How to Write Remarkably Creative Content

Remarkable Creativity

Creativity is vitally important to crafting effective copy and content. But mention the word “creative” around direct response copywriters, and their blood will begin to boil.

Outside of Madison Avenue, advertising is supposed to sell something, not win industry creative awards. Likewise, content should be useful and valuable to the reader, not an indulgent exercise in self expression.

Still, creativity is key when it comes to copy and content that works. While creativity for its own sake is a smart way to strengthen your lateral thinking skills and to align your work with what you love to do, it’s when you create something useful to others that you add value to the world.

Advertising legend David Ogilvy hated the word creative. In Confessions of an Advertising Man he wrote, “I tell new recruits that I will not allow them to use the word creative to describe the functions they are to perform in the agency.”

Ogilvy instead preferred the word remarkable. So now you know where ol’ what’s his name got his inspiration.

Creative Adaptation for Remarkable Content

Inspiration from other sources is what creativity is all about. It seems that many people believe creativity involves pulling a completely brand new idea out of thin air. In truth, creativity is an adaptive process that consists of looking at the same existing thing everyone else is and thinking about it differently.

Even Michelangelo believed that “the best of artists has no conception that the marble alone does not contain within itself.” He saw his sculptures within the mass of marble, and simply removed the parts that didn’t belong in order to “free the figures slumbering in the stone.”

Look in unlikely places for connections and angles that can enhance your content. If only one aspect of another subject area meets your needs, roll like Michelangelo and get rid of the parts that don’t belong.

Where Do We Find Inspiration?

So, where do you discover your own creative angles for content? Carl Ally, another advertising legend, offered this insight:

The creative person wants to be a know-it-all. He wants to know about all kinds of things—ancient history, nineteenth century mathematics, current manufacturing techniques, hog futures. Because he never knows when these ideas might come together to form a new idea. It may happen six minutes later, or six months, or six years. But he has faith that it will happen.

In other words, what you learn outside of your niche may well be more important than your substantive expertise. Read everything you can across diverse topic areas, and live life to the fullest for inspiration at every turn.

For solid tips in this area, read Tony Clark’s excellent 4-part Creative Adaptation series. You may just start seeing things differently than everyone else does when it comes to creating content.

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Comments

  1. Great topic. It’s all very good and well for David Ogilvy to claim he hated creativity–he was a stunningly good (and ground-breaking, and yes, remarkable) copywriter. I *still* want to buy things based on 40-year-old ads of his.

    You can safely “shun creativity” once you’ve learned not to be awful–a lesson that I wish 99% of long form squeeze page writers would learn. And Ogilvy is quite right that cleverness or originality for its own sake, divorced from craft, has no place if you’re taking a paycheck for your writing. Then again, neither does mediocre hackwork that can only sell to people with a sub-85 IQ. (Mind you, it’s a hell of a market.)

    I love the Hugh M. drawing, the perfect touch. I hope to god he puts this one in his blog card series.

  2. Ah, creativity and inspiration…!
    In addition to looking in new places to find inspiration, you could also turn it around: use your present skills in new situations (like using your chainsaw to create a sculpture). Most likely you’ll end up finding new ways to use those skills in your existing work. Another variation would be to use different tools for your current work (try using a pen to write those blogposts!). You’ll get a fresh outlook on your work at least.

    But in all cases, like Sonia said: you need your Craft to pull it off. Without sculpting skills, you won’t get a statue out of any block of marble and could end up hurting yourself!

  3. And all this time I thought Seth coined “remarkable”!

    I absolutely agree with your post. If I’m stuck on a tagline or positioning or copy, I’ll go for a walk along the lake (one of the perks of Chicago living). Inevitably I come back with some fresh new ideas.

    Looking in unexpected places could be why you’ll often find history books or business books written decades ago on recommended reading lists of today’s top marketers.

  4. Perhaps not being creative and adapting what already works to your situation is what Ogilvy meant?

  5. James, I think so, except “what works” is a constantly evolving dynamic that requires creative thinking. :)

  6. I often find that I’m often at my most creative when I severely limit my options. It’s often said that musicians often build their most creative works when limited in the notes and textures they can use, and I think the same can apply to writers.

  7. Some of my most creative work has come from trying to meet a tight deadline. I guess “perspiration” leads me to “inspiration”.

  8. Loved the picture and the post :)

  9. Looking outside your area of expertise is critical. When your interests lie across numerous subjects, the ability to draw connections between them makes it much easier to look at something differently than everyone else does.

    Great post, Brian. One close to my heart ;)

  10. Nicely done! A subject near and dear to my heart. You may find the Eclectic Guide To Ideation, with over 250 links, to be worth a visit: (www.ieclectic.com/new342910.html)

  11. I think that this is a good topic to bring up in current culture. It seems a lot of advertising agencies have forgotten that “creativity for the sake of creativity” is not particularly functional.

    I think it takes a lot more creativity to write an ad that is both unique and effective. Applying creativity to an actual idea is very difficult. Creativity for the sake of creativity is easy, and far overused, and ineffective.

    – Mason

  12. Great post.

    You completely nailed the creativity part for me.

    I am a complete “Jack of All Trades” in many different areas of my career, which also carries over into my personal life.

