous factors involved, human-wise and process-related.

However certain factors influence the efficiency of this process and sometimes even a small detail like personal attitude towards the client brief can lead to disappointing results or blunt ideas, as I mentioned at the beginning of the article.

It’s up to each creative agency management (including traffic department and client service) to correct these flaws in order to have a higher pitch success rate and more memorable marketing campaigns in their portfolio.