Sketch boneyard
Role: Artist/Philosopher/Divergent thinker | Sketches by Jeff Hunter
“Too fast to live. Too young to die.”
-Malcom Mclaren
In defense of bad first-round ideas.
by Jeff Hunter
In the merciless world of professional advertising, there’s no time to fuss. Which is why in the first round, creative teams typically launch a fusillade of quick ideas at the wall—often accompanied by some kind of hasty sketch—to see if anything sticks. Once the dust settles, a handful of ideas live to see another day, and the rest are just… dead. They can’t all be winners.
Given the circumstances, It’s no surprise that the majority of first-round creative ideas face certain death. It’s a suicide mission; not exactly conducive to scholarly rumination. When the first wave of ideas inevitably gets thinned out, and all the misfires start to quietly fizzle, most hardened creatives simply deep-six the evidence and move on. What an colossal waste of psychic energy. All that misguided thinking—poof! Gone, just like that. Seems like we ought to do something… say a few words, then maybe make an offering to the advertising gods. I prefer to honor the memory of my short lived ideas by saving the sketches that brought them to life (more on that later)—and then I write a thoughtful dissertation about it. So, my question is, why are we so quick to dismiss bad first-round ideas?
Well, it’s complicated. I realize this is going to piss some people off, but my gut tells me that science has revealed the true nature of creativity goes something like this; nobody really knows what the hell they’re talking about. Bringing something new into existence is messy, it usually involves a volatile mix of knee-jerkery, procrastination, overthinking and desperation—which happens to be the world I’m most comfortable in. Knowledge is useless when you’re flying by the seat of your pants—you’re now relying on pure instinct. When you venture into the unknown the world gets foggy and you start seeing things that probably aren’t there, but you write them down anyway because your brain has already moved on and you’re afraid you might forget whatever it was that drew you to this odd direction in the first place. You’re chasing shadows, catching glimpses, getting lost in the wonder of it all. Your only tether back to the real world is a flimsy line in the brief that could snap at any moment and send you adrift for eternity. What could be more exciting than that?
The problem is, you can’t expect the world to appreciate your bad idea unless you can make them feel it first. And feelings, like bad ideas, are hard to define, unpredictable and known to spontaneously combust.
Denial is the default reaction when you first discover your first-round idea is bad. But you don’t give up that easily. You convince yourself that truth is an illusion, everything you know is probably wrong, opposites do not attract, k-pop is actually quite good, and all bad ideas actually aren’t all bad. Of course, those distinctions depend on who you’re asking, the time of day, and the direction of the wind at the moment you discover their particular flaws. Why? Because people—otherwise known as consumers in this overly broad generalization—make terrible algorithms. They make irrational decisions all the time. Paradoxically, some of the most successful ideas didn’t test well, and some of the biggest, world changing notions were discovered hanging out in the most unlikely places—like in a small business on a Saturday.
Round-one ideas are like teenagers; they’re immature, irresponsible, impulsive, they think they’re invincible, and they usually make very little sense. Yet somehow they are the vanguard of popular culture. What the rest of us seem to have forgotten is that sometimes obvious and stupid is actually witty and cool. Sometimes when we indulge in the occasional stupid idea, stupid rises to the occasion.
Round-one ideas have something refreshing to offer; a willful indifference towards their own badness. They’ve got a license to suck if deemed necessary in the never ending quest for attention. They simply don’t play by the same rules and they’re unbearably honest about it. What’s good about these bad ideas is that they get to be irreverent, ironic, disarmingly accessible and unflinchingly truthful—and still be charming. Any one of those things is enough to get you noticed. Which is kind of the whole point. They’ve also got built in tensions that have the potential to lead to something unexpectedly entertaining, in fact some bad ideas are just one twist away from becoming great ideas. Others are so shockingly bad that you can’t look away. It just takes one brave idiot to go poking around where nobody else thinks to look, and another even braver idiot to say, “What the hell, let’s do it.”
The thing to remember about round-one is, If you’re going to go down, you might as well go down in a blaze of glory. That makes it our chance to throw out the rule book and get really creative. It’s the ADHD round. It’s our time for asking questions, ignoring answers, exploring tensions, taking naps, losing your keys, aiming for the fences, moving the fences,… My point is, you gotta step out of your perfect advertising bubble every once in a while and get your feet dirty. Over-rev your engine. Get out of your lane. Think across disciplines. Follow your gut and spend some time on an ill-conceived romp in the weeds and you may find the scenic route quite productive. I know, I’ve lost my keys there a few times. I think what I’m trying to say is don’t stop chasing after those foul balls.
