What's the Big Idea? It's Your Job to Discover It

Advertising Agencies Are Paid to Deliver More Than Tactics

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Bart Cleveland
Bart Cleveland
With all of the changes going on in our industry, such as the expanding use of digital and social media, there is a temptation to conclude that the "big idea" is no longer needed. Daily news of advertisers taking entire media budgets to fund social media can make one think the sky is falling if we forget what it is we get paid to do.

I can't help but relate this circumstance to the dot-com explosion of the late nineties. Agencies feared for their future and digital companies prophesized the industry's doom because of the Internet "silver bullet." It didn't take long for marketers to discover that it is not the technique by which they communicate their brand, but the communication itself that connects the brand to the psyche of a consumer. As long as there is a need for an idea, there is a demand for what we do. In other words, we will always be in business as long as we create new ways to communicate brand stories.

It is important agencies have tactical capabilities. But if we acquire them at the expense of our idea-generating capability, we are moving away from our true expertise. Let's not run away from what makes us valuable just yet. There are plenty of tactic producers. Few can create the idea of the tactic. That's where we come in.

What I mean by idea isn't just a communication idea, but something that separates a brand from its competitors. Something that puts it on a level of intimacy with the consumer in a conversation. Just because you have a venue for a conversation, such as social media, doesn't mean the consumer will have a conversation. We are the conversation makers. We are the ones that think of what to talk about.

Even a cursory study of what ideas are being offered to brands by our industry underscores that "big ones" are scarce. Perhaps it's because big ideas are so tied to circumstance. Study when most big ideas happen. What was going on when the idea came along? Ideas become big when they are in the right place at the right time. Consider the invention of the airplane. If other factors had not been in place, it would have been seen as good fodder for a cocktail party, as was Leonardo da Vinci's exploration of a manned flying machine in the 1500s. Ideas ahead of their time aren't big. That's another thing we do that's of value to our clients. We put the right idea in the perfect place for big results.

Were famous campaigns such as "got milk?" and "Just do it" supposed to change pop culture? Yes! Every time we create ideas to advertise products we're trying to change culture. That's what makes us valuable. It is easy to believe that big ideas are happy accidents. No one would deny there is a bit of luck in hitting a moving target. But if you're not a crack shot, you'll never be lucky.

The need to have an intimate connection between customer and product will always be paramount to marketers. Those who understand how to create this connection will be in high demand regardless of the technological venue through which it is communicated. Embrace technology, but never mistake its role in marketing as a replacement of your own. That is, if you have been doing the job you were hired to do: creating big ideas.

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