Is the concept of the Big Idea dead in advertising? How much has the
internet and Web 2.0 specifically altered the fundamentals of the
In his 1983 book, On Advertising, master David Ogilvy held forth on the central tenet to sell products:
“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…Research can’t help you much, because it cannot
predict the cumulative value of an idea, and no idea is big unless it will work for thirty years” (emphasis by the author, page 16).
And yet, almost the very same day as I read this from Ogilvy, I find
myself almost stunned off the treadmill as new master Seth Godin holds
forth on the big idea in the third disk of his audio book, Meatball Sundae:
“There’s a difference between a big idea that comes from
a product or service, and a big idea that comes from the world of
advertising. The secret of big-time advertising during the 60s and 70s
was the big idea…Big ideas in advertising worked great when advertising
was in charge. With a limited amount of spectrum and a lot of hungry
consumers, the stage was set to put on a show. And the better the show,
the bigger the punchline, the more profit could be made. Today, the
advertiser’s big idea doesn’t travel very well. Instead, the idea must
be embedded into the experience of the product, itself. Once again,
what we used to think of as advertising or marketing is pushed deeper
into the organization. Yes, there are big ideas. They’re just not
advertising-based” (disk 3, minute 48).
Of course, we should probably define a “big idea.” As explained, a big idea is an advertising tool
to sell products. It stands the test of time. It originates with the
company and is distributed far and wide. It is inextricably linked to
the product and the experience of the product.
In my mind, big ideas include cut-out coupons. By-mail Sears
catalogs and mail-in rebates. Tony the Tiger and the Trix Rabbit. Toys
in cereal boxes that had kids begging Mom to pick that one! (Why cereal
innovation is on my mind this morning, I have no idea.) Shopping malls.
Radio jingles. Anything that fundamentally affected people’s decision
about whether to buy a certain product or not.
So where do I stand?