When I first joined advertising many years ago, the mere mention of the ‘Big Idea’ had the power to take our collective breaths away and send us into a state of awe.
For every planner and creative, the ‘big idea’ (insert drum roll) was the Holy Grail; that rare opportunity to fulfil our destinies and rise above our lowly ranks and become the ultimate force to be reckoned with. It was incredibly sacred and elusive – the quest being fraught with trial and tribulation that would test the core of our very existence. It was what separated the ordinary from the brilliant.
Fast forward to today and the big idea has become an endangered species, leading us to wonder if it really exists, or is it just a figment of our overwrought imaginations. Strangely enough it has also become one of the most hackneyed terms (after 360!) tossed around in boardrooms with reckless abandon.
In his book ‘Ogilvy on Advertising’, David Ogilvy wrote: “You can do homework from now until doomsday, but you will never win fame and fortune unless you also invent big ideas. It takes a big idea to attract the attention of consumers and get them to buy your product. Unless your advertising contains a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night.”
Ogilvy had five criteria to evaluate a big idea. Did it make me gasp when I first saw it? Do I wish I had thought of it myself? Is it unique? Does it fit the strategy to perfection? Could it be used for 30 years?
Looking at the local advertising scenario it is clear that we have stopped aspiring for big ideas.
Yes, the world has changed since the days of Ogilvy. The consumer was always king, but today he has turned into an attention deficient despot. Brands are facing a slew of pressures. Marketing budgets are being squeezed, leaving no room for the bravery required to do anything different. Tried and tested is the way to go, with an over emphasis on testing, because the option of failure cannot exist. Clients may be risk averse but ad agencies too have become weary. Operating on autopilot, we settle for what will sell rather than producing work we believe in. In the pursuit of compromise, the notion of the big idea lies discarded in some desolate cobwebbed corner.
Looking back at 2014 and reviewing campaigns from a big idea perspective, only a few brands stand out. My four-point selection criteria are less stringent than Mr Ogilvy’s but are definitely inspired by him: It has to have an idea that is not a one campaign wonder; it has to be locally created; it inspires envy; it breaks away from the category norm.
The three brands whose campaigns have the makings of a big idea are:
Kenwood’s Khush Raho
I reviewed this campaign when it first came out in February and I stand by what I previously wrote.
I love the fact that Kenwood has gone beyond the trite to connect with consumers on an emotional level. They do not talk about their products or the technology they use or 20 other attributes I will never remember. Instead they focus on the brand. The idea juxtaposes the perfection of a Kenwood machine with the imperfections of human nature. Kenwood believes that life is about embracing those imperfections and this philosophy is what helps the brand resonate with consumers.
Tiger Biscuits’ Bachpan Mubarak
There have been heated debates about this campaign, but I will not delve into them. What I like about this big idea is the way the brand takes a stance against the ‘your child is not good enough’ mindset that has become a trademark for anything remotely child relevant. Yes, mothers want their kids to be ‘taller’, ‘sharper’, and ‘stronger’ but by playing this up we are perpetuating the problem of ‘trophy children’. Growing up in Pakistan is hard enough for kids without putting further pressure on them in order to palliate our own insecurities. Our kids deserve a happy and healthy childhood and Tiger Biscuits recognising and standing up for this is commendable. What makes the campaign even more admirable is how it is a 180-degree shift from their previous communication, which was more in line with the ‘not good enough’ school of thought. It takes a great brand to recognise that it can play a bigger and more responsible role than just sell more product.
Vital Tea’s Zindagi Jiyo
Another brand that polarised opinions was Vital Tea. The brand created a stir last year during the election campaign and many people alleged that their campaign aimed at encouraging people to go out and vote was inspired by Tata Tea. For me, Vital stands out because it is a true challenger in every sense of the word. The brand is taking on established players by being the ‘conscience of a nation’. They have been leveraging this idea in all their communication (even for their Rs 10 sachet), thereby showing the extent to which it can be leveraged. A true underdog and a courageous one at that, which is winning consumers over by an unapologetic and honest stance.
These three brands prove that all is not lost. There are brands out there that are brave enough to battle the status quo and, in so doing, stand out. There has never been a better time for brands to mirror the turning tide of consumer sentiment and never a better time for all of us in the business to start putting our collective faith in the big idea once again.
Shazia Khan works at Ogilvy & Mather Pakistan. firstname.lastname@example.org