Great Ads Require Great Inspiration — Here’s How We Do It

It’s no secret that here at Coast Digital we’re obsessed with layering strategy into everything we do. From naming conventions to creating platform-specific assets, we’re always thinking of ways to be more data-driven, precise, and outcome-oriented with the work we do. That strategic mindset stretches into some surprising places for the uninitiated — including in how we gather, organize, and share creative inspiration for our clients. Yes, really

In this blog post we’ll get into the dirty details of why we take the inspiration-gathering portion of our creative process so seriously — and all the good it generates for our clients when the ads we create actually launch. So let’s get into it. Get ready to be inspired. 

Stealing Like an Artist: The Crucial Role of Creative Inspiration

Though we’re a data-driven bunch, there’s no denying that there’s an element to evaluating creative work that is subjective. So one of the most important things we can do when we onboard a new brand is to establish a shared creative language and vision as quickly as possible (we’ll get to more about how we do that later in this article). The best way to do that? Take a look at the ads that already exist in the market. 

To do so, we use a tool called Foreplay, which functions like Pinterest for ads. Using Foreplay, we create boards where we save ads from Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok that we find particularly effective, interesting, or illustrative of a particular style. This then forms a repository of ideas, aesthetics, and inspiration that we can draw from when building creative roadmaps for our clients. 

The inspiration we’re always on the hunt for generally falls into one of two categories: competitive inspiration and framework inspiration. Here’s how we use them both. 

Competitive Inspiration

Competitive inspiration is exactly what it sounds like. When we bring on a client, we’ll dive into the types of ads other brands in their industry are running — whether it be their direct competitors or aspirational brands. Doing so is a great way to understand the visual language that audiences are used to consuming about a particular type of product, and the various ways that language can be embellished to match a brand’s particular identity. 

This is particularly helpful when a brand comes to us without a really clear creative vision. Walking through ad inspiration from competitors can spark a dialog that helps us mutually define what we mean by more subjective creative or aesthetic terms like minimal, bold, modern, playful, etc. Those conversations then allow us to be more likely to generate ad creative our client loves (and, more importantly, gives us the green light to launch) without rounds and rounds of revisions. 

Looking at ads from competitors compiled into one place also is a great way to help us align industry whitespace with a client’s particular value propositions or key features (it’s like a more visual version of the type of whitespace we can identify when looking at benchmark marketing data for clients). It can give us ideas for what type of creative we should be testing, and just how far we can push the envelope.

Framework Inspiration

The other type of inspiration we’re always cataloging within Foreplay has to do with ad types — or ad frameworks. The Foreplay boards we create to organize this inspiration tend to be industry-agnostic. Instead, they focus on compiling the best examples of particular ad types or trends that we’ve seen. For example, we have company-wide Foreplay boards for “Us vs. Them” ads, before and after ads, and customer review ads, just to name a few.

These boards are hugely useful for a few reasons. 

First, they allow us to quickly pull examples of particular ad types we’d like to test with a client so they can get a sense of how the format works. This creates a ton of trust right off the bat between teams, and, when combined with competitive inspiration, gives the client a clear picture of what the ad created by the Coast team will ultimately look like. (Which, again, allows us to get those ads into the marketplace faster for testing!) 

Second, the communal exercise our team goes through to create these boards ensures that each creative strategist at Coast is tapped into the greater hive mind. It increases our collective fluency in which assets work best, what our competitors are doing, and how we can differentiate our work to compete in increasingly crowded spaces. 

Inspiration Fuels Iteration, Instead of Indecision 

You could fill weeks and weeks with the creative strategy phase of ad creation — but how we approach this phase is designed around this central thesis: speed is our friend. 

What many SMBs don’t realize is that the most successful brands in their spaces are testing hundreds of assets a month — and that not every single one of these assets is perfectly on-brand. That’s because they’re constantly searching for ways to catch the attention of the customers they haven’t yet reached. And to do so, they’re letting their consumers tell them what they want by testing as many aspects and visions of the brand as they can. But the key to doing this effectively is to do it efficiently

How Coast Leverages Inspiration for Efficient Iteration

Every part of our process is built to help our clients do the same by efficiently creating and iterating ads that are designed to help test the best ways to scale. The trust required to do this type of testing starts all the way back in the creative inspiration-gathering phase. 

By the time we present ad inspiration to clients — typically at the end of our first week of working together — we’ve already layered in real-time benchmark data from their competitors and a broader creative strategy that encompasses consumer psychology and an assessment of their brand’s key strengths. (You can learn more about this process by checking out our blog on creative strategy and roadmapping.) This means that ad examples are paired with fully fleshed-out concepts that not only detail the what of the ad, but also the why. 

Competitive Inspiration
Coast’s ad for Ryze

Presenting inspiration and concepts in this way gives our clients a clear idea of which value props and format we’re testing with each ad we create. Knowing what the ad we produce will look like ahead of time allows them to trust us — and to let go of some of the smaller details that would’ve been a barrier to entry for efficient creative testing and iteration. 

At the end of the day, the only way creative testing works is if you test creative. Being strategic in how we gather and present inspiration and initial ad concepts allows us to get to the learning phase of our work with clients much faster than we otherwise would. 

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