Priming the Brain for Great Ideas

“You can do homework from now until doomsday, but you will never win fame and fortune unless you also invent big ideas. It takes a big idea to attract the attention of consumers and get them to buy your product.”

Copywriting great David Ogilvy penned these words 30 years ago in his classic book, Ogilvy on Advertising. And they’re as true today as they were when he wrote them.

The big question is this: How do you find those ideas? For the answer, we turn to another master copywriter, Mike Palmer, who answered this question at this year’s Bootcamp.

Mike is the lead copywriter at Stansberry Research. He not only writes highly successful promotions on his own, he’s responsible for developing young copywriters.

Mike started his Bootcamp presentation by referring to another classic copywriter, Claude Hopkins. In the early 1900s, Hopkins was responsible, to a large extent, for getting Americans to start brushing their teeth daily. When he was hired to create an ad campaign for Pepsodent toothpaste, he realized he needed to come up with a trigger for its daily use. He didn’t look for ideas from surveys or polls or focus groups. Instead, he read dental textbooks in depth.

In one of those textbooks, he read about dental plaque, and how you can feel it by running your tongue across your teeth. So Hopkins’ ads asked the prospects to feel the film on their teeth. “That’s what makes your teeth look ‘off color’ and invites decay,” read some of the ads. Then he offered a solution to the problem: Pepsodent.

It’s not about your creativity …

Mike stressed this core point. You don’t have to come up with big and grand, “new” ideas for your promotions. Most great ideas are already out there; all you have to do is find them.

Where do you find them?

Mike used his highly successful promotion for True Wealth as an example of how to find great ideas. (This was Mike’s breakthrough promotion.) Mike started his research by reading extensively about collectibles — particularly gold coins, jewelry, and the like. His reading led to the biography of Mayer Rothschild. From there it was a short step to formulating his Big Idea behind the promotion … the “secret currency” of the very wealthy.

Would Mike have come up with this idea if he hadn’t done the reading? Reading that took him far afield of just copywriting? He contends he wouldn’t have. And to prove it, he ran an experiment with us in the Bootcamp audience.

Striped shirts and great ideas …

Mike showed us a picture of a crowd of people. He told us to look at it carefully for about 15 seconds. Then he removed the picture and asked us how many people were wearing striped shirts. It was difficult to answer. We weren’t looking for striped shirts.

He repeated the experiment by showing us the photograph one more time. This time, after the 15 seconds had elapsed, it was much easier for us in the audience to estimate how many striped shirts there were.

Priming your brain for great ideas …

Mike’s mini-experiment was based on a larger series of experiments done by psychologists. This is an example of what I call “priming.”

All the great ideas you’ll ever need for your promotions are already out there. What you need to do is to prime your brain to find them. You do this by reading … listening … discussing … thinking.

So, do you want to become a great copywriter? Of course you do. You wouldn’t be an AWAI member if you didn’t.

What you must do, then, is read extensively. If you have a promotion or a spec assignment you’re working on, turn to biographies, historical data, and technical information. Anything that relates to the product or prospect is an appropriate area for your research. This is what Mike Palmer did for his True Wealth promotion.

But successful master copywriters don’t limit their ongoing research just to subjects relating to their current assignments. And you shouldn’t either. For example, Mark Ford is one of the most widely read people I know. That’s why working with him can be such a joy. He’s able to draw on the vast knowledge he’s gained to enrich his writing.

So, if you aren’t currently working on a promotion or a spec, you still should be reading widely in areas that interest you and that relate even broadly to your chosen niche.

And, of course, you must continue studying your chosen new career of copywriting. Continue to read and learn AWAI’s secrets and strategies for six-figure copywriting. I also recommend you study the history of copywriting. Knowing the backgrounds of pioneering copywriters like Claude Hopkins, David Ogilvy, and Helen Lansdowne Resor can give you insight into modern copywriting that you couldn’t get without knowing their history.

Mike Palmer’s “secret for finding ideas” isn’t very complex. But it is deep. It’s exactly the same one that all successful copywriters use. From John E. Kennedy to David Ogilvy to Mark Ford.

Prime your brain for great ideas by reading extensively.

[Editor’s note: I mentioned a number of famous copywriters today. Mark Ford … David Ogilvy … John E. Kennedy … Claude Hopkins … Helen Lansdowne Resor … and Mike Palmer. They all have something in common. Each is an integral part of AWAI’s Masters Program for Six-Figure Copywriting.

I’d love for you to learn more about this recently revised program that I helped develop. Simply click here. I think you’ll be amazed at the breadth and depth of the program … and what it will do to raise your copywriting to higher, more successful levels.]

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Published: November 18, 2013

1 Response to “Priming the Brain for Great Ideas”

  1. It suddenly occurred to me while I was reading this article that, perhaps, I read too fast. I am thinking if I slow down while reading, it will help me "mine" those great ideas. I had heard of the "striped shirt" concept before, but I never really related it to reading. Thanks for reminding me about focus.

    CK WilliamsNovember 18, 2013 at 11:19 am


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