Creative Advertisements: the Psychology of Flow

Attracting public attention or patronage in order to promote a certain product or service is always a tough task. In this computing era dominated by the Internet, advertising online has started to occupy a larger fraction of the marketing industry. In its very essence, advertising works under the same principles. In this article, we’ll discuss how to forge creative advertisements that sell.

Thanks to the many possibilities of the World Wide Web, we can go digital and even self-promote our own products and/or services. Hundreds of years ago, you couldn’t advertise with animated graphics and videos that could be broadcasted and placed in front of millions. Still, as weird as it seems, this kind of freedom has hindered creativity in general. Lots of people are complaining and feeling overwhelmed by creative blocks.

In this two-part series we’ll approach the topic of building advertisements from different perspectives. First, we’re going to identify some of the source problems that are preventing people from unleashing the creative flow of ideas, and then we can research together and find solutions.

Ultimately, we will actually talk about business and sales; our scope is to recognize the patterns behind ads that really sell. You can read about the latter in the upcoming segment, “Psychology of Winning Ads.” There you’re also going to find real-world examples where we analyze some of the best-known classic ads with our magnifying glass in order to demystify their success and help us recreate them.

Creativity is a must. We all know it. But if you were to be honest, you’d admit that there are exceptions. I’m sure you have seen more than a few advertisements that became huge successes for tons of people, while looking utterly uncreative. Why? The other side of the coin applies too. An ingeniously creative ad does not guarantee absolute and everlasting success.

Tackling this subject requires focus and attention to detail. We can’t ignore the basics of human psychology that outline our needs, desires, and wishes so well. Once we understand this, we can alter our strategy to redefine our advertising technique.

By now, I am sure you have realized that this article does not only target the online advertising field. Our focus won’t be on how to choose the “right” keywords for PPC ads. If that’s what you are looking for, then don’t forget to check out Terri Wells’ article on this topic: “Thinking About Keywords for PPC Ads.”

This article is going to provide strategies and techniques for advertisements in general. Whether you apply them to PPC ads, SEO-related activities such as online traffic campaigns and marketing, news headlines, or print ads and banners is irrelevant and totally up to you. Either way, I promise an educational ride.

Furthermore, if you often feel pressured because you cannot come up with creative ideas, feel overwhelmed due to the myriad of possibilities, or worse yet, feel confused as to how to choose the right idea, then reading this article might be a life saver. So let’s get started.

At the beginning of this article, I hinted that the wide range of possibilities sometimes intimidate and prohibit the creative artist in question from unleashing his or her creativity. Oh, and by the way, I’m going to use the term creative artist because each one of us is an artist and we all contribute to the world by creating something, be it a product, service, etc.

Creative blocks can act exactly like a writer’s block. It is a barrier when, despite all of your struggles, you can’t seem to come up with something that looks at least half-decent to you. This is where frustration springs up. You then try harder, pushing and forcing yourself to think creatively. Let me tell you something that you already know: it won’t work. In fact, consciously forcing bursts of creativity is hindering their free flow.

Since our aim in this section is to recognize the possible sources of creative blocks, we won’t talk about how to fix them or what to do in order to avoid them. But don’t worry; that’s what you’re going to find on the next page (you don’t need to check, trust me). Right now all we want is to find which of the problems apply in your case. Try to find the similarities in yourself.

Okay, so let’s continue. One of the main causes that inhibits the free flow of creativity and innovative ideas is pressure and stress. You see, deadlines are basically killing creativity and doing much more harm than good. Sure, none of us could live without deadlines and companies can’t run without deadlines – but something must be done to increase the flexibility of schedules.

(Image Courtesy of ABC News – link.)

Also, keep in mind that everybody needs creativity – not just people working in marketing, research and development, or design. Each one of us needs creativity in our daily lives. But this shouldn’t cause problems, because all of us have the ability to become more creative than we’ve ever been.

There has been a popular myth that money is the best stimuli and it can act as a general motivator. This kind of stimulus involves analytical, left-brained thinking and as soon as you start to analyze the situation ("I’d better become creative, since I’m going to be paid more"), you are shifting away from the right-brained creative thinking hemisphere. It does not work.

Another so-called source of motivation as a follow-up to this is fear. But this can be linked with stress, which comes due to feeling and being pressured (the first cause mentioned here). And yet again, fear can be associated with overly high expectations and social status. Fear of failure is one of the basic fears that we are born with and it is necessary for survival. However, most of the time it’s akin to fear of the unknown.

Creativity, by definition, requires stepping into the world of the unknown, where there are no limitations and anything is possible. Being too analytical stops the flow of creativity because of the left-brain thinking that’s required. Being too hard on yourself can affect your self-image and you may lose your ability to be creative in the long term.

Striving for a higher position on the company ladder, earning more recognition, and basically trying to earn “social value” can slow you down because the other half of this coin deals with failure. Success co-exists with failure; they contrast each other. Without one, the other cannot exist. Thomas Edison failed 10,000 times, but he didn’t quit.

