Cool post. What strikes me about all of these ideas is that they stem from a product truth, the good ol' USP, except MasterCard. In other words, the idea was already there, all the ad team had to do was spot it and express it well, a la McCann's Truth Well Told. But MasterCard, wow, that's truly something. I mean, out of thin air the team at McCann figured out a way to hook people. VISA could have said it, AMEX, but they didn't, they had attributes that were stronger. Another GREAT idea like this, one totally fabricated (even Marlboro stemmed from a product attribute, strong) was ShitiBank's LIve Richly.
But, to the real point, do Big Ideas like all of these still matter? Of course they do. In fact, as media fragments, they become the only rudder you've got. At their very best, they reinforce certain behaviors within a business that reinforce the brand in the audience's head (the only place a brand lives, no company owns its brand, its customers do, forget that and you're doomed). My two cents!
@JeffShattuck Jeff, Thanks and great comment. One of the points I want to develop is that there are multiple kinds of Big Ideas. The old version -- tagline that defines brand and lives everywhere, i.e. Ultimate Driving Machine. Newer versions that extend across interactions but in non-replicable ways, i.e. Coke and it's linked and liquid approach to content that all reflects a Happiness Position, But then Big "small" Ideas, say in the case of Burberry (streaming live from Fashion Week to iPad users) or Uniqlo (inviting people to digitally crowdsource grand opening content). When they are done for the first time, breaking new ground (Chalkbot, Art of Trench, Ford Fiesta) they may not be as a big as a Priceless, but they have what George Lois would have considered big, just in a new way. Then there are the platforms: Garmin Connect, Nike Plus, Kickstarter, Instagram. Certainly they count. In some cases, yes, they are simply releasing/revealing a truth about a product. In other cases they are totally contrived (Marlboro) or the big idea is less in the truth but in the execution (E-Trade Baby, which, frankly, only became big after it endured.) The latter leads to another really important point today. We, agencies, brands, etc. can create ideas, but more than ever, since we can't buy attention, the marketplace and consumers, via links, shares, likes and views ends up deciding if it was Big or not.
@edwardboches @JeffShattuck I agree, a tagline is most certainly not the only big idea anymore. To me, I think the biggest change in marketing is that branding by behavior is the most important idea of all. As you say, you can't buy much of anything these days regarding brand preference, but you can certainly earn it. Sadly, many businesses still believe they can force perception and, to that, all I can say is good luck. You've got to walk the talk, heck, you don't even need to talk! Perhaps the greatest example of all of an agency helping a company do this was Riney for Saturn. But then GM is GM and thought it had a better idea: rip people off. The rest is not even history, just a footnote.