Cause as much trouble in round-one as you can, because by round-two, you better have your shit together. Sometimes bad ideas are just a bad idea and should be approached with extreme caution. Like you should never run down a hill at top speed. So please, use your best judgement and indulge me as I dust off some real stinkers. The following collection of postmortem thumbnail sketches is my tribute to all of the “other” ideas that have ever been conceived and then killed in the name of advertising.
Thinking with thumbnails.
A thumbnail is a key visual, in the form of a quickly drawn sketch, that accompanies the write up for for an advertising strategy, activation or execution. It is a visual shorthand that helps to explain the idea and bring it to life. It’s also an invaluable concepting tool for divergent thinkers who like to work out ideas on bar napkins. But enough words, allow me to present a 3:2 window into my creative process. To the Art Directors who strive to perfect their craft, I say “Behold the lost art of the thumbnail sketch.” And to my second grade teacher, “Yes Ms. Schnepp, you actually can make a living by doodling all day.”
More sketches by Jeff Hunter
Sketch_grid_18_car
I’m not sure what’s going on here. But it’s awesome.
Sketch_grid_0000_Layer Comp 1
Wha…?
Sketch_grid_0010_Layer Comp 11
First TV spot I ever sold. It was in German. I don’t speak German — so I don’t know if it was any good.
Sketch_grid_0009_Layer Comp 10
My favorite was the self-flagellating guy.
Sketch_grid_0012_Layer Comp 13
Would somebody please make these.
Sketch_grid_0002_Layer Comp 3
What the…?
Sketch_grid_14_Cars_music
Solid no.
sketches_grid_1650x1095
Cool. Going to need to scale it way back.
sketches_grid_1650x10952
sketches_grid_1650x1095
Christo would’ve love this one. Still no.
sketches_grid_1650x10952
Nope.
Sketch_grid_05_BBY
I tried Steve.
Sketch_grid_04_BBY
Maybe a little too Geico.
sketches_grid_1650x10953
sketches_grid_1650x10954
Why would I click on this?
Sketch_grid_0022_Layer Comp 23
Boring. I love it.
sketches_grid_1650x10955
Who hasn’t worked on Charles Schwab at some point in their career?
Sketch_grid_10_BBY
Okay… no.
sketches_grid_1650x10956
sketches_grid_1650x10957
sketches_grid_1650x10958
Great! Love it! Come back when you have an idea.
Sketch_grid_0006_Layer Comp 7
Sketch_grid_02_AE
I specifically said no angles.
Sketch_grid_0003_Layer Comp 4
I miss the booze shelf.
Sketch_grid_03_DOM
They said “pizza heroes” right?
Sketch_grid_0008_Layer Comp 9
Pretty sure they already had all this stuff.
Sketch_grid_09_KMC
One of these did not eat the salmon mousse.
Sketch_grid_13_Samsung
Did I work on Samsung?
Sketch_grid_07_BBY
Keep going.
Sketch_grid_0014_Layer Comp 15
Sketch_grid_0018_Layer Comp 19
wha…?
Sketch_grid_0020_Layer Comp 21
These feel very Crispin 2009.
Sketch_grid_06_BBY
Crickets.
Sketch_grid_0023_Layer Comp 24
Didn’t get the reaction I was hoping for.
Sketch_grid_07_food
Kept trying to sell this idea. Until I realized I couldn’t.
Sketch_grid_0025_Layer Comp 26
Sketch_grid_0026_Layer Comp 27
Must have been playing around with my Prismacolors.
Sketch_grid_17_charcoal
Sketch_grid_19_charcoal
Ahead of it’s time. Next.
Sketch_grid_01_Blowup_slopes
Boom.
Sketch_grid_20_zoo
Nevermind.
sketches_grid_1650x109510
Almost.
sketches_grid_1650x109511
sketches_grid_1650x109512
Doesn’t everyone tuck their t-shirts into their underwear?
sketches_grid_1650x109514
Getting closer.
sketches_grid_1650x109515
A Dad’s work is never done. Not even once.
sketches_grid_1650x109516
Shut up Austin.
sketches_grid_1650x109517
Almost made these.
sketches_grid_1650x109518
Whoever killed these ads is an nincompoop.
sketches_grid_1650x109519
Again, with the tucking t-shirt thing?
sketches_grid_1650x109520
I thought everyone was digging these.
sketches_grid_1650x10959
Early rounds.
sketches_grid_1650x109513
No. No. And yes.
Sketch_grid_15_charcoal
Can’t remember what these are for. But cool charcoal sketches.
Sketch_grid_0027_Layer Comp 28
I should really clear out my hard drive.
Sketch_grid_0033_Layer Comp 34
Not alive.
Sketch_grid_0028_Layer Comp 29
Yes Dave, cats DO lick their balls.
Sketch_grid_0030_Layer Comp 31
These should be ready in about an hour Drew.
Sketch_grid_0032_Layer Comp 33
Aaaaand…. no.
Sketch_grid_0036_Layer Comp 37
Dead…
Sketch_grid_0037_Layer Comp 38
…dead…
Sketch_grid_0038_Layer Comp 39
…and dead.
Sketch_grid_0039_Layer Comp 40
Why didn’t I get credit for this again?
Sketch_grid_0040_Layer Comp 41
Hello again Mr. Nimbus. Sorry you’re dead.
Sketch_grid_12_AXE
This one got axed.
sketches_grid_1650x109521
Hmmm. Not interesting.
sketches_grid_1650x109522
Cake idea. Still not working.
sketches_grid_1650x109523
sketches_grid_1650x109524
RIP cake idea.
sketches_grid_1650x109525
This one finally made it.
sketches_grid_1650x109526
sketches_grid_1650x109527
sketches_grid_1650x109528
What were we liking about these again?
sketches_grid_1650x109529
Let’s hold on these for now.
sketches_grid_1650x109530
Ah yes. The Liquid Gold Fountain. We actually made that.
sketches_grid_1650x109531
The Aspen festival is not an idea.
sketches_grid_1650x109532
Please, no more vending machine ideas guys!
sketches_grid_1650x109533
Sigh. Why not?
sketches_grid_1650x109534
Fackit, let’s go with the obnoxious mid-century western kitsch for a wall treatment. I don’t care what anybody says.
sketches_grid_1650x109535
This is getting tedious.
sketches_grid_1650x109536
Yep. Nope.
sketches_grid_1650x109537
Stop.
sketches_grid_1650x109538
Sorry about the baseball thing Dave.

“Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened.”

-Dr. Seuss

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