Five Ways to Find the Brightest Ideas in the Darkest Places

A fictitious kingdom was cloaked in darkness, and the king directed his subjects to discover a source of light. He handed them coins and sent them searching. One subject scoured the city and returned with a lantern that bathed the monarch in light. It was a satisfactory but limited solution rooted in logic.

The second subject braved the forest instead, where an unexpected magical process melted the coins and turned them into glistening orbs. He returned to his majesty with the invention – an imaginative idea discovered more unconsciously than consciously – and illuminated the entire Kingdom.

This charming parable, accompanied by playful animation, kicked off the best presentation of opening day at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. Kentaro Kimuro, co-CEO and executive creative director of Hakuhodo Kettle, the Omnicom agency headquartered in Tokyo, mixed personal charm, fanciful videos and storytelling, along with good, old-fashioned stage props, to share his formula for Creative Alchemy. His presentation made familiar techniques seem exciting because he didn’t just tell us to use storytelling like too many speakers these days – no, he actually told us a tale I’ll be recounting often.

Kentaro Kimura

The city represents the known, mapped and safe territory we typically go to for ideas. The forest represents the mysterious, uncharted and slightly dangerous terrain where innovative ideas lurk. Mr. Kimuro offered navigational advice for achieving our own creative alchemy, making the less traveled path feel safer for the courageous among us. “Bright ideas come from the darkest places,” he reminded us. Here are his tips for finding bright ideas:

  1. COMBINE: We’ve all heard that new ideas are the product of combining old ideas but it bears repeating. Kentaro showcased the Cannes 2012 winner, “Museum of Me,” that agency Projector conceived by mashing up Facebook and design principles. His personal tip was to combine cucumber with honey to create the taste of melon (and I’ll be trying that one at home).
  2. MIMIC: Anyone who believes that insights are the best catalysts for ideas will like this technique. Start by uncovering a basic human truth. The Nike Fuel Band mimics man’s calorie counting obsession while the Toyota 86 “Cornering Ecstasy” campaign mirrors our love of snapping photos on thrill rides with a clever, sensory-controlled photo system that captures Toyota drivers as they conquer intense curves.
  3. UPSIDE DOWN: This is the principle of questioning and up-ending the standard. In the fashion industry, this approach made exposed bras trendy. BBDO’s “Speed Camera Liberty” for Volkswagen and “Quest Your World” for Google Maps are two interesting marketing examples.
  4. THE TRUTH BEHIND THE FACT: “Where there’s smoke there’s fire” captures this technique. Understanding that “Where there’s a tsunami, there are lost memories” Hakuhodo found a truth that shaped “Memories for the Future,” letting storm victims post memories they didn’t want to lose so that others could help recover or replace them. Even more ingenious, Droga 5 developed “Help I want to save a life,” by recognizing that where there’s a band-aid, there’s a drop of blood. Their campaign co-promoted finger bandages with a marrow test to identify possible donors.
  5. WHAT IF: Ketchum brainstorm facilitators love this technique, which asks participants to imagine an unexpected scenario to achieve new perspectives, feelings and ideas. Kentaro played a funny ESPN ad by Weiden + Kennedy that quite literally asks, “What if you were named Michael Jordan?” and shows a dumpy white man causing disappointment when he shows up at restaurants that expect the basketball player. “Tokyo City Symphony” by Hakuhodo is an interactive map of the city that users can animate with different musical choices, which came from asking, “What if I was a composer of Tokyo City?”

Like any great presenter, Kentaro told a clever, visual story, grounded it in practical tips, and made it relevant. “When we get nervous, we reach for traditional solutions,” he said. “But now is the time to find the courage to dare the forest and test the unknown.” He added, “Marketing is the activity of changing unconscious desires into conscious ones. We need to combine the logic from the city with the inspiration from the forest.”

After Cannes, I know where I’m heading. How about you?