This week, Mitch Joel wrote a thought-provoking piece suggesting that it’s time for brands to abandon pursuit of the big idea. As with all good posts, this one inspired lots of comments, many of them advancing the conversation, but most of them predictably agreeable.
From what I can tell, however, none of those comments come from brands or advertisers who might actually know whether big ideas still hold value. Nor did they come from people who’ve actually conceived big ideas themselves. By that I’m referring to things like The Ultimate Driving Machine, Just Do It, Got Milk, or Dove’s campaign for Real Beauty.
My guess is there’s not a brand in the world that wouldn’t die for an idea like that.
So in one way, Mitch is dead wrong. Brands still want a big idea.
But if by big idea he means a Superbowl spot, or the multi-million dollar TV campaign or the single, overly produced flash heavy website, then Mitch is dead right.
A big idea can only succeed if it can be executed in a lot of little ideas. Why? I think you know the answer. Your consumer isn’t sitting around waiting for a message. For starters if she wants to know about you, she’ll either conduct a search of ask someone on Twitter. If she wants to be amused or entertained she’s got an iPhone and YouTube. And let’s face it; if she is watching TV, she probably has a DVR system.
Mitch refers to the days portrayed in MadMen — “wooing the big clients and winning them over with one pitch and one big idea “ — to draw a distinction between a time when a single concept worked and now.
Interestingly, the show MadMen markets itself with lots of little ideas: the poster of Don Draper up to his waist in water; coffee mugs with a dotted line an inch from the rim reminding you that’s how much whiskey to pour; a viral avatar that’s all over Twitter; and a rare willingness to relinquish control of the brand to the evangelists who want a role in promoting it. Each one of these ideas is pretty darn good, definitely effective, and cumulatively better than any single execution could ever be.
Which brings me to the real point. As Mitch suggests, we may need more than a singular big idea, but our little ideas better not be small. Our little ideas have to be Big Little Ideas. Otherwise they’ll never grab attention, be remembered, inspire engagement and drive results.
What do you think? Big ideas? Little ideas? Or Big little ideas?