Where's The Big Idea?

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, September 21, 2015
The Big Idea is that there no longer is one. 

A few lucky brands and agencies own a place in popular culture forever because of their ability to find that one big idea. But that era is gone and the effort to get it back creates frustration between clients and agencies. 

Now we need 100 ideas because it is about connecting with what is relevant. In this moment. Now. By tomorrow it will not matter. In an hour consumers will be on to something else. And the phenomenon is only accelerating and fragmenting.

Fast. Fast. Fast. You can’t control it. Nothing is linear. Customers are dipping in and out of contact with your brand as they move from platform to platform. So, who the hell has time for big ideas? I’m not saying it’s right. I’m just saying it’s reality. 

What’s it mean?
Career marketers have been trained to look for the big idea that will drive a campaign for years. But, it’s increasingly impossible to plan that far out and some are just now figuring that out. 



Meerkat and Periscope launched this year and a whole new paradigm of live-streaming emerged.  Why engage with something that already happened when you can engage live?

These cutting-edge platforms are capitalizing on the desire for immediacy. Consumer conversations aren’t about the “Whassup” campaign any longer. Now they are engaging on the #MadMenFinale, #GOT, Jimmy Fallon’s latest #lipsyncbattle or Apple’s latest release. This is all disposable content. 

Historically you’d benchmark “big-ness” of an idea by asking: Will this be relevant next year and beyond? Who the hell knows now? We don’t know if it will be relevant tomorrow., the fledgling Amazon competitor, launched an awareness campaign depicting it as the fun new way to shop for staples like baby diapers, laundry detergent and toilet paper. 

But it went way further. It integrated an option into its checkout sessions asking people if they would agree to make their purchases public. 

The result was 100 improv performance videos interpreting customers’ actual purchases on a given day. This is a great idea but will it be repeated over and over and over again? Unlikely. Once consumers “get it,” it’s old and they’re ready for something new and provocative. 

It’s about rapid prototyping and being open to failing publicly as a very real option. This is completely uncharted territory for most CMOs and agencies.  

The little big idea. As each new day brings a #GOPDebate or #EmpireSeason2, I’d offer a new filter: How does what’s relevant today increase your brand’s relevance? You have your brand and you have what people talk about. 

So, it is essential to understand what the brand stands for before you can participate appropriately. Where do you belong? You don’t want to be part of every conversation. You shouldn’t be. If you chase every conversation, you’re no longer in charge of your brand identity.

Never allow the crowd to define who you are or what you stand for. The danger in crowd-sourcing innovation is you can get caught in the middle. Not with something that’s super good. Not with something that’s super bad. But something far worse. Something boring.

Given all these challenges, it’s more important than ever to define your brand and defend it. Just do it.
1 comment about "Where's The Big Idea? ".
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  1. Tom Wozniak from Blue Shirt Marketing, September 21, 2015 at 6:25 p.m.

    Good article Sean.  I think there is still a place fo the 'big idea' in branding, but it's harder than ever to come up with one that sticks around for any length of time.  For every recognizable and longer lasting brand image/campaign (Flo from Progressive or the gecko from Geico) there are tons of other hopeful big ideas that launch, never get traction, and fall by the wayside. 

    I think you're right on the money that many impactful campaigns now have a big idea that only lasts for a short amount of time - often by design.  Personal favorite of mine from a few years ago would be the Old Spice Guy almost real-time video campaign from 2011.  Branding, engagement, humor, and totally unexpected.  Also loved how well it was executed, considering the videos were being shot in such rapid succession, reacting to the ongoing dialog. 

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