I’ve been reading about how Paul McCartney and John Lennon came up with songs.
They’d take a bit from here, a bit from there, add them together to make something new.
Paul writes that John would often say “What’s that old song you wrote years ago that we never used, why don’t we try that?”
Or they’d have ideas and adapt them to something else.
For instance, ‘Ticket to Ride’ was originally about the hookers in Hamburg getting a certificate from the doctor to say they were clean and could carry on.
I love this practical version of creativity.
One of the best lessons I learned from John Webster was, ‘The worst time to look for an idea is when you need one’.
Anyone who was ever in John’s office knows it was like a shed, bits of paper stuck everywhere: photographs, drawings, clips of films, videos and CDs (this was before laptops).
Anything and everything he’d seen and thought “I’m going to use that one day”.
So that while everyone else started scrabbling around for ideas when they got a brief, John just had to sit in his office and look at the walls.
He’d already picked lots of great ideas, so they were there whenever he needed them.
He’d been paying attention to everything around him and saving it, not to copy but to use it for inspiration.
I remember seeing Jules Feiffer cartoons on his wall, that became the Cresta campaign.
A Terry and the Pirates comic strip became the Tic-Tac campaign.
The Fonz from Happy Days became the Hofmeister campaign.
Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster became Sugar Puff’s Honey Monster.
Andy Capp cartoons became Arkwright for John Smiths Yorkshire Bitter.
I learned from John, that everyone is full of great ideas they’ve loved over the years, but most people just let them evaporate, they forget them.
At BMP, I learned from John not to do that.
When I was a kid, Emperor Roscoe did tongue-twisters on pirate radio, so I used it for Pepsi.
I saw Chas & Dave in a pub in Canning Town and got them to do Courage Best ‘Gercha’.
Later, when I had my own agency I’d do the same for the whole creative dept, keep a store of ideas, books and videos, around.
I had everyone go and see ‘Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid’, Steve and Axel made it work brilliantly for Holsten Pils.
I left a book of Renaissance artist Arcimboldo’s paintings out for everyone, Dave Waters and Paul Grubb used it brilliantly for Nurofen.
Just pay attention to what’s around you, and hang onto it for later.
I went to see Alexei Sayle before he was famous at the comedy store, I used his Hello John Gotta New Motor for Hello Tosh, Gotta Toshiba.
Dave Waters and Dave Cook remembered a track by a German new wave band called Trio, ‘Da Da Da’, they redid it as ‘Ariston-and-on-and-on-and-on’.
Later, Tim Mellors continued the campaign by using the Robocop track from Graham Fink’s Gameboy.
Ideas are all around us, but we just let them evaporate into the atmosphere.
Al Tilby once told me, whenever Charles Saatchi would turn down his ideas he’d say, “Save that, don’t throw it away, we’ll use it later”.
At WCRS, Ron Collins did a pitch for the Milk Marketing Board: “I bet he drinks milk”.
They didn’t get the account, but later they pitched for Carling and the campaign “I bet he drinks Carling Black Label” ran for years.
Walter Campbell was inspired by a painting by children’s illustrator Walter Crane, called Neptune’s Horses, for Guinness Surfer.
John Webster kept all his influences on his office wall, Ron Collins had a box full of postcards he thought he’d use one day, some art directors have plans chests.
Ideas are all around us all the time, the important thing is to hang onto them, you never know when they’ll come in handy.