Current advertising campaigns driven by big ideas are about as plentiful today as plug-in stations for electric cars. Geico’s the one big exception that comes to mind. And it’s no wonder they’re an endangered species. Ideas, really good, honkin’-big ideas that take a brand “on their shoulders” and powerfully position them, are seldom recognized or truly understood by today’s crop of marketing mavens. Hey, it’s a tough balancing act making that sales chart grow in the right direction and keeping the bloggers from flaming your product at the same time.
Warning: 20 tweets and a well-liked fan page do not a big idea make.
Fortunately, there is still a real need today for big ideas that adhere like velcro to your brain. Great ones do that. They take a product, make it water-in-the-desert desirable and create a rabid community of brand lovers. They drive brand leadership and bottom line sales. And they spawn legions of imitators. And they’ve been doing it long before the Internet. The stickiness of Bartles and Jaymes and Miller Lite’s “Less Filling/Tastes Great” campaigns (Google ’em) are good examples of iconic, powerful concepts from the late 20th century.
In contrast, Apple’s recent “Mac vs PC” campaign may have been memorable and entertaining but upon closer examination reveals itself to be an excellent example of an execution substituting for a concept. And so is the original iPod television campaign. Visually compelling? Absolutely. Great product demonstration? Dead on. Strategic? Yep. Big idea? Uh-uh>
And when it comes to ideas don’t confuse consistency with concept. Progressive Insurance relies on their sales concierge, Flo, to deliver their brand message but I challenge you to tell me what their big difference is.
When they do surface, big, duct-tape-sticky ideas barely have the time to drive brand equity or positioning in today’s viral, solar-flair-hot, crash and burn, social media online environment. Instead, replacing them is an avalanche of lukewarm, interchangeable, post-it note ideas. Hardly sticky. Easily forgettable. A classic case of quantity over quality. Like technology inmates running the idea asylum. Think Transformers II.
Think it’s a crazy point of view? Well, this big-idea aversion is even infecting some of the big NY agencies. The recent exodus of top several creative directors from top New York shops underscores my point. Most recent is the departure of BBH New York Creative Chief Kevin Roddy. Here’s what he had to say in a story that ran in last week’s ad age: “Creativity used to be put on a pedestal, and I don’t think that’s the case anymore,” he said. “Creative people have become more of a commodity, and I think that takes the wind out of them. The creative ego is a very important thing, because it drives talent. But it’s also a very fragile thing.”
The big idea is dead. Long live the big idea.