If you have to ask where ideas come from, you’re in the wrong biz

Did you know people used to ask Shakespeare where he got his ideas?

Did you know people used to ask Shakespeare where he got his ideas?

Yup, and Goya, too?

And Seth MacFarlane?

Even me! All my life. My father said it was the damn comic books.

Before I was hired to write ads with Marty Myers and Jerry Goodis, I was still in school, but doing a weekly syndicated cartoon column for Peter Gzowski in the Toronto Star. And so help me God, university people, ‘cool’ people, walked up and said Um, where did you get that idea from?

I eventually told them, as I will tell you, that ideas are brought to ‘Creative People’ by storks, at night, and left in chimneys. Also, ideas can be found under cabbages in most gardens.

See? I just did it! I combined two very unremarkable concepts (where babies come from and where ideas come from) but in such an odd way as to produce a third, somewhat new, strange and ‘wacky’ idea.

By the way, pal, if your ad agency is not run by a ‘Creative Person,’ what the hell are you doing there? Now there’s a real question! Great ad agencies are led by Bernbachs, Ogilvys, Burnetts, Abbotts. Not guys selling stock.

Here are some other questions. And answers.

1. Where do we get ideas from? I know two David Ogilvy protégés who swear he coined the pithy axiom: Know the World, and Steal from The Best. Of course, he never dared publish it.

2. What is the purpose of an advertising organization? To be the House of Magic.

3. Who does what? A great client is the conscience of The Company. A great agency is the conscience of The Consumer.

4. What are we trying to do? To package info in a way that invites people to make decisions.

5. What ideas actually work? The people who brought us 50 years of Focus Groups are about to bring us 50 years of ‘How the Brain Works’ diagrams. Yeah, right. Better you should soak up history, art, religion. Stir. Simmer.

6. Who do you want to be? I asked a dozen kids this question at a recent ‘Awards Festival’ and nobody had the foggiest idea. Hello? If you were walking down Yonge Street with a guitar case, and I asked you Kid, who do you want to be? you would say Mark Knopfler or Pete Townshend or Ry Cooder or Andres Segovia, yes?

To say you want to live in Rosedale with a golden retriever and the Lexus with the big engine is not who you want to be. Dagwood Bumstead is not a valid answer.

You need heroes in this life.

Figure out who you want to be, kid.

The ideas will come.

Barry Base is president and CD of Barry Base & Partners, Toronto. He clawed his way up through four major ad agencies and founded his own firm when still a small child. See highlights of his career to date on an egomaniacal Web site at www.barrybaseandpartners.com.