Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Mar-Apr 2015

The bigger idea

To be effective, big ideas have to be rooted within the brand’s values.

Surf Excel has established itself through a focused approach using a global high value idea.
Surf Excel has established itself through a focused approach using a global high value idea.

Many years ago, I was literally blown away by a witty print advertisement. The ad was for a car brand and the copy was amazingly simple. Above the image of the car, was this epic line: “The surgeon general never said anything about smoking the competition.”

Wow, I was really impressed by this ad and would often tell my friends about it. However, after a few years, something strange happened. I can remember the ad and the line but for the life of me, I cannot remember the brand. Was it a Toyota Supra, a Mazda RX-7? Nope, jog my memory as much as I want to, I can’t remember.

There is an interesting process at work here, which has to do with our brain. The human brain works in a certain way and knowing how it works is important not only to scientists but also to marketers. Ries and Trout challenged the way marketing was done by stating that positioning does not occur in the marketplace but in the customer’s brain. Today, we are well aware (or we should be) that all marketing occurs in the brain.

In the advertising paradigm we exist in, the key to a successful campaign is often considered to be the big idea or the high value idea. However, as research has shown, breaking the clutter and building associations will fail if the brand team focuses only on a big idea. Rather, they need to focus on a branded big idea.

Like the classic fast food ad with the elderly woman asking: “Where’s the beef?” the marketing we are exposed to (in Pakistan as well as globally) often leaves us wondering where the brand is? In order for a brand to succeed, it needs to not only outshine the competition, it also has to avoid being confused with another brand that is not a direct competitor but may still potentially erode the brand value.

An example of a confused brand is the new TCS campaign which has opted to focus on red. Yes, red is their identity, but when you talk about laal rang (red) in Pakistan, 90% of the people think of only one brand, and that brand is not TCS or Olper’s but Tapal. As a result TCS will, in all probability, underachieve in terms of campaign objectives as well as confuse their target audience in the process. TCS’s idea of showing how the brand has become a symbol of trust and dependability is a strong one, yet had they adopted a better execution, this big idea would have won through.

TCS’ new idea is a strong one but needed better execution.
TCS’ new idea is a strong one but needed better execution.

Far from these thoughts being a personal theory, the value of making the brand central to the big idea is expressed by John Hallward, who has worked at both P&G and Johnson & Johnson and is now a director at Ipsos. He outlines the process of self analysis that is required when a brand is trying to hit on a new big idea. According to him, the big idea should be a two sentence description that could be given to a stranger. Here is his checklist of questions: Is the idea simple and unified? Does it build emotional associations? Does it undeniably involve the brand, with strong brand integration for brand link? Is it original, different or novel enough to be irregular? Can it be used for future advertising?

The first two questions seem to be the easiest to answer. All agencies worth their salt have competent strategists able to make sure the big idea is simple, unified and builds associations. In my view, questions three to five are the tricky ones. Is the brand the star? Is the idea original and irregular? The idea needs to be irregular, because our lazy brains (as Hallward describes them), tend to work on mental units and clump similar messages together. Lastly, and in my view the most ignored question in our flash in the pan market, is can the brand use the big idea in the long run to build equity?

Apart from using the big idea in the long run, brands need to be able to translate their values and experiences across other countries and cultures.

I remember when Virgin Mobile launched in India. I saw and can still recall one of their launch commercials. A young man is pulled over by a traffic cop who asks to speak to his father. When the cop calls the father he is surprised to find him furious and urges him to severely punish his son. The cop defends the young man and lets him off with a warning. Later we see the young man walk up to his friend. Both are smiling and the young man says to his friend “Hello pappa.” At the end you see the Virgin tagline Think hatke.

This campaign ran in 2008, yet I remember it. Why? Because the communication bears the signature feature that distinguishes Virgin – irreverence. Yet the irreverence was done the Indian way and so resonated with the target audience (young people) and made an impression on me as well. The Virgin launch campaign addressed Hallward’s fourth question – using an idea that was distinct and different enough to stand out from the competition.

Let’s look at Surf Excel, a local brand that has established itself through a focused approach using a global high value idea. Eschewing celebrities, the brand has stuck to the high value idea that dirt is good. To be sure, over the years, the way the brand has communicated this idea has changed – whether using Omar and his daadi or showing kids helping other kids out of trouble or even having fun, no one is ever confused about the brand’s message – let kids get dirty, why worry when you have Surf Excel.

Hallward says that brand logos, colours and icons are aids to help the brand. These aids are needed because: “In our Ipsos ASI databases, overall about half of consumers who can recall a TV ad when described to them (without using the brand name) cannot correctly attribute the advertising to the advertiser.”

Hallward adds: “Campaigns that directly leverage unique aspects of the brand name, the package, logo or product, tend to perform better for brand linkage.” Example, Absolut leverage the unique shape of their bottle in their advertising.

In our market, it is quite easy to tell when a new brand manager or a new agency is hired. The next campaign they produce will inevitably discard all previous campaigns. This is dangerous; in their desire to prove their worth, they are hurting the brand. Consumers are not computers, you cannot erase their memories. Residual ad value needs to be built on, unless it was completely wrong for the brand.

Brands in Pakistan looking for ways to stand out mistakenly believe that expensive media budgets, celebrity endorsements and catchy jingles are the key. They are wrong; only by embracing branded big ideas can Pakistani brands hope to smoke the global competition.

Tyrone Tellis is a marketing professional working in Pakistan.