Glenn Griffin & Deb Morrisson on the Creative Process and Brilliant Advertising Ideas like Old Spice Man


Big ideas have been essential to advertising since it's early beginnings, and they are often the subject of great admiration and inspiration. Many have become interested in the process of identifying big ideas, executing them, and measuring their success, but what about the process of coming up with those ideas? Where do big ideas really come from?

Glenn Griffin and Deb Morrison are the authors of "The Creative Process: Illustrated," a fantastic book about how advertising's big ideas are born. They are also university professors and scholars who have built great ad programs; Glenn at SMU, and Deb at UT and the University of Oregon. On the most recent "The Social Nerdia Show!" we talked about creativity, education, the brilliance of Old Spice Man, award shows, BP's advertisements, and of course, the release of their book, which includes insights from some of the ad industry's greatest (ie. David Kennedy himself).
Listen to this entire episode of "The Social Nerdia Show!" with Glenn and Deb on the Flash player below. You can also subscribe on iTunes, stream from your phone on Stitcher, and listen to upcoming shows LIVE on blogtalkradio.


While there has been some debate about whether education has an impact on creativity, Glenn's research as a PHD student showed that there is "largely a positive and significant influence." It was as a PHD student that Deborah became Glenn's mentor and their conversations about the source of creativity, particularly in advertising, is where the idea for the book became implanted in their minds.

The Creative Process: Illustrated

Deb told me that "process matters" and "process is beautiful" so their book is an exploration of "how people think about thinking."

She told me that one of the most amazing things about working on the book was seeing "writers using no words to visualize their process and art directors describing theirs."

Metacognition is a concept that human being leverage their own understanding of how their own brains work and advertisers are "metacognitive powerhouses," Glenn explained to me. There is a lot of  "personalization and pride in peoples' creative process," he added.

Glenn: "This is a whole area that is largely missing in the scholarship in our discipline. It's not observable. Developing this technique of visualization and drawing meaning is a really cool way of capturing process in a way that hasn't been done before."

Artistry, Brilliance, and Old Spice Man

I asked them if creatives in advertising were similar to artists like dancers. While there are similarities because creatives are using their minds as their tool, they explained some big difference. Deb expressed that  those in advertising are "artists who always have to be cognisant of whether it will help the brand and solve a particular problem."

Glenn said the biggest difference was "anonimity. The people in advertising are anonymous." He gave the example of Isaiah Mustafa from the Old Spice commercials because "they've made him a superstar overnight.. a lot of people know that guy's name, but nobody knows Eric Kallman and Craig Allen, the guys who write every word he says. They are artists that don't get to sign the canvas."

We continue talking about Old Spice's campaign and Deb said "I love that Old Spice is such a story. My 16 year old loves it, my husband gets it, we can all watch and say 'yes.' Humor can be a great tool. The Old Spice campaign is a grand slam" 

Part of what made the story so big was that they decided to "talk to guys but let's also talk to women. I know Craig and Eric, and I know, I know that they were writing and concepting that to make themselves laugh. It was just brilliant insight, and from a brilliant insight of 'the man your man could be.' I'm sure Craig, the art director, came up with 'look at me, look at him,' and Eric is thinking of 'I am on a horse."

The idea of the Old Spice Man commercials and the YouTube videos addressed to specific people but meant to be watched by millions is one that anyone can appreciate. But what is its long-term impact?

Deb: "This will be long-lasting and the interesting is we don't know how long these memes will last. They've created something that will be a very high benchmark for that team. For the culture they've re-established Old Spice as one of those brand that will have to out-do itself."

 "Also, Wieden has an amazing media group. Weiden is one of those agencies where the creative has to be brilliant. Brilliant media, brilliant writing. Brilliant creative."



Everyone Works in a Creative Field

In the book, Deb and Glenn go into how everyone has the potential to be creative and the importance in passion so I asked why not everyone worked in a creative field.

