I talk a lot about “the big idea” to clients and the delegates to my seminars, in fact anybody who will listen. The fashion in marketing these days seems to be to focus on the delivery of the message rather more than the message itself and while I think its right that we should all be striving to make delivery more efficient, the danger is that some of us are ignoring an equally important issue. You might have the best delivery system in the business, but if you don’t have anything worth saying you may as well not bother!
Maybe it harks back to my creative roots, but I am passionate about “the big idea”. Its a principle that applies equally to all areas of business not just marketing communications, but I can’t help having that “Yes!” reaction when I see some of the great creative solutions that have come from marketing services firms like Lowe and Droga5 (some of their recent stuff blows me away).
I was talking to the VP Marketing of a global telco a couple of weeks ago and he was expressing his frustration at not being able to find a marketing services firm that genuinely embraced the “big idea”. The point he was making was that if he briefed an advertising agency they would come back with a response that worked on TV and maybe some other media, but didn’t really have legs in the context of the far greater communications arena that we acknowledge today. The same applied if he briefed a promotions company or an experiential agency. He felt that nobody was capable of separating the “idea” from the media – nothing changes then!
There’s another aspect to this that was brought home to me recently in a dialogue I was having on another blog. The subject there was “trade shows” and most contributors were commenting that as new methods of measurement were becoming available and practical they were revealing that trade shows weren’t viable. My angle on this was that, as with any other communications route, the bar has been raised considerably and like TV, and press there was no point investing in a trade show unless you had a “big dea” that would cut through and get you noticed. One contributor responded with the statement that he had found that even with a “big idea” he was struggling and he posted photos of a recent trade show exhibit. Once I saw these I realise that it isn’t about acceptance of the need for a big idea, but having the discernment to recognise how big a “big idea” had to be. His example was positively pants! Definitely grounds for firing his agency.
There’s a parallel here with the delegates to my Brand Discovery workshops, who when it comes to the point where they have to nominate their “point of difference” always come up with stuff that is mundane and very ordinary. Of course, that’s why we marketing folks are here, but I think that even in our world genuine creativity is rare. I see far too many so-so agencies who think they have cracked it – its self delusional.
Going back to Droga5, In response to a brief to tackle in-school use of mobile phones that was disrupting lessons, they did a deal with Motorola and gave away a million mobile phones to students in New York schools as the focal point of their “Million” project (take a look at their case study here). These phones were on a discrete network that delivered only educational content during school hours, but reverted to a normal phone network outside of those hours. Students earned credits to spend on phone calls and other stuff by accessing the educational content. The cost of the exercise was covered in full by advertising, which means that anybody could have done this … if they had the imagination. Now that’s a big idea!