This is one of the assignments I like to give to my copywriting students.
You’ve probably seen one of these before. It’s an egg.
I want you to write something on an egg that makes me want to eat it.
Take any angle you want.
Go to the store and buy an egg and write the thing on it and bring it to class. You might want to use a hard‐boiled egg.
These are due in Monday’s class. I will give you a pass/fail grade on it. If you fail, you can try again in any other class. If you pass, you can be finished, or you can try to come up with a better egg. Or you can give your idea to a struggling classmate.
You get to keep your eggs.
At the start of class, I would have the students, one at a time, set their eggs in the middle of the table. I would read whatever was on the egg. I would judge the egg based on one simple factor: did I want to eat that egg? I wouldn’t think about it very much.
Some eggs were very clever. Some tried to be funny. Some gave a functional benefit—protein or healthy snack.
Sometimes the message made a difference. I might feel like I could use a healthy snack. Sometimes I would chuckle but not want to eat the egg. Sometimes I would pick the first egg simply because I was hungry. Sometimes I would pick no eggs because I wasn’t hungry.
It was frustrating for the students, because it was like their creative idea only sometimes made a difference in whether or not they passed or failed that day. Which was exactly the point.
There are dozens of factors that go into whether or not a consumer buys the product you’re trying to sell. Your creative idea is usually pretty low on the list. Way below whether or not the consumer happens to be hungry at that moment. So remember that. You have to be relevant. You have to be persuasive. You also have to be lucky.
I recently heard of a fantastic assignment given by Bryan Birch, an instructor over at the Academy of Art University here in San Francisco. I have a scriptwriting class that I’m teaching at Miami Ad School starting in a couple of weeks, and I plan to steal this idea and use it as the first assignment for my class.
The assignment is simple: put together a portfolio of ads you wish you had done. Not ads you have done–ads that other people have done that you absolutely love.
Bryan has his class bring in three and then asks the students to discuss them. With each student’s three ads, the class talks about the similarities. “The string that turns the ‘beads’ into a ‘necklace,” Bryan says. For example, absurdity might be a common element in each of the ads. This is basically the style of ads you like to do. And there can be several strings in each group. Bryan then has the students bring in ads that they have done that fit on this string.
This gives the students a “North Star,” as Bryan calls it. It helps them to recognize and articulate the kind of ads they like to do, see opportunities to work those traits more into their book and push for that in their future assignments. If you quirky, dry humor, it should be in your book. If you hate sappy stories, you shouldn’t have those in your book. The point of your job search is to find you a job that you will love (and hence where you will thrive). An agency that wants you because they want you to do the kind of work you like to do–the kind of work that should be reflected in your portfolio.
For my students, I think I’m going to ask them to build a full reel–7-10 spots (or something that has a script)–and put together a Pinterest board. Pinterest is perfect for this kind of thing.
Having a dream portfolio sets a bar. Probably a pretty high one. And with every ad you do, you can look and say, “Is this good enough? Would I put this in my dream portfolio? How can I make it more like the stuff in my dream portfolio?” Wouldn’t it be nice if one day, many years for now, your dream portfolio was made up entirely of your own work?