Ideas are easy to come by. Unless they’re not. And for every moment of inspiration that hits you in the shower, ten more come about through pressure, perseverance and piles of screwed up paper. Luckily, there are a few techniques that can help. Here’s three that I find particularly useful.


Ideas are often birthed out of the combination of two things. Half a thought here, half a thought there and suddenly you’ve got magic. So one of my first tricks when concepting is to make two lists. The first is everything I know about our product or service. The second is everything that comes to mind about the specific thing we’re dealing with in this brief. Doing this will quite often lead to a flurry of useful visual metaphors, similes, collisions and so on. Here’s an example I did a few years ago for Audi, who were sponsoring the annual food festival, ‘Taste of New Zealand’. (I’ve recreated the lists for the purpose of this blog, but I’d imagine they looked a bit like this):


And the final ad:




Another go-to is a technique called ‘Life Without’. Or sometimes it’s called, ‘Show The Alternative’. This involves highlighting, or potentially dramatising, what could happen if you don’t do what we want you to do. For example, if we want you to buy our cat food, we might show you an ad that features a couch absolutely ripped to shreds. Because if you don’t buy our food, your cat will be super pissed off and want revenge (shit example, first thing that came to mind.)

One of my favourite ‘show the alternative’ examples of all time is the ‘Get rid of cable’ campaign by directv. Watch as few or as many of them as you like, here


As the name suggests, ‘twisting the familiar’ involves taking something people know, then twisting it slightly to suit your agenda. This technique is popular with consumers, as it’s often simple and an easy ‘get’. So jot down everything you know about your product or service, then see if there’s an easy twist that can take it somewhere great.

You’ll find that these come more easily for headlines. As I’m writing this, I’m reminded of my very first job as an intern at back in 2006. Westfield were holding a competition for children – visit the kids’ area, draw a picture and go in to win a $1,000 Westfield voucher. Naturally, I stumbled across “A picture’s worth a thousand dollars” quite early in the piece. A small twist to a familiar saying and we have a fun, compelling headline.

One of my favourite pieces of work from last year uses this technique brilliantly. In the UK, KFC had temporarily run out of chicken. Not ideal for a fried chicken chain. So they released this:


Their twist of the familiar involved rearranging just one letter. Stupidly simple. Bloody clever. And by all accounts, resonated with chicken lovers around the UK.


There you have it – three idea generation techniques from yours truly. So if that eureka moment eludes you, as it so often does, feel free to give them a go. They work for me. Unless they don’t. At which point you blame the brief, ask for more time and end up suggesting a viral video. Happy concepting!

Matt Watts