Why do so many brands and their ads lack a “big idea”?

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In 1983, David Ogilvy wrote “I doubt if more than one campaign in a hundred contains a big idea”. Has that changed since then?


Ideas. That is what marketers hire and expect their communication agencies to crack for them. So why do we end up seeing so many brands and their ads lacking them?


Every brand needs a core “Big Idea”. But so few still have them.
When it comes to developing creating communication, I am a believer in the need to focus first and foremost on finding and agreeing the BIG IDEA. Then, and only then, should you worry about the execution.




Once you have the brand’s “Big Idea”, you can go anywhere!

  1. Once you have the Creative Big Idea then you can get into what the execution is. It makes it easier to crack.
  2. Once you have the Creative Big Idea you will be able to create a on-going campaign. A Big Idea is not execution specific, but can be executed in different media and in different ways over time.
  3. Once you have a Big Idea it is also easy to globalise it and write new executions. As all people locally need to do is create executions that work culturally or within the competitive set they have – but you end up with rafts of ads all with the same idea.


Unilever’s Axe/ Lynx is a great example of a brand with a “Big Idea”. Many executions. Many markets.
For me one of the best examples of this is the Unilever Axe/ Lynx brand that has zillions of ads created it seems by different teams all over the world – but they all have the core creative idea of “The Axe/ Lynx Effect”.


Absolut Vodka is another example. 25 years and over 1500 ads using the same “big idea”
There are (according to the fan of the ads site Absolutads.com) over 1500 different ads all based on one brand big idea. The campaign has been running for over 25 years! It is the longest running continuous campaign of one idea too, they claim. The core big idea is to constantly surprise and delight by seeing a familiar thing in new and surprising ways. To get a feel for how they have down this visit the Absolut Vodka Ads Board on Pinterest I have created


A Big Idea is so simple it can fit on a matchbook cover. So big you can’t think of a place it cannot go.
A couple of years ago when developing some training about advertising in the beauty market, I found a great video online that spoke about creative ideas. I am not 100% sure who did it, but it is a group of agency people talking about ideas. There were some very powerful thoughts in the video that include:

  • A Big Idea is Something that is so simple you can write it on a matchbook cover, but so big you can’t think of a place it cannot go”.
  • “(A Big Idea) has a lot of legs that can grow with the client’s products & services as they evolve and can maintain relevancy & consistency across all different mediums”.
  • “You look at (a big idea) and go “man that feels huge”.
  • “Big Ideas are pretty easy to sell because they’re usually pretty simple. Almost self evident. When you lay it out everyone in the room goes “you know, that’s a pretty good idea”.
Once you have it. It can take you everywhere and anywhere.
In 2008 UK “Campaign” magazine had a quote about Big Ideas that really caught my eye, and stuck with me: Once you have a big, fat, great idea, you can adapt it around the world and adapt the media you use to make it relevant. That’s the definition of a great idea”.

Summary and action..
As David Ogilvy said, so much communication lacks a big creative idea. Can you answer the question for your brand’s communication: “What is the idea”? Is it so simple it can be written on a matchbook cover or tiny post-it note? But big enough to go everywhere and anywhere, and over time?

Like Axe/ Lynx and Absolut Vodka have been doing for years and years…

What do you think? What other examples do you have, please let me know.

Watch the agency team I refer to above talking about “What Is a Big Idea?”.



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