Blog | Lauren Bell 11.02.17

Create Ideas, Not Ads: How Mining the Gaps Can Help Brands Strike the Gold

“What’s more important: the art or the copy?” That was the question posed to me by my former creative director. Before I could embarrass myself with a response (“The copy!” quoth the 24-year old copywriter), my boss answered for me. “Neither,” he said. “The most important thing is the idea.”

There’s no better evidence of this theory than The Ice Bucket Challenge, an idea so effective, so pervasive, I don’t even need to describe it here. This sensational grassroots movement lit up Facebook with user-generated videos and spread like wildfire, engaging thousands, raising millions (over $115M, to be exact), and increasing awareness for ALS. This trifecta of impact was achieved all without art, copy, strategy, media plans, production schedules, and — dare I say it — without conventional advertising.

So crucial is the almighty idea that here at PJA, we’ve made its discovery part of our standard operating procedure. We call it “mining the gaps,” which is a snappy way of saying we identify unmet consumer needs and untapped opportunities to strategically think up fresh ideas for our clients. Sometimes it results in a lead gen campaign or a really cool social video. Other times, it yields a freshly mined golden nugget that gives brands new ways of doing business and connecting with buyers altogether. Not an ad, an idea. Ahhh. Refreshing, right? Like a bucket of ice-cold water.

So how are some brands applying this idea-first approach in the real world to gain a competitive advantage? Look no further than the travel industry, where a mixed blessing of low customer satisfaction ratings give brands plenty of gaps to mine.


If you’ve ever flown economy, chances are you’ve passed an empty first-class seat and thought, “I wish I could pay a little extra to sit there.” The folks at Aer Lingus heard you loud and clear and responded, “Make us an offer!” With their “Upgrade Yourself” program, Aer Lingus economy ticketholders can bid on unsold first-class transatlantic seats. If the bid is accepted, the customer gets a premium experience on the cheap, and the airline turns a profit for a seat that would have otherwise gone unsold. It’s a little lottery that’s a win-win. What’s more, the Upgrade Yourself program is only available to those who purchase tickets directly on This provides extra incentive for customers to stay away from third-party sites that take a bite out of Aer Lingus sales. I took advantage of this program on a recent flight to Dublin and upgraded to first class for only $500 more. Who needs the luck of the Irish when you can Upgrade Yourself?


When I arrived at my Berlin hotel in 2008 desperate for sleep, the staff told me to return at check-in, which was 7 hours away. So I did what any normal person would do: I went to the Reichstag and took a nap in the front lawn. Lying in the grass, using my purse as a pillow, I remember thinking, “What I wouldn’t pay to check in early!” And in January 2017, I finally found one hotel happy to oblige. Located in the heart of Dublin, The Temple Bar Hotel offers guests the standard late checkout, and for a 40€ fee, the guarantee of an early check-in, too. After my red eye flight to Dublin, it was an upsell I was happy to purchase, and by mining a gap in the hotel system, The Temple Bar Hotel is reaping the rewards.

It doesn’t matter where you’re going. Sometimes, flying there is half the fun. Virgin America found a way to get in on the fun and make some money, too. Through their unique in-flight entertainment system, flyers can anonymously buy a drink for passengers in any seat on the plane: a round for the bachelorette party in the first three rows, a pick-me-up for a co-worker in 31E, or a little in-flight flirting with the dreamboat across the aisle. This clever gimmick increases beverage sales for the cost of a one-time software update.


You know the feeling: you’re so close to platinum status, yet so far away — 5,000 miles, to be exact. Maybe you don’t have time to take a flight around the country.  Luckily, United has identified this gap and created a solution. With Premier Accelerator, flyers can purchase extra Premier Qualifying Miles on an existing reservation for an additional cost (usually, around $800 for 5,000 PQMs). For many, it’s a more practical way of earning miles than actual flying. And for United, it’s a way to increase revenue without losing a seat on a flight.


It seemed like a good idea at the time… But when United introduced their new Basic Economy fare in addition to their usual Economy fare, what was intended as a way to compete with low-cost carriers was instead seen as airline nickel-and-diming. Now if customers wanted to select their seat, they have to pay a second-tier fare, Economy, to do so. Customers didn’t understand that they weren’t paying more for an assigned seat in Economy; rather, they were paying less to forego one in Basic Economy. But the angry mob of the Internet didn’t care, and United’s social media manager has been busy ever since.