Be Authentic: Find Monster Ideas By Being Real

by Stefan Mumaw

“Creative ideas are the combination of 2 factors: they’re novel & appropriate to the situation at hand” writes Todd Henry in his monster new book, The Accidental Creative. The second half of Todd’s equation speaks to another defining characteristic of truly monstrous ideas: authenticity.

As creatives, we often forget that novelty alone isn’t enough to turn our ideas monstrous, they have to be authentic to the brand and authentic to the audience as well. ‘Different’ will go quietly into the night if the idea doesn’t resonate truthfully with both the brand and the audience.

Generate Ideas That Meet Brand Expectations
Every brand has a character, something that defines it in human terms. The Martha Stewart brand speaks to the warmth of home and family. The Apple brand communicates a progressive, design-forward lifestyle. When evaluating our own ideas, one question we have to ask is: does this idea fall in line with the character of the brand? Too many times, we develop novel ideas that don’t match up with what we’ve come to expect from a brand. That idea, as unique and alarming as it may be, falls short of success because it failed to be authentic to the brand’s character. Walmart is not a fashion brand, so any attempt to communicate anything other than value to the consumer feels inauthentic and forced. Dodge makes muscle vehicles, perpetuating elegance or sophistication would cut against the grain of what we’ve come to expect from Dodge. In the end, our ideas will fall flat if they aren’t supporting the brand character for which they’ve been made.

Know Your Audience
It sounds cliché but many ideas forget about the very people they are meant to serve, or worse, pander to them as if they don’t have any bearing in the message. Monster ideas aren’t just authentic to the brand, they’re authentic to the audience. The misconception that meeting the expectations of the brand IS meeting the expectation of the audience has led to a myriad of idea mishaps. From McDonalds building banner ads that have urbanites staring longingly at a burger with the headline “I’d hit it!” because they didn’t fully understand the slang references of their audience to Sony faking graffiti in urban areas to make it seem like their products are accepted in the street culture, knowing your audience and generating ideas that are authentic to them are two different things. People are wary of forced messaging, we have a “fakemeter” that goes off in our heads if we experience something that feels like we’re being sold a line. Stay authentic to your audience and your ideas will stand a much better chance at going monster.

Be Truthful
How many times have we experienced an idea only to find out that the creators bent the truth in order to alter our behavior in their favor? Advertising and marketing is riddled with innumerable examples of subjective truths (“The Best BBQ In The World!”) and outright lies (“Lowest Prices On Earth”) that we’ve become numb to the claims, we expect them to be untruthful. That’s why honesty in our ideas shines so brightly. When a company like Domino’s Pizza comes out and says “We know our pizzas are viewed as cheap and tasteless, so we’re changing everything we do, try us again and judge for yourself,” it stands out as authentic and real. When our ideas are meant to deceive the audience in any way, we only risk alienating them from our message. Be truthful in the ideas you generate, treat the audience with respect and you’ll find more monster ideas.

Authenticity is a matter of knowing who you are, knowing who you’re talking to and forming a message that is truthful and honest. People crave authenticity, they want to know that the brands they consume understand themselves, their audience and their place in the market. Serve these and find more monster ideas lurking!

image of boxer superimposed with doily, advertising antique store


It’s not usually this bad, but authenticity is typically most noticed when it’s missing.

Image courtesy of Stefan Mumaw

Quick Tips
1. Generate ideas that are honest with what is expected of the brand. Trying to be something you’re not only leads to confusion—or worse, mutiny.


2. Generate ideas that are honest with the audience. It’s one thing to stereotype a demographic but pandering to that demo only leads to destruction. Take the time to not only know about your audience but to know your audience.

3. Generate ideas that are honest. Be truthful and real, don’t be afraid to say publicly what everyone already knows. Taking a transparent approach builds trust and trust is a valuable commodity.

Dig Deeper!
1. Pick up a copy of Todd Henry’s book The Accidental Creative: How To Be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice, check out his podcasts at, or go in-depth with The Accidental Creative DesignCast Series.


2. Dig the movies? Take a load off and watch The Joneses starring Demi Moore and David Duchovny to see what can happen when honesty is completely removed from marketing and advertising to form the epitome of inauthentic ideation: “stealth marketing.”

3. Read all about the 7 characteristics of monster ideas in Stefan Mumaw’s book Chasing the Monster Idea: The Marketer’s Almanac for Predicting Idea Epicness. Energize your creative neurons with Stefan Mumaw’s book Caffeine for the Creative Mind.