The difference between an idea and an execution.

A friend, and one of Australia’s leading advertising recruiters, Esther Clerehan, often answers questions from aspiring art directors and copywriters on her blog. Recently, she was asked, ‘What is the difference between an idea and an execution?’

This question does come up a lot, and a lot of people still wrestle with it. So, for what it’s worth, this is how I use to explain it to AWARD School students:

Before you learn about advertising ideas, it’s easy to jump straight into the execution. After all, the execution is usually the tangible part that we see or hear. It’s the finished ad.
But a big step forward in your understanding of advertising comes when you learn to divorce the execution from the idea. You can look behind the shiny surface and see the thinking to how the ad was actually constructed.

When people refer to ‘the execution’, they’re referring to the more detailed specifics of an ad. However, when you take a step back and ask yourself, ‘what is the idea behind this execution?’, you’re able to get a broader view of what it is you’re saying.

I know this can be a bit confusing so to illustrate what I’m talking about, here are some examples below:

jason donovanJason Donovan billboard

If you’re not familiar with this campaign, you can take a look at a brief case study here.
Here is what the proposition on the brief probably was:
Virgin Mobile has low-cost call and text rates.

Here’s what the idea is:
These rates are so low, you can even afford to waste your phone credit by making prank calls.

The execution is:
Create a situation where Jason Donovan’s mobile phone number is leaked to the public.

bic pen Jimi Hendrix

The proposition on the brief probably was:
With Bic Permanent Markers, the writing never comes off.

The idea is:
Let’s simply show writing that has been around for a long, long time.

The execution is:
A Jimi Hendrix fan who once had her breast autographed by the now-deceased musician.


The proposition on the brief probably was:
The new Golf GTi  has loads of new features.

The idea is:
The GTi is an iconic car, and now it’s even better. Let’s illustrate that by showing how great things can be improved on.

The execution is:
A classic film scene, re-made to feature more modern music and dance styles.

Why is it important to distinguish between an idea and an execution, anyway?
If you can show that your idea is not just a one-off execution, it’s more valuable.
You can show that it can be executed a number of different ways. That’s important if you want to run a campaign idea for an extended time, which in turn helps build equity into a brand.
An idea is also important because it means you’re not back to ‘square one’ if something in the execution goes wrong.
For example, if the Virgin client absolutely hated Jason Donovan, you could find another celebrity. Or if the use of a celebrity is beyond the budget, you could execute the idea as cab drivers or pizza delivery guys protesting against prank calls. You could have the entire campaign look like a public service announcement, if you wished.

The important thing is that ‘big ideas’ can usually be executed in a number of different ways.
Depending on who you’re presenting to will dictate how much you have to execute the idea to illustrate what it is you’re talking about. Some people tend to see ideas better than others. Many people get caught up on executional stuff (like someone saying, ‘I don’t like the colour of the guy’s shirt’ or ‘Can we make the logo bigger?’).


2 responses to “The difference between an idea and an execution.

  1. This is great. Thanks, mate. I’ll pop a link on the Award School Facebook page…the students are tackling the TV brief now so quite a relevant read.

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