Why the Big Idea, Maybe in New Forms, is Here to Stay

Yesterday, Digiday pondered the future of the “big idea” in advertising, as technology rapidly changes the ways brands interact and communicate with their customers.

We asked for views from our readers, and 77 percent said the “big idea” will continue to form the backbone of brand messaging, despite its roots in traditional media. Below are some of the responses we received:

Edward Boches, chief innovation officer, Mullen
You took my comments way out of context. I am not at all arguing in favor of the old-fashioned big idea — media based, controlled, tagline centric, repeated over and over ad nauseam. In fact, I voted that the Big Idea (the way you word it anyway) is dead.

However, if you read my piece (a work in progress, by the way), it says that the Big Idea has evolved. That we still need Big Ideas even in small packages.

From the post, I wrote:

“Encouraging small, individual ideas is great. But we can’t let small ideas free us from striving for great ideas.

Big can be small, cheap and underproduced. Think Shocking Barack from a couple of years ago.

Big can be an event seen by no one until the video of it goes viral. TNT Square.

Big can be a clever solution to a marketing challenge. Skype in the Classroom.

Big can be a mobile shopping experience. Tesco in Korea.

Big can be a novel way to leverage an event. Jet Blue’s Election Protection.

Big can be connecting the Web to a robot. Nike Chalkbot.

Big can be a single TV spot that represents a brand’s actual behavior. The Guardian.

Big can be a one-shot event; granted huge and expensive and outrageous helps. Think Red Bull.

Duke Ellington said there were only two kinds of music. Good and bad.

We could possibly end this debate entirely with an agreement that there are only two kinds of ideas. Good and bad.

Once good ideas were big, clever, fresh, original, memorable, motivating and enduring. Today, perhaps all that’s changes is that they are useful, shareable and participatory.

They may be one-shots. They may be home made. They may be campaigns. They may be supported by millions. Or thousands.

But one thing is sure. Whether they’re big is no longer up to the creator. It’s up to the user.”

Why you chose not to focus on my key points I don’t know. But the quote above reflects my thinking and teaching.

Eric Andrade, account director, Ogilvy & Mather
I believe there’s a nuance here that gets lost whenever a discussion like this ensues. And it is an outgrowth of the “Traditional vs. Digital” argument that has been fodder for trade pubs for decades now. No one can afford to be an ideologue here, and therefore I believe the premise of the “either/or” debate is moot. Without the big idea, David Ogilvy is right on the money when he says your advertising will pass consumers like a ship in the night. That said, Ogilvy was speaking about advertising, which primarily concerns itself with messaging. Digital’s strength lies in its ability to demonstrate the messaging. Or better yet, to provide utility to the consumer that underscores the core brand tenets. By its very nature, it goes beyond messaging because it cedes control of the conversation to the consumers; but to that end it takes on the responsibility of showing, not telling, why that message or “big idea” is true. And if that demonstration or that utility resonates, then the big idea and its impact only become more persuasive. If not, it’s just talk.

John Baker, president, dotJWT
There is another overlooked benefit of a key idea in all communications — internal audiences and stakeholders. A great campaign acts like a very visible mission statement for a brand. Avis’ “We Try Harder,” Apple’s “Think Different” and IBM’s “Solutions for A Smarter Planet” all rally teams. The problem is most campaigns don’t have this kind of idea — it is just a campaign idea. What’s more if any agency spends three months arguing semantics around a little idea, or squabbling over which concept is the big one, real money and time have been lost. Whether it’s a TV spot or introducing the latest “shiny” spin on technology, the big idea spans beyond the creative message. What will be more interesting moving forward, though, is where the big idea comes from. Traditionally, it comes from the agency world, but social media changes all that. As advertisers, we should find ways to empower brand advocates with ownership of the big idea.

Andrew Tuma, digital thought leader, Simantel Group
Whether it’s a TV spot or introducing the latest “shiny” spin on technology, the big idea spans beyond the creative message. What will be more interesting moving forward, though, is where the big idea comes from. Traditionally, it comes from the agency world, but social media changes all that. As advertisers, we should find ways to empower brand advocates with ownership of the big idea.

Kevin Lee, CEO, We-Care.com
The primary reason that the big idea will continue to be prevalent is that for the CMOs and VPs of marketing the big idea provides unlimited upside and a legacy (personally and at the corporate level).

Chuck Book, president, Hamilton Gregory Marketing Communications
Wacksman himself is actually guilty of “missing the point” if he believes most agencies tout “the big idea” for the sole purpose of securing a fatter bottom line. No matter what the technology, the yardstick by which effective brand building is measured is an individual’s, agency’s or company’s ability to influence the behavior and decisions of their respective target market. Though that may involve innovative tactics like a new app, game, product placement or new out-of-the-box guerilla-marketing program, the message must still be engaging and mnemonic enough to be remembered and ultimately acted upon — no matter where or how its delivered. Unless the human condition is on the cusp of a major evolutionary breakthrough, “big ideas” will continue to be an important part of helping brands break through the clutter of an increasingly complex world.

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