Putting the cart before the horse
The death of the big idea in the digital world
panos papadopoulos, november 2011
once upon a time in advertising
Clients and agencies alike racked their brains
searching for the big idea.
the big idea
It had to be original, engaging and BIG enough to
run the 360 ̊marathon. It was the springboard of
every great campaign. The golden fleece of
planning. The mantra of every adman.
once you nailed it, it was smooth sailing
Campaign planning was easy. Creative work would spring out effortlessly. The
process held the dual promise of happy clients and of awards galore.
the buzzwords of the time
Continuity, campaign coherence, consistent cross-media messaging.
Campaigns were judged on flow and logical expression of the message across
coherence was the name of the game
The big idea was the compass. Creative executions at every touchpoint had to
point towards the campaign’s true north.
A world of one-way media. Creative and media planning revolved around a
TVC. And the pinnacle was always the 360˚ campaign.
that was then
this is now
Siphoning budget out of traditional channels and into digital.
Creative use of technology.
Social media is the playground of choice for agencies and marketeers alike.
agencies are jumping on the digital
Mastery of digital makes them look sharp, en vogue.
clients respond enthusiastically to digital
Digital charms clients. It’s media-cheap and looks impressive.
Continuous technological change can coat a brand in coolness and promise –
often falsely- instant success to a marketeer.
this is the “each day, something new” era
Digital mutates communication in speeds that make developments hard to follow.
It’s “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it”. From one week to the next, cutting-edge becomes
antiquated. And the geek-labs produce stuff that would put Pixar to shame.
selling innovation for innovation’s sake
It doesn’t need to follow a brand logic or a campaign strategy. It doesn’t even need to
make much sense.
As long as it scores high in the “WOW” scale, clients are happy.
galloping innovation brushes aside strategy
As a result, there is decreasing demand for Strategic Planners, who are being
replaced by “Creative Technologists” (who are often little more than glorified IT
consequently, coherence is
Brands become increasingly schizophrenic, behaving traditionally in “old-school”
channels and erratically in digital channels.
the big idea is disappearing from view
After all, a big idea used to serve as a frame of reference and compass. In a
dystopia where logic is in low demand, the big idea seems to have no role to play.
so, is the big idea a relic of the past?
(correct answer = no)
Are we past the need for logic and structure in communication?
Not by a long shot.
In this rapidly changing media environment, logic and structure carry even more weight.
Brands that project themselves coherently will always have the advantage.
big idea revisited = connecting idea
The big idea needs to be remodelled, to combine the traditional role of the big idea and at
the same time tick the boxes of the digital era.
So, it needs to communicate in two ways:
1. Connect the touchpoints, holding the communication edifice together.
2. Connect people in the social space by being a sharp, provocative, socially-relevant
putting the horse back where it belongs
The connecting idea can only work if it dominates gratuitous technological
no more Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde
Digital initiatives have to remain loyal and true to the connecting idea. After all,
they should not be fireworks but should instead serve a higher purpose: that of
fuelling dialogue in the social space, while never betraying the brand.
the moral of this fable
No matter what you call it, no matter where you use it, you still need it.
Fragmented communication, digital or not, is never a good thing, is it?
panos is a planner, fringe traveler and wannabe
thanks to kurt beren geiger and to stan gruel, as usual.