Billboards and Novels Spark Brain Circuitry

Billboards and Novels Spark Brain Circuitry

“An Unusual Recommendation for Creating the Best Campaigns,” By Susan Stipa


Driving aimlessly really does help. 


Our clients are engineers and scientists – and by now, you know my opinion on that group’s level of creativity. Ha, caught you!!


You thought you’d be reading some rant on how introverted, left-brained and generally linearly the scientific mind runs. Nope.  


Solving all those puzzles all day long, with data and experimentation and logic, means that scientists and engineers have to consider thousands of alternative solutions, and then intuit the optimum answer. That type of creative thinking gets an A+ in my book.  And these clients expect targeted, technical, yet creative, campaigns from our team.


So, then, how does McDay come up with creative ideas and campaigns for the greatest ideas in pharmaceutical science today? 


Honestly, when we have a campaign that is in its infant stage, I do one thing – drive along 95 and look at billboards. 




One of the earliest forms of marketing are billboards and they are still effective today.


For a fascinating look at the history of billboards, check out Capitol. Billboards can trace their roots back to the invention of lithography and the circus industry that later saw billboards used in every small town in America. Even Lyndon Johnson got involved, with his Highway Beautification Act, which curiously limited billboards and then mandated them to shield “junkyards.”


But today, the whole billboard drive-by for inspiration has become increasingly challenging and yet, more fruitful, for me thanks to electronic billboards!


In the space of one traffic jam, dozens of ads spin across our now-electronic billboards between Wilmington and Philadelphia. But for a ponderous thinker like me, it can be frustrating, when I see a good one that gives me an idea, and want to ruminate on it for a minute and wham! it disappears!


But still, the sheer number available to the driver (who is only viewing them when stopped in traffic, of course) makes it a rich source of inspiring ideas. 


Maybe it is the way the words from one industry spur my brain cells to see clients’ products in a new light. The same thing happens when reading a variety of fiction novels, something I do every morning and night (and sometimes during lunch – I’m that girl you see reading at the lunch counter). Ideas flow differently after I have been reading. Concepts that simply do not occur to me sitting at my laptop, at my desk…


A study in 2014 in Psychology Today reported: “Becoming engrossed in a novel enhances connectivity in the brain and improves brain function. Interestingly, reading fiction was found to improve the reader’s ability to … flex the imagination in a way that is similar to the visualization of muscle memory in sports.”


So it is real, that sense that you’ve moved your creative brain to a new place, and billboards and novel reading seem to do this for me.


I saw a great billboard  six months ago that said “Everyone thinks Millenials Will Never Retire.  Prove Them Wrong.”  We went on to craft a client product launch crafted around an “Until Now” theme, which was inspired by the same punchy final statement as the “Prove Them Wrong” line that I’d seen on that highway. 


The beauty of conveying a strong message in five words or less, often with a single photo or no image at all, still stuns me and can honestly leave me breathless. (Yes, I watch the Super Bowl for the advertisements. This blog post is becoming entirely too revealing).


One  recent cell phone billboard showed a photo of the mobile phone and the words “Your Control Tower.” I loved the instant sense of user power it conveyed! And in three words!  Since I use billboards to get ideas from other industries to use in mine, I also admired the smooth cross-industry transference from an iconic airline image (control tower) to the small phone in my pocket. It just made so much sense, instantly. And isn’t that what we want every marketing campaign to do?