    I read a ton of blogs and books to help with inspiration relating to posts on my blogsite.

    The Three best sites that I have found to inspire creativity are:

    http://tappingcreativity.blogspot.com/
    http://www.problogger.net/
    • And of course http://www.copyblogger.com/

    Thanks for great postings.

    Jim Moon

  13. Very interesting post, thanks for sharing the information.

  14. I try to blog about things in my world – in my physical world – when inspiration hits – like my yard, or Nintendo DS, or babysitting. I don’t have a gardening, gaming or mommy blog, so it stretches those creativity muscles and hopefully creates something remarkable.

    As a blogger, it’s so true that things outside your niche can make you think deeper and make stronger connections than just digging deep within your self-imposed universe of ideas.

  15. I actually think a lot of agencies *still* produce work that’s clever and creative for its own sake, but doesn’t produce results.

    Everyone knows Ogilvy’s advice, but it’s damned hard to follow. Kind of like ol’ what’s his name!

  16. Interesting stuff..

  17. A good book on how we actually “collaborate” even when we think we’re being “creative” is Group Genius by Keith Sawyer. Excellent discussion of different types of creative approaches, including jazz musicians and improv groups.

  18. Seth Godlin has this concept called edgecrafting which really helps me in being creative. You can implement tangentel ideas into your posts when you’re thinking out to the edges.

  19. Provocative post, and some great insights in response. There’s a great line from the movie Way of the Gun that applies to this idea. When evaluating modern crooks Benicio del Toro says to James Kahn (something like), “they’re more interested in being criminals than they are in doing crime.”

    I’d apply the same logic to many creatives, who put more energy in to their ironic t-shirts, haircuts, and oblong eyeglasses than they do to developing campaigns that will really stick with a specific audience. Creativity with a mission is strong; creativity for its own sake is often tedious.

  20. Ha, I love the Way of the Gun analogy!

  21. Brian,

    So far this is my favorite Coppyblogger post. I think it is a point that is very rarely made. So often, people reject good creative ideas in the name of future sales number that are yet to be known. So often, people allow creative that won’t sell in the name of creativity. When are we going to figure out that, though it’s harder, it is also best to always be grabbing for content that can get us both.

    This post has made me a Coppyblogger loyal.

  22. By the way, Can you think of any examples of copy that has done this. Maybe a “top ten” list in a future post?

  23. Phenomenal post! So many people forget how crucial reading is for creative thought and inspiration. Even if you are just reading a work of fiction for fun, consider it to be like exercise for your brain. When you stimulate your mind through reading, you will be able to thing on a more creative and expressive level.

  24. Some of my most creative work has come from trying to meet a tight deadline. I guess “perspiration” leads me to “inspiration”.

  25. Great post on creativity… seems to always appear when least expected.

  26. Cool stuff

  27. A very creative article on writing creatively. Now if I can just find my inspiration – seems to be suffering from writer’s block recently…

  28. True and short, not bad.

  29. For a long time I thought that creativity meant pulling things out of thin air. The ability to come up with a layout without even knowing what should go where. I soon realized that that wasn’t the case. I realized that that inspiration is brought from looking at other things and like you said, improving upon those concepts.

  30. Brian, this is truly one of the best posts of yours that I’ve read.

  31. I think it’s important to think about extremes of situations – whether happy or sad – to come up with truly creative content. You can think of
    - situations in your life that make you happy, or scared
    - try to think of characters that fit into that environment
    - fill it out with creative content : whether for an ad or a creative story.

    I’m usually amazed by the creative content in the anime/manga stories – the site I’ve found helpful to “think outside of my own thoughts” has been http://www.JustExpressing.com

    Try it and see if it promotes creativity in you.

    Iceman321

  32. It’s remarkable where the spark of inspiration comes from. Yesterday the unexpected occured. Hugh & I were playing in a bit of a fun commenting on his blog about the metal bottle closures for Stormhoek. I am a cork snob.

    The result – Todays article titled, “Boil on a Buttock vs Cork Snobs”.

  33. Thanks for this article.

    Cheers.

  34. Moh@mmed @zh@ruddin :

    i alway think that normally you and me always think but thinking creative is difficult.
    Also people say that to think creative is difficult but i say you will see the world itself is creative if you see in a different manner.
    i think to be a creative person you must see the situation and have question for yourself that what if it is opposite.

  35. Great article. It gives me some things to think about and makes me consider looking at things from a different perspective.

  36. Now if I can just find my inspiration – seems to be suffering from writer’s block recently…

  37. I agree wholeheartedly with the idea that you must study a variety of fields to promote creativity. Another reason that this strategy is important for a writer is this: Before you can write content for a client, you must learn everything there is to know about his business. You must know his field almost better than he does. Then, and only then, can you write about it in a convincing manner. Humor and warmth are also important elements of rich, engaging content. How can you be humorous or warm about a subject that you know only a surface amount of?

  38. Now if I can just find my inspiration – seems to be suffering from writer’s block recently…

  39. Now if I can just find my inspiration – seems to be suffering from writer’s block recently…

  40. Now, I need to read more information on different topics, issues, and subjects to have more things to write about and to spur on my creativity.