Making a big idea big takes more than getting a celebrity to sing.
1) A big idea talks in a completely new way
‘Got milk?’ for the California Milk Processing Board
For ages, people had sold milk the only way they thought it would work: it makes you stronger and healthier and your bones thicker yadda yadda yadda. I know this is why my parents bought milk for me. There is nothing wrong in that message, except that people had been hearing the same thing for centuries. It had become boring. So the folks at Goodby Silverstein & Partners decided to talk about milk in a different way. In a big way. Nobody had ever mentioned how much we took milk for granted. And GSP said exactly that: they reminded people that there was food that you could never have without milk (try having corn flakes with soda). Starting from the legendary planning sessions in which focus groups were asked to live without milk for two weeks and report back, all the way to the tagline which was grammatically incorrect but sublime in its simplicity of two words – the ‘Got milk?’ campaign is now in the hall of fame of advertising.
2) A big idea is bigger than a planet
‘Stratos’ for Red Bull
I would have loved to be in the meeting when this stunt was discussed. “So how about we have somebody free fall 128,000 feet from the stratosphere with our logo on his suit?” In what became one of the biggest outdoor stunts ever, Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner worked with Red Bull and a team of scientists for two and a half years to fulfil his dream of skydiving from space. As a brand, nothing fit as well as Red Bull. In fact, it fit so well that nobody even minded the logo. This was not just talk; it was a brand walking the talk. Did its bigness help? The stunt was broadcast in over 80 news channels in 50 countries, and racked up 52 million live views online. And it was loud. It was so loud that Baumgartner became the first human to break the sound barrier without engine power. He descended to Earth at a mind-boggling 843 mph, which is close to the speed with which most clients would have run out of the meeting room and opted to do a jingle instead. Red Bull clearly is not most clients. Red Bull believes in big ideas.
3) A big idea has a genuine insight that can be explained in one sentence
‘You’re not you when you’re hungry’ for Snickers
If there is one truth in advertising, it’s that everybody knows us advertisers mostly lie. So how refreshing is a campaign that comes along and sells us a simple basic truth that we just cannot argue? One that is true anywhere in the world, rich or poor, male or female, young or old. A genuine insight is a powerful thing, especially one that has not been really advertised before. But what is even more powerful is if you take that insight and craft it into an idea that can be described in one sentence. ‘You’re not you when you’re hungry.’ You read that and you can write about 15 commercials in your head with just that one line in 10 minutes. It’s an entire campaign idea defined so clearly, all the way down to its execution. There’s Joe Pesci in a commercial being the usual aggressive Joe Pesci. Only we come to find out it’s not Joe, but a normal dude who was hungry, and therefore turned into Joe Pesci. We have all been here. It’s immediately relevant, and strikingly memorable. Now, every time I’m hungry and find myself turning into another person, this is the campaign that comes to mind.
4) A big idea becomes part of culture
‘Whassup’ for Budweiser
You know you have done something big when it becomes part of everyday speak. Taken from a short film called True and converted into a TV commercial, the Budweiser ‘Whassup’ campaign was a mega hit among, well, pretty much everybody. What makes it work? For starters, it is huge in silliness. Here is a brand that refuses to take itself seriously and wants its advertising to engage with viewers in a funny and fresh manner which is almost nonsensical. Even online this campaign kept up its humour: you could log on and learn how to say ‘Whassup’ in 30 different languages. A big campaign? True.
5) A big idea can have limitless executions
‘Think different’ for Apple
Apple makes beautiful machines which change people’s lives and the world they live in. In keeping with the company’s philosophy, its advertising just had to be big. But not just big in inspiration and thought; big in execution and reach as well. The beautifully simple ‘Think different’ campaign featuring black and white portraits of great thinkers and doers who thought differently, was stunning in the way it stood out: no other computer company dared to talk this big. And Apple was keeping its tradition of big ads alive: after all, these were the people that did ‘1984’. And there were plenty of people to feature in the ‘Think different’ campaign: from Mohammed Ali to Gandhi to Einstein to Amelia Earhart, this series went on. And could have gone on much longer in any medium. It’s one of my favourite campaigns ever, regardless of the fact that Apple has now become the most valuable company in the world. You can be in any industry or any field, but most of all if you are in advertising, this is the sort of stuff that makes you realise that to succeed, you need to think differently. You need to think big.
Ali Rez is a Creative Director who consults between South Asia and the Middle East. He has won at Cannes, Clios, One Show, the New York Festivals, the London International Awards, the San Francisco Show, Communication Arts, and Spikes.