Insight, Idea, Execution: “and the wisdom to know the difference”

As I prepare to exit the agency world and move client-side for the first time, my team asked me to prepare some thoughts on some areas of my experience. I agreed. This is part one of a several-part series on doing creative work in the world of digital-first advertising, and a distillation of what I’ve learned over 8+ years of agency life at Essence and beyond, as a designer, writer, and all-around creative problem-solver.

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Seeing the insight for the trees.

“So, what’s the insight?”

Insight is one of those words I hear (and say) potentially dozens of times a day. It’s critically important to a good creative brief and good creative work, and like all of those critically important things, is often overlooked and misunderstood.

Here’s my working definition:
An insight is a true, surprising statement that serves as a window into the mindset of your audience.

It can contain a data point, but doesn’t have to. It can contain a “cultural truth,” but doesn’t have to. It is best understood through example:

“Londoners love chocolate.” True? Sure. Surprising? Absolutely not.

⚠️ “90% of those surveyed say they buy our dark chocolate over milk because it seems ‘healthier.’” This gives us much more to work with, but feels a bit dry. You can see where this insight could lead us, but it needs a bit of human softness. What can we deduce or understand from this behaviour that speaks more to the person?

“Most chocolate is purchased after sunset.” See? It doesn’t need a statistic, instead the insight can be softer. But this too is surprising and provides us with a unique angle. There’s still room to ask why, but that’s where you come in.

“We need a BIG idea.”

That’s what you’re here for right? Big ideas. Small ideas. The client just wants some GREAT IDEAS. But what is an idea, really?

Think about it this way:
An idea is a thought that crystallises your product’s connection to the insight and the audience.

Ok. Let’s step back and unpick that one; great ideas are single-minded and succinct, and they demonstrate a deep understanding of each the product, insight, and audience (just for fun, let’s say our audience is millennial professionals). Ideas should be clear and clever, yet are often stupidly simple. And most importantly, they have a point of view.

Here are some ideas that fit the criteria:

💫 Go stargazing with ABC chocolate. (Cute!)

🔞ABC chocolate after dark: Adults Only (Scandalous!)

🔅 Lights out! Save the planet, eat more chocolate. (Eco-friendly!)

See how many different ideas we can wring out of just one insight? Incredible.

I want you to notice one thing about these beauties — not a single one started with “an app that…” or “a :30 second spot that…” or “a UGC campaign that…” Ideas are always format agnostic. Which brings us to our next point of order.

“How does it work?”

The execution of an idea is how the idea comes to life within a given format.

Since your insight and idea were lovingly crafted to allow for peak creative freedom in execution, now is the part where you get to really apply your magic and make bring the theoretical into the real world.

How does your idea look? Sound? Taste? Feel? If it were a film, who would direct it? If it were a song, who would compose it? If it were a poem, who would write it? This is where you can and must get specific:

💫 “Taking place in a gallery, ABC chocolate hosts an evening chocolate tasting for discerning young professionals at planetarium, where your star-sign impacts your experience.”


🔅“Sign the pledge, get a free bar. A social campaign from ABC chocolate encouraging young professionals to power down after work for the planet, and their mental health.”

Moodboard the campaign, draft the taglines and start tapping partners and talent.

And then pause for a breath. Typically, you’ll present some roughs right here before moving onto the next steps: production.

“Ok wait, but they said they wanted concepts.”

Ah, the concept. I’ve had the word “conceptual” in my title for years, but I don’t know that any two members of my team would give you a the same definition.

But language is about usage (yadda yadda yadda) so let’s go with a functional, if imperfect, definition:

A concept is an insight, idea, and execution well-packaged.

In other words, the concept is what you sell — the whole shebang, the grand vision. Standards for conceptual presentations can vary drastically from agency to agency, and should vary depending on the scale and complexity of the idea you’re selling. I’ve sold concepts in on a single slide, and I’ve sold them in hour-long multimedia experiences.

As long as your insight, idea, and execution meet the above guidelines, you’ll be bulletproof.

Put it in practice.

The best way to truly get under the skin of this whole “insight, idea, execution” thing is to interrogate some ads. Find great ads (big and small!) and dissect them for their insights, ideas, and executions.

Here are some examples:

Habito: Hell or Habito | Uncommon

Insight: This is the most anxious generation ever and finance is their biggest trigger.

Idea: Habito is here to rescue you from the (literal) horrors of conventional mortgage planning and application.

Execution: In a nostalgic cartoon sequence inspired by Beavis and Butthead (or maybe Rick and Morty), an adult millennial is rescued from the nightmare of mortgage applications by Habito.

Vodafone: Be Unlimited | Ogilvy / Academy Films

Insight: Nothing ruins your flow like a spotty network.

Idea: This is what unlimited looks like.

Execution: In a dance video (complete with 4th wall breaking a la Fleabag and dope fashions a la Dua Lipa), a woman’s many sides spin off and do their own thing. Completely seamlessly and uninhibited.

That’s it for now. Go forth, and create. (And bring me back some chocolate.)

Written by

Creative Director and East London’s premiere Ariana Grande scholar. God save the screens.

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