What's the big idea?

There is a lot of debate at the moment about the value of 'the big idea' in marketing. As evidence, this week the Marketing Society is hosting a debate on the motion 'the big idea is dead'. And Robert Senior, European CEO of the Saatchi & Saatchi Fallon Group, spoke recently at a Marketing Academy lecture about how he presented Bob McDonald, P&G's CEO, with a T-shirt emblazoned with a 'big-eyed deer' to make the point his marketers were looking for the wrong thing.

This debate seems strange. Ideas are the lifeblood of marketing. The big ones clearly have a transformational impact in creating value for both consumers and the business. One only has to look at the contribution of ideas like Compare the Market's meerkat, HSBC's The World's Local Bank, Walkers Do Us a Flavour, Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty....the list goes on.

For me, the discussion should not be about whether big ideas are important, but what we really mean by the term and how you go about developing them.

Different kinds of ideas

How many marketers really understand the difference between a brand positioning idea, a strategic communication idea and a more executional idea? The differences are important, as highlighted in the IPA's publication, 'New Models of Marketing Effectiveness'. This provides some great analysis of over 250 case studies entered in the past seven years for the IPA Effectiveness Awards. They pick up a shift over time from campaigns based on a common creative advertising idea to ones more loosely based on a shared, higher level brand idea. Indeed, the evidence suggests that campaigns orchestrated around higher order ideas of this type have the edge in effectiveness over other campaign approaches.

Developing big ideas

So if powerful strategic ideas can help drive brand performance, how should you go about developing them? And how will you know you've got one with potential during the brand and communication development process (the challenge Robert Senior was alluding to)?

In the words of Helen Lewis, VP for Consumer Insight and Marketing Strategy at Unilever, "No idea is born fully formed, ready to go around the world. Great ideas like Persil's Dirt Is Good emerge in bits, with little nuggets being spotted as communication is developed over time. Very often you get an execution which begins to encapsulate a new spin on the idea which may not be what you were originally looking for."

Creating brilliant ideas is certainly not easy, but let's not make that an excuse for abandoning our search for them. Rather than knocking the concept of big ideas, let's celebrate the art and craft involved in developing them and focus on building the creative skills and mind-sets marketers need to succeed in doing so.


For more information about how Brand Learning can help you lift your organisation’s marketing capabilities, please get in touch or contact me directly @AndyBird_BL. You may also like these films, perspectives and resources on Marketing Capability.

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