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The Best Idea is the Second One

Johnny Molson


Your brain, in all its efficiency, will give you the gift of an idea as promptly as possible. Other people’s brains are doing that too.

The universe has trained us all to take the path of least resistance. The low hanging fruit is fruit just the same. Lions eat the slowest gazelle because it’s accessible. Honestly, I don’t know what lions eat. A gazelle sounds right, and I must finish this, so I’m not looking it up.

See? Path of least resistance.

If you want to come up with an idea that isn’t the same idea seventeen other people have, try this: Use the second idea. All brains are masterful at making instant connections. A red octagon is always associated with STOP. A brown wrinkled spot on an apple tells you it’s gone bad without tasting it. A balloon tied to a used car means it’s on sale.

You can expect your mind is going to quickly assemble the known parts in a way that fits together. Your brain, in all its efficiency, will give you the gift of an idea as promptly as possible. Other people’s brains are doing that too.

This is why so much advertising looks and feels very similar. The time needed to create something unique is rarely available to ad creators. Absent time, ad writers rely on known tropes. Sentences like “it’s the best quality” or “hurry, supplies are limited” make adequate filler. Car manufacturers drive fast on the Bonneville Salt Flats. If you want to show you have fresh salads, make sure it’s seen flying out of a colander in slow motion.

Ad great Bill Bernbach would often say “In advertising, not to be different is virtually suicidal.” But, how do you do this in a society that is horribly time starved?

Put the first idea aside, and see where the second one leads you. Don’t make the mistake of pre-judging your ideas. They are just ideas. Start getting them down on paper, but do not evaluate if the idea will work. This is will stop your brain down cold. Your mind, in all its efficiency, is going to try to test the idea immediately. Don’t let it. One idea becomes two. Two can be combined to make four. Four can be moved around sixteen different ways.

Many never get there. After the first idea, your brain says “well, the problem with that is…” and your God-given creativity shuts down. Don’t listen to that critic. Just keep writing. And, I mean it when I say writing. Pencil and paper. Write. Set a goal to get to twelve. Later, look at the list and then evaluate the ideas. Do not cross things off. Save the list and look at it again in a month. Let your brain subconsciously marinate on the ideas. Like popcorn, thoughts and connections will explode at unexpected times.

The trick in advertising is to be the one with the different approach. Let someone else take the first idea.

You… take the second. It’s bound to be different.

Johnny Molson

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