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How do you solve a problem like... measuring the worth of a great idea?


By Sam Bradley, Journalist

February 15, 2022 | 12 min read

Each week, we ask agency experts from across the world and the ad business for their take on a tough question facing the industry, from topical concerns to perennial pain points. This week, we asked them exactly how they know a decent proposal when they find one.

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What’s the best way to evaluate great ideas?

Ideas – small ideas, contentious ideas, big ideas – are the meat and drink of marketing and advertising. But identifying a good idea is actually pretty difficult.

There’s a million ways to examine and evaluate creative work – The Drum’s World Creative Rankings, released this month, being just one example.

But knowing when you’ve hit on something good, knowing when to push on for improvement, and knowing when you should stop meddling and move to execute isn’t easy – and it’s vital for success.

So, we asked our readers how their agency examines ideas and decides if they’re worth pursuing. Process or pure intuition? Solo genius or polite consensus?

How do you solve a problem like... measuring the worth of a great idea?

lola neves

Lola Neves, joint head of strategy, AMV BBDO

It’s all about the feels. Emotion drives effect. A great idea creates a feeling. A great idea creates a rush of excitement in the people working on it. When we feel this excitement we know it’s an idea that will move people, will make them laugh, cry, smile, marvel, get goosebumps and pay attention. We check it’s brave. We check it’s new. We check it’s on brief. We check it brands well. We check it spans channels and formats. But fundamentally if we feel it so much that we’d fight for it, that’s how we know it’s a great idea.

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Jamie Peate, global head of retail strategy and head of effectiveness for UK, McCann Worldgroup

The immediate gut reactions/intuition/emotional response, the ones before our System 2 analytical thinking kicks in, are important, but don’t forget that some things can be counterintuitive, and testing with your audience if done in the right way is invaluable too. The value is knowing how to put them both together, so you choose ideas that build brand meaning – and that, in my experience, takes experience. At McCann Worldgroup, the power of our creative thinking is also driven by long-term effectiveness in order to achieve the best results for our clients.

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Richard Clay, head of specialist capabilities, Zenith

Our philosophy at Zenith is about making bold moves in media to deliver growth for our clients. Without a bold move nothing changes, and the briefs we get from clients are to drive significant change.

So how do we know when we have a good idea? All our work has to stack up from an insight, strategy and media activation perspective, but it is through the lens of bold moves that we know when to refine an idea further and when it is good to go. It is that philosophy that pushes us not to settle for comfortable and safe work that risks not delivering on our clients’ growth ambitions. It pushes us to agitate for bolder, better work that challenges us and our clients, and delivers on their goals.

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Sarah Leccacorvi, head of content and creative, Havas Entertainment

A great idea evokes a visceral response deep in your gut. It’s hard to explain. But sadly, that’s not enough. In branded content, where social is saturated with videos created by the people for the people, a great branded idea needs to work hard. Ideas must have culture woven throughout to build relevance, but they also need to play into the platform algorithms to be optimized. Moreover, ideas need engagement. Understanding how your audience might interact with it will make the difference between one that lives and one that dies. Only once all of that is in place do I go back to my gut and then take the client on the journey.

atit shah

Atit Shah, chief creative officer, Digitas North America

Good ideas are like pop-up books; they get dimensional right before your eyes. They give off a glow that’s hard to pin down... was it the catchy idea name, the passion of the team, the Burna Boy song reference? But the best ideas quickly reveal not just a way to communicate, but the moonshot missions and physical experiences, the way the idea feels on your iPhone and across media platforms, the soundtrack, even the in-store scent. It’s this speed to shape that marks the real keepers.

matt lee

Matt Lee, executive creative drector, M&C Saatchi

It goes a bit like this.




“Ooh, maybe...”


“Is that on brief?”

“Not sure...”

“Mmm, dunno...”

“Hang on, that’s interesting. I quite like that! That’s nice. That feels different, I wasn’t expecting that...”

“What does everyone else think?”

There’s no formula. No science.

But the good ones are easier to spot if they surprise you, or make you feel something. Make you smile, make you laugh, make you uncomfortable, make you think.

The good ones tackle the problem in a different way.

Erm... well, I’m pretty sure they do.

ant nelson

Ant Nelson, executive creative director, Adam&Eve/DDB

Use your gut. There are multiple ways to solve a brief. Multiple paths you can take. Multiple shapes to any idea. But the one thing that will guide you through all of that is your gut.

How did the idea make you feel the very first time you saw it? Chances are the audience will feel the same way. Of course, you have to have the due diligence to look at the idea through a strategic lens, a customer lens, a data lens, but if your instinct is screaming, ‘this is it!’ then it probably is.

