Is “The Big Idea” dead?
A few days ago, around the water cooler, I got to talking with couple of colleagues about branding, messaging and “The Big Idea.” Think MasterCard’s “Priceless” campaign, “America Runs on Dunkin,” or the Marlboro Man. While my branding colleague claimed that The Big Idea will always have a central role in marketing and advertising, another colleague with an online analytics background claimed that it has reached its final resting place. Instead of balancing your entire business (positioning, branding, and messaging) on one golden concept, he believes that there is no more need for big ideas. Instead, all you need to do is implement lots of small changes and test to success, improving your business performance incrementally using quantitative marketing techniques.
A proponent of this new philosophy, Kevin Roberts, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi says, “The Big Idea is dead. There are no more big ideas. Creative leaders should go for getting lots and lots of small ideas out there. Stop beating yourself up searching for the one big idea. Get lots of ideas out there and then let the people you interact with feed those ideas and they will make it big.”
There certainly seems to be an increase in the implementation of the “Many Small Ideas” philosophy. Take Coca Cola or CVS Caremark, best known for CVS Pharmacy, for example. Rather than one big product idea, both companies use a variety of smaller advertising campaigns, social media initiatives, brand sponsorship programs and online/offline experiences to enhance their brands. Coke invents new flavors, uses celebrity endorsement campaigns, and changes their packaging from holiday cans to old school glass bottles (note: showing polar bears enjoying your product is not a big idea). CVS Pharmacy has an ExtraCare loyalty program, MinuteClinic,self-managed prescriptions online (a very powerful offering), extensive social media engagement and mobile apps. In both situations, all these little ideas combine to form a systemic value that no big idea could come close to matching. The sum of the parts is greater than the whole.
But what caused this shift? In the days when the Big Idea was king, there were fewer types of media outlets. A single campaign worked for both television and print media. Nowadays, a single Big Idea often doesn’t translate to TV, print, internet, and social media. The increase in media outlets, means an increase in competition for attention. In essence, with a big idea comes the potential for a big, high profile and expensive failure.
Lots of small ideas often have a lower risk of failure with just as high of a potential for success. If a little idea launches, is tested and doesn’t work, you can scrap it and move on without changing your entire company’s ethos.
Although this debate is more relevant to larger companies, with large marketing budgets that can support Big Idea spending, whichever path you choose to follow, the traditional fundamentals hold true: Know your customer, develop a strong product for that customer, create powerful messaging, and define your brand that speaks to your customer.
So, is the Big Idea really dead? Probably not, because exceptional creativity in marketing can’t be extinguished, but if you feel the Big Idea is too much of a risk, lots of small ideas can at least substitute if not out-perform it.