How to Recycle Old Ideas

Sure they have been done to death, but there’s still a way to recycle old ideas and make them fresh and interesting.


by Dave Robson

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So, you’ve tossed out all the ideas that are too obvious, ignored all the ideas that don’t make any kind of relevant sense, and you’re left with a workable set. So all that’s left to do is cross out the ideas that aren’t interesting and we’re good to go, right?

Nope. Not even close.

Chances are, you’re looking at a list of ideas that would be perfect for your brand but just don’t seem interesting. Have they been done before? Well, we haven’t heard your ideas, but yes, they have. The vast majority of ideas have been done before, and that’s okay.

Regular content producers face this problem all the time. Men’s Health needs to write about exercises for abs every other month because that’s how men’s fitness media works—but this month’s abs article needs to be different than the last one. Every single travel magazine needs to put out an article about Barcelona and they all need to try and be a little different from each other despite the fact that they all need to reference the Sagrada Família. Every food blogger on the internet has written about bacon, usually a dozen times or so, but they can because they keep finding new ways to do it—chocolate covered bacon, smoke your own bacon, instead of making a gingerbread house with gingerbread use bacon . . .

The point we’re trying to make is that even though they have been done to death, there’s still a way to recycle old ideas, and breath new life into them.

Usually it helps to take something general and make it specific. Once, we were working on a content marketing campaign centred around the idea of “Cities”. The client wanted articles about stuff to do that’s hip and hot in cities like Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal. The thing is, some of our initial ideas were a touch stale. This is what we started with:

  • Top 5 Places for Brunch in (city)
  • Top 5 Views in (city)
  • Top 5 Instagram-Worthy Spots in (city)
  • Top 5 Neighbourhoods to Shop in (city)
  • Top 5 Barber Shops in (city)

All these ideas are perfectly serviceable, but they aren’t very interesting. We bet if you typed “top 5 places for brunch in [insert city of choice]”, you’d easily get two dozen articles about that exact subject. Now, that kind of popularity proves that it’s a great topic, but it isn’t that hard to do a little bit better.

How? Get specific. Let’s take the “top 5 restaurants” idea. It’s pretty general, right? Well, we decided to list all the ways it could be made specific and came up with this:

  • intimate restaurants
  • first date restaurants
  • after-hour eats
  • business casual restaurants
  • restaurants to unleash your inner carnivore
  • food trucks
  • iconic restaurants
  • dining spots five minutes from the big game
  • restaurants with the best wine cellars

Actually, we got much further than that, but we’ll stop there because the point is made. Something like “best restaurants” is a well-trod but popular topic, but by narrowing it down, it becomes more interesting. And by the way, narrowing it down might also help better tailor the content to the brand in question. In our case, the client was an internationally known beer brand, so we went with after-hour eats (because after-hour eating goes pretty well with drinking), unique dining experiences (because if an internationally known beer brand wants to appeal to local sensibilities, they’d better know unique things about the city), and restaurants to unleash your inner carnivore (because beer drinking isn’t what you’d call dainty, and neither are carnivores).

Full disclosure: we decided to do the brunch article anyway. Because everyone loves brunch.