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Bas Korsten and Daniel Bonner, global chief creative officers, Wunderman Thompson

We believe that the best work benefits from a collective of disciplines being able to discuss, measure, evaluate and contribute. To that end we have our proprietary methodology – It’s called FIRE and it’s a simple, unifying way to enable everyone (from data scientist to art director, experience designer to client service executive) to focus on the four key criteria that are consistently dominant in the ‘great’ work.

What’s the criteria? Ah, well, come work with us and we can tell you, but our codification is born out of an unreasonable amount of hours over decades analyzing, judging, creating, crafting and innovating some of the most awarded ideas in our industry. Having a methodology isn’t an instant formula for success. It doesn’t attempt to replace instinct or experience, but it does invite people who were previously excluded into the creative process to take part. It is inclusive and we’re pleased to say it’s inspiring the work from our agency to be greater than ever before.

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Lorna Hawtin, disruption director, TBWA\Manchester

It’s not a science, but we have several ways of keeping us on the right side of disruption when evaluating ideas.

Regular all-team meetings align us on what good looks like, with the 10 best pieces of work at any time lauded on our Wall of 10; a competition to get and stay listed.

All projects have a Power of Three team too; ensuring client partners, strategists and creatives get a voice throughout the process.

In the thick of creative reviews, we ensure teams are having the right conversations with NURM GUT. Is it Noticeable? Unexpected? Relevant? Memorable? Gut friendly?

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Mira Kaddoura, founder and executive creative director, Red & Co

My answer is simple. I ask a few questions. Sometimes, I ask all of them. Other times, a few of them. It’s always a good idea to question ideas before you spend precious time developing them.

Does it solve a business problem in a new and interesting way? Will it help achieve a business goal? Does it connect dots that haven’t been connected before? Does it make me feel something? Does it have a human truth at its core? Does it get me excited? Will it get others excited? Is it something worth putting time and energy toward?

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Manu Gabaldon, multicultural strategist, Big Communications

Beyond creativity, originality, inspiration or skill, a good idea depends on truth, or ‘the insight’ – a slice of reality that only those living now understand and share as connective tissue. A good idea will always be inarguably and emotionally insightful. It will empower you, move you or tug at your heartstrings. It will speak directly to the right person, and not to the masses. It will say the right things, not just the nice things you want to hear, but the ones you need to hear. A good idea is not a people pleaser, it’s a trigger.

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Vickie McGee, creative director, Langland

There’s a fine line between a good idea and a great one. A line so thin that sometimes it’s hard to know exactly where that tipping point lies. But while the exact moment of transition may be hard to identify, many of us instinctively know when we’ve crossed over. We sit up a little straighter. We lean in. And, crucially, we begin to make connections. Almost unconsciously. Because the very best ideas act as a catalyst. They spark a chain reaction of thought and transformation that excites every person the project touches. And it’s that excitement we all chase.

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Pascal Rotteveel, creative director, Jam3

Great ideas are subjective. There is no universal recipe to cooking up greatness. However, there are some staple ingredients that I look for in the batter of ideas. Simplicity – can I explain this to any stranger in one sentence? Perspective – does it have a fresh point of view? Cultural clout – does it resonate and get people talking? Utility – does it contribute to the lives of the user? There are many more ingredients that make the cake of creative genius, but if you can taste all of the above in an idea it’s worth putting it on the conference table.

Maggie Malek

Maggie Malek, chief executive officer, MMI

Data and drudgery. Strategy and serendipity. Head and heart. Good ideas have it all. Consumer, category and culture serve as guideposts. We’ve found that the good – and especially the great – ideas typically share two elements. First, the road was crooked. (You had to poke, prod, test and evaluate – and probably start over a few times). Second, it’s innately human. Not always obvious, but head-nodding, eye-winking and ‘of-course-that’s-it’ true to real people. Connect that unique insight in an authentic way with a product or brand, and it is magic. The plans zoom instantly into focus. Media, marketing and more. The faucet flows, and then it’s about getting the most of the tap.

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Victoria Herrick, strategy partner, Strat House

If the idea stems from a brief, then anchor evaluation to the brief and the planning that was done prior to ideation. It doesn’t matter how ‘good’ the idea is if it doesn’t meet the objectives of the brief. Next remember that ‘we’ are not ‘everyone.’ Intuition is a good filter for experienced marketing professionals but it is just one (subjective) filter. Nothing beats a quick test with the intended audience. We’re blessed with so many ways in which we can test ideas quickly and discreetly. Unless budgets prohibit, this is the route to go down.

Wanty to join future debates? Email me at

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