Evaluating creative ideas

When it comes to developing breakthrough brand work, evaluating ideas is crucial. After all, what might seem like a brilliant creative idea at first blush could turn out to all flash and no persuasion in the harsh light of the market.

So we know creative evaluation is important. But how do you evaluate creative ideas?

I’m going to share a few different methods for doing just that.

Evaluating ideas

In my 25 years of presenting creative ideas to clients, I’ve come across many methods – some intuitive, some analytical, and some are downright goofy.

Listen to this…

One of my clients used to evaluate our presentations by how many concepts we presented. Anything less than a foot-high stack of foam-core mounted ads was not good enough.

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We no longer speak of that client.

But I digress…

In my work as a brand and marketing consultant, I’m always looking for more effective ways to judge the power of an idea and then share it with you. Hence, this post.

What is creative?

Strategy is something most marketers have no trouble assessing. If a piece of communication drives me toward the goal it was intended to, it’s strategically on the mark.

But creativity is a term so broad you can drive a truck of elephants through it — there’s no way to get a handle on it.

I think there is a solution, but before I get to that…

I want to do a marketing check-in and remind you that part of presenting or evaluating creative ideas is marketing yourself.

Ask yourself: Could I successfully market myself on a plane? If you’re not sure what I mean, take a quick look at this post.

But now, back to creativity.

Creativity is an emotional thing

Robin Williams shows the insanity of an ‘objective’ formula for evaluating great poetry in the movie Dead Poets Society. Remember the scene where he pans the critic’s mathematical formula for evaluating literature, instructing his students to tear the offensive equation out of their textbooks?

That’s not to say you can’t distinguish great creative from so-so work. If creativity is innately emotional and subjective, you simply need to invite emotional, subjective beings to take a look and weigh in.

A.K.A., humans.

During my time at Palmer Jarvis Advertising, we created a simple, powerful way for doing just that. It was the peer review method.

The peer-review method for evaluating ideas

If you were creating concepts to advertise a product, you began by drafting up your ideas as simple felt pen on scrap paper drawings. The goal was 20 great, different ideas before moving to the next step.

  • Next, you’d invite colleagues in from the creative department, one by one.

Each person had the opportunity to assess which idea elicited an emotional reaction and which ones (hopefully) stopped them in their tracks. Then, each person got to ‘dot’ their favorite idea on the back of the piece of paper, making it impossible for others to see which idea was garnering the most dots.

  • Next, you’d invite colleagues in from the account service floor.

Ostensibly, they were there to see which ideas nailed the brief (and were, therefore, on strategy). But the real reason? To assess their emotional reaction.

  • Finally, you’d invite in the janitor, the snack supplier, or any poor soul who happened to be wandering the halls.

In the end, you would have a very good idea which concept stood above as creative – as evaluated by a broad swath of people from fairly different walks of life.

Following this process, it was wonderful to walk into client meetings with your scraps of paper, lay them all out on the table, and start ‘killing’ them one after another – often to the horrified reaction of the client – until only the strongest idea was left.

As each losing idea was crumpled and thrown away, you could tell the client exactly why your colleagues had found it creatively lacking.

In the end, you had a compelling argument for the power of your creative solution: it wasn’t mathematical, but it worked.

I’ve written more about walking the fine line between what dazzles and works, and what merely dazzles, when it comes to creative ideas. You’ll find more about the power of selling trusted, familiar ideas here.

How do YOU evaluate creativity?

I’m always happy to hear from people who have developed their own tools for evaluating ideas, especially in the areas of brand and marketing.

If you have a great one, please share.

Anyone with a sincere interest in developing their creative chops will thank you.

(Before you go, don’t miss this post too: Fashion, COVID, and Unleashing Entrepreneurial Creativity)

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If you find yourself frustrated by idea generation, I have a secret that will make it easy. A sure-fire way to generate powerful insights. In fact, all you need to do is let others do the work for you. Just click here for more.

This post was first published in 2019, but it was updated in 2021 just for you.

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