Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Art of The Brainstorm

by Matt Rainone, Account Manager

When most people hear the word “brainstorm”, images of a wild, free-for-all meeting that may or may not include a game of ping pong often spring to mind. And while “free-for-all” may not be too far off, maybe “controlled chaos” is more accurate, it is still a meeting and an effective brainstorm must have some semblance of order. Brainstorms can be a highly effective tactic for coming up with stellar ideas; however they can be a complete waste of time if they are not done right.

Effective and Efficient
A common stumbling point surrounding brainstorms is that although they are usually held in a casual atmosphere, they are still meetings. And mind-blowing creative ideas aside, if you step into any meeting without a plan and an objective, you’re about to waste everyone’s time. Ideally, everyone who has been invited to the brainstorm should be briefed on the particular ask for two reasons. The first is that it gives everyone a chance to put some thoughts down on paper, especially those that may not be as quick on their feet as others. Second, you’re most likely going to cut the meeting introduction down to a two-minute refresher rather than a 10 minute overview.

The Brainstorm Tactics
So now everyone’s ready to brainstorm. There’s this one rule that always seems to get thrown around during a brainstorm and it’s that “no idea is a bad idea”. Okay, let’s pretend that this is true, which we all know it isn’t because we have all been in a brainstorm where some famously terrible ideas have come up (ironically, it’s those really bad ones that seem to resurface at just about every brainstorm as an ongoing joke). But for the sake of argument, let’s say it’s true.
Now what? Can you just say “go” and expect the next big idea? Sure, why not, we’re all creative. Sometimes however, it takes a little extra help. Here are three sample brainstorming activities that we employ at AMP to get those creative juices percolating:

  • The Word Association and the Mind Map: First determine what characteristics or brand attributes are important to the challenge. These act as your inspiration for the big idea. It can start as a word as simple as “fun”. From there, much like a web, these words begin to come together to form something bigger. All of a sudden, 2 words that may have nothing in common come together to create a great concept.

  • Divide and Conquer: This brainstorming tactic is less of a “storm” and more of a slow-moving hurricane. Divide and Conquer most often starts with a word association or some other activity to get some ideas flowing. Then, the larger group is broken up into smaller groups who spend the next few days blowing out their respective ideas. At the end of the breakout period, each of the groups come together to present their ideas. This particularly useful when you don’t have a great deal of time to come up with a few solid concepts.

  • The Worst Idea Ever: This one is particularly fun. Rather than asking “what is the best thing that we could ever do?” you do the opposite. You ask “what is the absolute worst idea that is so off strategy and bizarre that it could never work?” Once you identify that, it’s as simple as working backwards. It’s a good way to get outside of your comfort zone, and more often than not, your crazy idea is only a few steps away from a genius idea.
Bringing the Idea to Life
Over a year ago, AMP found itself in a brainstorm for Garnier Fructis, one of our long-time clients. Now, the chances of AMP working with NASA to create a spaceship in the shape of a Garnier Fructis bottle that exhausted green fire may have been somewhat out of the ordinary, possibly illegal, and most likely not permissible by the known laws of physics. However that didn’t stop us from throwing the idea out there. Where did we land? Well, it wasn’t in Cape Canaveral. Instead we were able to develop a program that combined a college invasion, bathroom takeovers, Garnier Fructis’ Official Hair Care Sponsorship of American Idol and a shower stall equipped with a karaoke system. Not too different, right? The Garnier Fructis Sing in the Shower Contest ( was born. And 12 college campuses, hundreds of participants showing everyone how they rock their style, and a number of made-over bathrooms later, the idea was a reality. How did we get there? Well, we can’t quite give that away, but let’s just say it involved a sound strategy, an awesome brainstorm and solid development.

Oh yea, and magic.

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