Glenn: "I think everyone does work in a creative field. We have a wrong sense about what creativity is. Every human being is creative. The problem is that the term has been wrapped up in the performing arts and that warm and fuzzy place that's for poets and musicians. Creativity is fundamentally problem-solving and everyone of us engages in problem solving."

"I tell my students, I don't care what you're passionate about, but be passionate about something because life is too short. That part of being a human being is essential."

While, as Deb pointed out, "our educational system forces us into looking for linear and very logical answers.. instead of a multitude of answers," educators are starting to re-think education to enhance collaboration and creative thinking. Both Deb and Glenn agree that the art director plus copywriter team is a great example of something that is taught well in their programs and prepares them for real world collaboration and ideation.

Deb: "Collaboration is a must. A good advertising program makes sure people are working together, not just the art director and the writer, but the planner comes in, the account person comes in; doing big work trying not to segregate anyone, but let everyone be creative and strategic. The best agencies are doing exactly that."

Building a Great Advertising University Program

So what else do you need to create a great ad program? Deb said it starts with  "good people" and a "mission statement that is blissfully optimistic."

Glenn: "You also need students that buy into it. The key is to give them tools, frameworks, and advice, and let them do the amazing things that they're capable of doing. When they see the fruits of their own hard work, that's the seed that germinates. It mushrooms from there."

Deb: "Let's face it, advertising gets a deserving very bad rap at times. I tell students that what we're here to do is to change that. There are ways to be bright, brave, heroic and help people with what we do, and do work of meaning."

Glenn: "We spend so much time with our students that we get to know them probably better than most professors get to know their students. A lot of times you sit and talk, and you do more listening, than speaking back."

Since "The Social Nerdia Show!" is a live podcast on BlogTalkRadio, someone in the chat asked about students who might simply don't have it to be successful in the the creative side of advertising. Glenn shared that he often helps students find out what else they could do. He also provided insights on preparing students for the difficult aspects of the industry, Glenn said:

"There is no way to prepare someone to get fired. I tell students not to work in advertising if they could imagine themselves enjoying something else more. The people that are the biggest successes are the ones that can't imagine doing anything else. That passion is what can take you through anything."

Deb: "I talk a lot about agency culture. It might take some time, but it's important to find a place that fits your values."

Awards and Award Shows

Deb sits on the board of the One Club and she believes in awards as "benchmarking. I don't like the greed that comes along with awards. If that's all you're doing it for then priorities get mixed up. But when you see good work.. it's a lovely thing."

Glenn: "Sometimes stuff that I don't want to hold up to students will win awards; from a students' perspective awards equal success so you have to train them to see awards with some perspectives. I love it when my students win awards, but I also want that to be tempered with the ideas that it's not about that."

Overblown green claims and BP's failures

I asked Deb about some of the things she dislikes int he industry and she said "there's so much hyperbole and overblown claims towards what is green. I don't like that. I want adv to be honest and authentic. Telling the truth and using our powerful tools in the best way."

"Many of the oil companies grab on to this sense of hyperbole. They look at 10% good that they do and claim that. BP is in a special place, they are in one of the rings of hell right now.. they have not done authentic work, they've claimed a lot of things they shouldn't, and now of course they can't claim anything. They can't save face at this point."

Despite BP's huge fail, Deb agreed with me that the company is going to be fine due to the nature of their business. "They are in the 'too big to fail' category. My head spins about that. That's awful for the culture, and awful for our sense of selves," she said.

Living in an Anything is Possible World

Despite failures and problems in the industry, it is an exciting time. Technology has truly converged with marketing and advertising in a way that has brought much excitement to creative thinkers. And the opportunities don't exist just in technology and the social web, but in all kinds of places.

Deb: "Right now we are living in an 'Anything is possible world.' It's such a wonderful place to begin a career.. immense possibilities to do film, books, art exhibits, events, and beautiful brand thinking at a 360 degree level. A few years ago it was just print, television and maybe a billboard. Now we have incredible opportunities to do work of meaning at so many different levels."

Copyright © Esteban Contreras. All rights reserved.