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November 18, 2022

There’s a simple insight behind every powerful story

My first instinct as a creative has always been to make things complex.

I’m bad like that. I’m desperate to create memorable work. And new, novel things usually get remembered, right? So I’ll sprint towards cool innovative technologies like artificial intelligence or add more and more sophisticated thinking into my work. But I do it without realising what I’m losing along the way.

The thing is, good storytelling is an old craft. It doesn’t really need new things. Humans have been telling memorable stories since we were scribbling on stone walls in pitch-black caves.

Case in point: when did you ever read a film review where they said “the beauty of this is how complicated it gets. I absolutely loved having no idea what’s going on.”? (Don’t even get me started on Interstellar. Or pretty much anything Christopher Nolan has made in the last 10 years.)

No. It’s always been about simple, relatable truths. The things we never knew about ourselves, but thanks to a story we’ve been told, something new has clicked inside us.

In advertising we call these insights or human truths. They’re the things that we all have in common but aren’t yet common knowledge. Good art, plays, movies, poetry, music and comedy all rely on them.

They’re everywhere too. A big part of being a creative is bringing them to life with the tools you have at your disposal. You can do it in any way you please. A book, a poster, a 30 second TV ad, a stand-up comedy routine. Once you have a simple, true and relatable insight, you can make unforgettable work.

A great example is British Airways’ latest campaign. Their insight was that travel is so much more than you can fit into a ‘business’ or ‘leisure’ checkbox. So they made 532 ads (yes 532) that had an extra checkbox. Some were funny, like ‘Business. Leisure. Stag do. Pray for me’. Others pulled heart strings, like ‘Business. Leisure. Never liked him anyway’.

Another bit of simple insight brilliance was Red Antler’s Hinge work. Their insight was that most dating apps would rather trap you in a cycle of dating than have you find a partner, whereas Hinge would rather fail as a business than let that happen. So they made a cute character out of the app icon and had him die anytime someone found love.

And as a newbie to the AFFINITY team, I’m pretty into the work we did for Prospan. Some bright spark here realised that when someone has a cough, everyone would rather steer clear of them rather than confront it. The idea was to show how ignoring a cough only pushes people away.

Hopefully those three pieces prove the importance of a good insight. There are no flashy tricks at play in any of the visuals and copy. (There was some flashy stuff going on in the media buy for our Prospan ad though. We made the world’s first cough predictor.) But they are memorable and simple ads.

So next time you’re judging creativity, don’t just look to the power of new innovations, clever targeting, or artificial intelligence. Look at the things we all have in common. After all, just because creating with insights is nothing new, it doesn’t mean it’s not still incredibly powerful.

If you share my tendency to overcomplicate, check out Luke Brown’s AFFINITY article on The Power of Subtractive Thinking. If you’d like to see if we can help you make unforgettable advertising, reach out to for a chat.


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