How to Be More Creative in Your Advertising

Some tips to help you get an extra edge

Illustration by Author

I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen any creative ads in a long time. It might be because I don’t spend so much time watching TV anymore but saying that, ads aren’t only on TV either.

The last ad that I remember sticking in my mind which showed genius creativity (though unfortunately excludes those who are blind) was a local car ad played on TV in silence.

I was flicking through my emails and social media, as you do when the ads come on, and it was quiet. I had to look up. I’m not a car person, but I sure remembered the name of “the company who had the silent ad.”

It’s genius because everyone knows ads are louder than the shows they’re breaking up. But if like me you do that, then there’s no sound, you think you broke your TV. It forces your attention back to the screen.

Besides that, every ad seems like the same thing over and over again. When there’s a sprawling landscape in a drone shot, you instantly know it’s a car ad. When an attractive woman (or man) is stepping out of a pool made of some precious metal, you know it’s a fragrance ad.

Point is, there seems to have been a serious decline in genuinely creative ads.

What is Creativity?

Academic researchers argue about this all the time. Some, like Epstein back in the day said:

“Creativity is a natural category and as such imprecise — defining a natural category is a thankless, if not impossible task.”

Though I prefer the more productive outlook in this case from those who generally define it as an ability to show effectiveness as well as originality during the process of creation. It’s important to note that academics find it is all about the process — not the outcome which defines what it means to be creative.

Practical Tips on How to Get Creative

I’m guessing you clicked on this article for some actionable insights to get an edge on your ads, I won’t make you wait any longer.

Try a perspective shift

You could do an Apple and create perspective shifts like in their 2004 “Perspective” ad, though what I have in mind is a little deeper than that. Create visual metaphors and make people think about what it is they are seeing.

While not an advertisement but rather a cover photo for a topical issue, National Geographic made headlines with its “Planet or Plastic” issue. It’s a great example of a shift in perspective that makes us think about the impact of our everyday choices to use plastic.

Make it personal

The kingpin of classic ads, Coca Cola managed to pull off some creative thinking with their 2012 “Share a Coke” campaign. By replacing the logos on their bottles with the names of their consumers, Coca Cola got up close and personal, but also made it shareable.

A more macabre example could be the CDC’s “Tip’s from Former Smokers” campaign. CDC showed examples of routines thanks to the impact of long-term smoking. Campaigns like this one work because not only is it simple, but is also personally addressing anyone who smokes.

Go against the grain

Now, I’m not calling out for topical controversy for the sake of it, but I am talking about providing some opposing dialogue from your industry to get people talking.

A superb example of going against the grain, without annoying everyone, would be when Patagonia put out an ad during the holiday season of 2011 telling people to NOT buy their jackets. While it may seem pretty counterintuitive, the campaign certainly worked in their favour when their revenue went up by 30% in the following year.

One of the reasons behind this is because Patagonia is at its core, a brand that champions sustainability. The campaign, especially its timing, was an effort to curb fast fashion during a time when consumerism is at its all-time high. Their customers know this, and when the campaign launched, it showed the integrity Patagonia had in walking their talk.

Create an emotional story

We all love a good tear-fest every now and then. In the U.K for us, that time is when John Lewis releases it’s Christmas time ad. For those who don’t know, John Lewis is an all-rounder department store and is over 150 years old.

Something about the John Lewis ad always gets us in front of the TV. Personally, I thought last years one was a bit of a dud but previous years have been very successful. It’s all because of the stories, we love them perhaps because they’re not pushy and they remind us of some cherished human quality.

They don’t just do it at Christmas time either, John Lewis is renowned for their emotional story ads. This one depicts the story of one woman’s life from birth to old age to highlight their “lifelong commitment” to quality.

Use placement to your advantage

If you’re running a campaign across many different mediums, it’s important to think about how the ad looks in each place.

For example, not all ads that perform well on Facebook will have the same impact on Instagram (or any other social media for that matter) because of the way the apps are both used as well as the aspect ratios in which content is presented on them.

It’s potentially even more important if you’re advertising via traditional means like billboards or posters. Traditional marketing isn’t dead, at least not yet anyway. Non-digital ads have always been a prime opportunity for creativity because they are able to take their physical environment into consideration.

Sometimes, less is more

Minimalism has experienced quite a surge in interest in recent years, thanks to The Minimalists and shows like ‘Tidying Up with Marie Kondo’. In the example I gave in my opening story which stripped the ad of sound, the same can also be done visually to create a memorable experience.

Less clutter on the screen (or print) gives full attention to the product or service at hand instead of layering it in a way that can often make you think “what was that actually advertising?”. You can get creative with the negative space left behind from all the fluff, a striking visual metaphor could also embody all of the previous points.

What’s that phrase again? Keep It Simple Stupid.

The future of advertising

There are so many opportunities, not only advertisement in future tech, but also in the way consumers engage with ads. Consumers are cottoning on to what makes a great message, and won’t settle for something mediocre. After all, our attention span is something like what, 5 seconds now?

If you can hold someone’s attention for longer than that with an original and effective message, you’re onto something great. Getting creative with your ads not only improve your chances of brand awareness but could also save money in the long run. In the Harvard Business Review, Stephan Vogel, the Ogilvy and Mather Germany’s chief creative officer give the quote:

“Nothing is more efficient than creative advertising. Creative advertising is more memorable, longer lasting, works with less media spending, and builds a fan community…faster.”

Remembering the key definition of creativity, use it to test against your ads. If you’re falling a little short try:

  • A shift in perspective
  • Making it personal
  • Going against the grain
  • Create an emotional story
  • Using placement to your advantage
  • Using less

I displayed a pretty negative attitude towards the advertising landscape as it is today. However, with impressive rates of innovation across technology and the way we interact with each other and brands, I have hope for a more creative future.


Epstein, R. (1980). ‘Defining Creativity’. The Behavior Analyst, 3 (2), pp. 65.

Ockuly, M and Richards, R. (2013). ‘Loving or Fearing Creativity? It’s All in The Definition.’ NeuroQuantology, 11(2).

Runco, M and Jaeger, G. (2012). ‘The Standard Definition of Creativity’. Creativity Research Journal, 24(1), pp. 92–96.

Aspiring Polymath | Freelance Writer | Business PhD Candidate | He/Him |

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