Friday, April 13, 2012

What's the big idea?

          In advertising and marketing, the idea is what pays the big bucks. A lot of people can write ads and marketing plans, or at least what look like ads and marketing plans. But few can come up with a real idea.

          First, let me tell you what an idea is not. An idea is not word play. It's not a cute, catchy jingle such as "I wish I were an Oscar Mayer Wiener", even though a lot f kids sang that song. It's not an empty slogan that can be used for everything from soup to shampoo, such as "I'm lovin' it." 

          Those aren't ideas, they're advertisingese, like Mr. Whipple chastising people for squeezing toilet paper.

          Product descriptions aren't ideas, either. "Finger-lickin' good" describes KFC chicken, but that's it. Bounty paper towels claim to be the "better picker-upper". Not an idea here, either.

          Big ideas are quite different. They're mind-changers. They make you think of products and companies in ways you never did before.

           McDonald's was introduced on television with the idea that "You deserve a break today". A different way of looking at fast food. As a treat you owe yourself, rather than convenience. An idea that's bigger than the product. Like Apple's "Think different".

           Another example is Nike's "Just do it". Again, bigger than the product and all about determination, competition, and personal accomplishment. If Nike had simply summed up its shoes with a tagline such as "the shoes the pros use" they never would have become such a mythic part of sports culture.

           Big ideas make you dig deeper and think broader. Kraft's heartwarming "Bringing good food and families together" went way beyond cheese. Few advertising ideas are bigger than "When you care enough to send the very best" for Hallmark. Tell the truth --- don't you sometimes flip a greeting card over to check the brand name?

            How do you go about thinking up big ideas? Just refuse to settle for little ones. A little idea would be for JC Penney to introduce a new logo and say "Take a new look at Penney's". A big one is what they did: cut prices 40% and introduce small boutiques in the stores.

            Ready to knock one out of the park? Don't think about products. Think about people. As Leo Burnett, the Chicago ad honcho, used to say, "When you reach for the stars you may not get one, but you won't end up with a handful of dirt, either."


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