Commentary

The Death Of The 'Big Idea' In Marketing?

Marketing used to be about the “big idea.” Talented agency execs would sit around reviewing research, brainstorming in their war rooms and staying up all night drinking scotch so they could come up with the big one.  They would then proceed to pitch the clients in hopes of receiving at least a raised eyebrow accompanied by the commitment of funding  -- and at best a standing ovation, also accompanied by a commitment to fund it.  Fortunately or unfortunately, that model is an anachronism.

These days, brands work with too many agencies, creating a sense of strategic competition, and the big-idea model has shifted to a series of smaller ideas, customized to a billion potential eyeballs.  There are glimmers here and there, but for the most part the age of the single concept across all media channels is outdated.  The model today entails a channel-by-channel strategy that may be linked by a theme, but the concepts are all based on audiences -- and marketers realize audiences change depending on where and when they interact with your message.

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Let me explain. Big brands will routinely launch multiple idea-driven concepts into market at the same time.  Geico and Progressive are famous for this, maintaining three or four campaigns at a time that compete with one another, stretching them across TV, online and print.  The brands try to craft a theme, which translates to a consistent brand identity, while keeping things fresh. In a market where the consumer is being bombarded by as many as 4,000 messages a day, a strong media buy can quickly wear out its welcome.  Couple that fact with the shift toward audience-based, data-driven marketing and you see a central theme develop, with multiple campaign ideas being customized for audiences across channel, location and time. 

This model is a tree structure that stretches its roots like tendrils down to the most granular audience you can afford.  The art of this scientific approach is to maximize customization without surpassing the point of diminishing returns at which your budget starts to become less efficient.  It’s a delicate balance and one that cannot be achieved overnight.

To make this balance happen, you need to understand how to leverage data against creative thinking.  I would argue we are witnessing the death of “the big idea” but witnessing the rebirth of truly brand-centric marketing.

 Brands never went anywhere, but I feel as though most successful brands of the last 50 years all had one thing in common: a singular voice.  They were not gimmicks, but brands whose marketing was rooted in the ability to describe their essence in three- to four-word descriptions, which were carried through all their marketing. 

For example, BMW has always used the tagline of “The Ultimate Driving Machine,” and that is its brand essence, a theme that works its way through all marketing.  For Nike, it’s been “Just Do It.” Challenger brands like Avis and Target maintain multiple campaigns but a singular voice throughout.  Even my early examples of Geico and Progressive apply here.  They do not simply take a single campaign and weave it everywhere, but instead achieve a theme or personality and have that be the driver of everything they do.

So the age of data-driven marketing is about development of a theme that embodies the essence of a brand, personalizing that message to the optimal granularity of audiences.  In some cases that may be a one-to-one audience, while in others it may be large groups of audience segments.

What are your best examples of brands that embody this concept in the marketplace today?

2 comments about "The Death Of The 'Big Idea' In Marketing?".
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  1. Steve Climons from Crossover Creative, March 26, 2014 at 12:58 p.m.

    One could argue from this that the "big idea" now is the development of that theme for a brand that is optimal in supporting today's marketing. Safeway is an example of that with "Ingredients for life."

  2. Sean Tracey from Sean Tracey Associates, March 27, 2014 at 1:05 p.m.

    OK, Cory. I usually agree with you, but this time, I think you're just sensationalizing with your headline, "The Death of the Big Idea." And, you've just renamed the Big Idea (in your words), a "theme" or "personality." I agree that executing across multiple platforms often requires a unique or different approach for each, but an overarching theme, or what used to be called a "Big Idea" is necessary to create synergy and cohesiveness—to ensure the brand's singular voice. Whatever you call it, you've got to have an idea big enough to get traction and create attention for your marketing, and worth spending the media dollars to promote.

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