Approaching creativity from the perspective of success involves the potential of looking silly and being ashamed. Associate this with all of the previous sources of problems and you can really see the whole picture and how each small piece of the puzzle fits accordingly.

We human beings have unlimited mental capacity. But all of it would be worthless without our ability to visualize and imagine. That’s the main source of creativity. In our visualization exercises, we can travel around the world by flying; in our inner world we can do everything. You see, there are no limitations, no pressures, and you aren’t risking making fun of yourself. You are just playing around like a little kid.

Since we live in a world where everybody has places to visit, people to meet, deals to close, projects to finish, deadlines to meet, we have long forgotten the notion of the word “relax.” We don’t know how it feels to be totally relaxed anymore; you finally go on that long anticipated vacation with your family, lie on the beach in Tampa, FL, and your cell phone rings. It’s work-related.

Due to the omnipresence of the Internet, cell phones, and our great infrastructure, we can be reached almost anywhere. Thus, in the back of our minds we know that we could be contacted at any time. It is crucial to learn how to relax. If you want to exceed your expectations and become creative, then you need to overcome stress.

If it’s work-related and you are pressured, talk to your supervisors. Explain that you cannot think straight and that you cannot be productive and creative due to the feeling of being pressured. They will understand. Once there’s no “external” source that hinders your creativity, you need to take care and resolve your inner issues.

First, you must understand that it is okay to fail. You need to befriend failure. It is just negative feedback that you can learn from and move on. Don’t be too hard on yourself and try to avoid the following motivational forces: money, social status, recognition, value, admiration, etc. Instead of trying to “go solo” without sharing the “rewards,” try to collaborate. Another person can always help.

The aforementioned issues are not quick fixes; they require changing your attitude and mindset toward creativity. You may not change them overnight, but gradual progress is possible. Anyway, let’s see some of the workarounds that will spark sudden bursts of creativity.

Say you have been brainstorming and couldn’t come up with anything worthwhile. The main thing to do right now is relax, take a deep breath, and change your position. Staring at the screen or at that piece of paper won’t help. What you need to do is: focus on and involve more of your other senses in order to feel a bit relieved.

Go out and take a walk. Pay attention to the details – that is, the beauty of nature that’s all around us. Contemplate the color of your car, listen to music, do something that requires working with your hands (any kinesthetic activity will do). Doing these will totally disconnect you from the problems associated with being creative. Try to focus on those senses that you have ignored lately. Is it touch? Or is it smell?

And no, you aren’t going to “forget” your purpose. Chances are that during this time you will have sudden bursts of creativity. In the amount of time you were struggling to “call upon” your creativity before, you have clearly and explicitly determined your goal. So while you are disconnecting yourself and feeling detached, your mind can finally find solutions, invoke creativity, and so forth. Relax, all will be well.

It is a well-known fact that big views of nature, such as oceans, high mountains, even landscapes and paintings of them, encourage deeper perspectives. As a result, you can think freely without caring that much about the results – you can “keep” your right-brain thinking. Review your brainstormed ideas the next day, after you’ve slept on it. Chances are you will see them differently.

So if you find yourself facing a creative block and yet you are calm (both mentally and physically), aren’t pressured by deadlines, aren’t looking for quick ways to earn money, success, or recognition (these really hinder your creativity), then I would advocate doing the following: take a walk. Yes, walk. Yes, leave the car at the nearby parking zone and visit places where you can enjoy big views of nature.

As soon as you are there, try to detach yourself from work. Just enjoy the view and nothing more. Sure, it’s best to go solo, since that way your mental chatter will react differently, but if you’d feel better with your significant other, then feel free to go together. Just take the time to be silent and enjoy the view.

Ultimately, creative artists know that you cannot know the outcome from the beginning. Sure, you need to have a goal in mind, but creativity flows and your product becomes molded as you go on. This means that you actually need to begin your activity to see where it will go and how you can spin it around. Later on, you can analyze it critically to see if it’s worth your while. Don’t ever procrastinate, just do it!

We’ve come to the end of this part. During these pages we have covered the most important issues that hinder our creativity, the “sources” of the problems that create those frustrating and annoying creative blocks where you can’t seem to come up with anything worthwhile. This is all a facade. All of us can do better – always.

We then tried to provide solutions that could be used as quick fixes in order to unleash the flow of creativity. No matter how revolutionary the techniques are, you cannot get creative so long as you are pressured, stressed, afraid of failing, or using the worst motivators (money, pride, solo recognition).

Changing your attitude toward being creative is the first step. You are an artist. And artists ought to think alike: consider contribution the most amazing reward in one’s lifetime. The more you contribute by providing things of value, the better you do. Gradually, it becomes second nature and having to consciously spark creativity will be a thing of the past. Ingenious ideas will follow and appear without you even “wanting” them.

In the next part, we’re going to discuss in detail the psychology of winning ads. Once you are past this point and you know how to “be creative,” then you also need to know which of your ideas have the potential to become great sellers. In the upcoming segment, we’ll provide real-world examples (ads) and analyze them thoroughly to recognize their keys to success. All in all, it’s all human psychology.

Don’t miss that part! Tune in frequently here on SEO Chat.

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