Where have all the ideas gone?

By Sreemanti Sengupta, afaqs!, | October 10, 2012
Sreemanti Sengupta

"What you guys doin'?"

"We're ideating.."

"I di..what?"

"We're ideating.."

"What's that?"

"Comin' up with new ideas.."

"Why don't you just call it a day?"

"This is different. We need to rethink the way we do things…"

"…Structure, Process..we need to innovate.."

(brief suggestive pause)

"We haven't ideated that yet."

"Good luck."


Man leaves. Lights out.

Super: Stop Talking. Start Doing.

That in brief is a 2008 IBM ad that gave me ideas. First it was to open a blog called We're Ideating where the clandestine writer in me would post some real ideas, seize them as they are much like the white foam of receding waves and ink them down while the Muse runs a perfect tumult in the cerebrum. But I think I snapped by the time people were using eggs and chapattis for pushing the message down your throat; auto-correct was making an Etta James out of Honey, Loony and Phooey; the logos were rapidly becoming the only visual preferred; Tagore songs were assuming the curious grammar of being sung with zero understanding and zero space within the jaws; clients were rejecting greeting card designs because they didn't have their choice of 33 Crore something Indian Gods in the design; clients scribbled logos in a meeting and asked you to go ahead with it; homes welcomed you from work with the television screeching of surreal mega serials where dressing for bed and a wedding is much the same thing; headlines were squeezed in spaces politely left by the Art Director; "Novels? What novels? Oh you mean you want a self help book. Not that? Oopsy, maybe a chic lit then?"; you do what sells and not the other way; (okay. Stop. Undiplomatic Danger ahead.)

Where are the ideas?

Where is the headline-less whisky ad that could move a Dad to tears?

Where are the only headline ads that's bound to injure that ego if you're not reading the advertised daily

Where are the people who interpreted and not imitated?

Where are the inimitable stories about client-agency bonds?

When have the classics gone and the flashy come in?

Is there anything called long/short copy or is it the need answered?

As my blog dies a quite death somewhere in the cyber warp, I or anyone can completely turn the tables on me.

The 'Humara Bajaj' campaign

You want ideas? Here they are:

An idea that has converted a handwash to a warrior who addresses underage child deaths..

An idea to make the blind read

An idea for jewellery that shines out for its message on women liberty and remarriage

An idea to light up lives with a bulb

An idea culled out from the Indian psyche and used beautifully for chocolates - make a auspicious start

An idea that made books possible

An idea that unites the whole country over a scooter

An idea that almost freed a country without using weapons

An idea that makes super durable plywood a friend for (after) life

An idea that explains the beginning of the Universe

An idea that beautifully discovered the axim "you don't hate the job, you hate your boss" to position a job search portal

(Kindly excuse me for not being able to put down all the brilliant ideas around, whose quantity may well contest the arguments brought forth questioning their existence.)

So, it may be agreed that are in fact no dearth of ideas. The question is how to get there more often. One of my favourite Canadian poet, songwriter, singer is clueless too, like most of us:

"If I knew where the good songs came from, I'd go there more often."
Leonard Cohen

An idea essentially contains and transcends the product or service. An idea may be a powerful human insight (The Economist ads may be seen as a conscious dialogue against mediocrity. Insight: people have egos waiting to be busted, go embarrass them.); a fact (Lifebuoy Handwash reach 5: millions of children die of unclean hand washing habits before they reach 5 years of age.), a common habit/idiosyncrasy (ref: Rubrums florist ad: "Exactly how mad is she" on the common husband's habit of seeking refuge in flowers as a gift to the wife to appease her when he's done something terribly wrong and is headed for a row with her.); purely functional/feature based (see Volkswagen ads by David Abbott); an insanely great execution (see: Honda "Cog" commercial); even successful product Utopias have their foot firmly on The Idea (The Marlborough Country..the insight: Men think Cigarrette is Manly. Hence they are transported to the rough cowboy westerns every time they smoke a Marlborough) and many more.

A good idea is media neutral. The restrictions of the medium in question is applicable to advertising and not the 'idea'. It may well be said advertisements are executions of an idea. The weak and misplaced ones may survive the initial roughie, but mostly you won't find yourself digging up fifteen year old annuals to go back and get inspired. Ideas survive. Ideas also go beyond the immediate purpose, they become universal, like any other song or lyric or painting or poem that has become timeless. An idea is greater than the purpose and is awfully difficult to reach, which may be the central reason why we don't bother reaching out that often. They are also alarmingly simple. I remember Josy Paul walking into my classroom and showing us a film..I fail to remember the brand it advertised, I do remember the idea - it showed how we crouch down to the foetal position to save ourselves, from the weather, the enemy or in pain. It was beautiful, one of the best things I've seen till date, because the idea had the potent combination of being simple and powerful, each virtue nourishing the other.

As Indra Sinha puts it:

"Ideas emerge out of one another; as another adland cliché has it, "An idea doesn't care who has it".
Come the Chicken-Egg controversy, I'll put my bets on the Idea forming first. Come the volatile nature of adland, it is and still be a mystery weather we should give in to execution based ideas where the premise has already been created. Easier and restrictive it may be, but come to the point that we live in strange times and stranger clients, we clearly a Big Idea to do the tightrope walk.

Lifebuoy's 'Help a Child reach 5' campaign