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My speciality is, in essence, looking for what makes a brand human (emotional connection) and building that into something that makes profit (rational being).
A globally experienced strategist experience working with household and niche brands across the UK, Europe, Asia and the US. My focus is on consumer understanding, experience and engagement on and offline within the consumer packaged goods, finance, retail and leisure sectors with clients including Arsenal Football Club, Ann Summers, Bacardi, Beam, Grant’s Blended Scotch Whisky, Grey Goose, Harry Ramsden’s, Honeywell, Kininvie Whisky,Nokia, Nordea, Teacher’s Whisky and The Rank Group (see the GD | Inspired section for a few more).
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With a strong conceptual ability combined with the skill to take great ideas and make them work in reality without without losing relevance or impact, I believe that great design should be contemporary yet timeless, beautiful yet functional and attention grabbing but never out of place, but above everything be original and inspirational.
I am commercially focused with strategic marketing experience of both client and agency side across the UK and Australia, I am an analyst at heart, drawing on a wealth of experience to ensure I look after our clients’ every need. The future of branding to me means having access to the brands I love and being able to interact on a personal level to those otherwise out of reach.
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Our final stage in the process is To Realise. where we take the great strategic and design work we have built and activate it internally and externally through…
Here at GD | Inspires - we take the time to understand you, to understand those around you & to understand your customers’ inner thought process to build interesting and commercially viable brand strategies for you, then work with you to implement any changes through design, training and stakeholder engagement.
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The Big Idea is very nearly extinct. And almost impossible to see in the wild today, when Image – in our image obsessed society – is the new king. If anyone talks about having an idea nowadays, the idea is the execution (the idea is “fun”) or “I have got a really big idea for this, let’s get Ridley Scott to film it”.
While this blog chiefly laments the death of the Big Idea in advertising, it has also disappeared from most areas. What was the last big idea in politics? Yes, David Cameron’s “Big Society” – but actually not a very big idea at all, as it fails the Big Idea test.
A truly Big Idea is relevant, surprising, and persuasive. It is relevant, that is it resonates with its audience (“I like the sound of that”), it is surprising, so it captures their attention and gets remembered, and it is persuasive, in other words it gets them to do something about it. Well, Big Society fails on most of these, starting with the fact that most people, including Conservative canvassers on the door step, couldn’t understand it, couldn’t explain it, and nobody much cared about it, let alone knew what they were meant to do about it.
The Big Idea here was, “If you vote Labour, you will pay much, much more in tax”. It was based on costing out the promises made by Labour, and translating them into an average tax increase of £1,250 a year, which you could pay by forgoing a great holiday, not trading up your car, or knocking £20 a week off your grocery spending. It was relevant, surprising, and most important of all, persuasive. Even people who weren’t in favour of a Conservative government (and told the pollsters this) preferred on voting day to keep their taxes down rather than vote Labour.
Sadly, there was no big idea for the next election and the Conservatives lost badly. Or, if you believe Jeremy Sinclair in a speech he made to the IPA, there was a Big Idea. The Conservative Cabinet met before the election, and decided to lose the election by the largest possible number of votes. And when you know this, Jeremy explained, you can understand everything they did subsequently.
Coming back to advertising examples, the Big Idea (or Unique Selling Proposition, or a host of other trademarked terms used by different agencies) was what everybody wanted for their campaigns right through the glory days of advertising. Few of course succeeded – the Holy Grail is an elusive target. But one of the most famous campaigns demonstrating that the Holy Grail can be found was Doyle Dane Bernbach’s for Volkswagen in the States. People will usually quote the “Think Small” ad here – but the Big Idea wasn’t “think small”, the Big Idea that Helmut Krone’s team had here was to take American automobile advertising, and turn it on its head. So when they were advertising cars that were even longer, wider, with even larger grilles and fins, DDB invited people to ‘think small’. And continued their assault on preposterous US style cars with ads that did everything differently. Setting the VW Beetle up as a car for people who were prepared to buy something beautifully made, ultra reliable (“Have you ever wondered how the man who drives the snow plough, gets to the snow plough?”), and different enough to set you apart.
You could argue, and rightly so, that these ads were image ads – creating a legendary image for Volkswagens in which the legend lived on long past the facts (for years, VWs were regarded as much more reliable than other cars even when their reliability became average). OK, it’s true that DDB’s VW advertising was a brilliant image campaign – but it used a different Big Idea in every ad.
Did it get people to believe that Heineken was a more refreshing beer? Not at all. The fact that a policeman’s toes rejoice after a Heineken has nothing much to do with images of a cold beer with drops of frost on the side of the glass. What is was about was capturing attention, being memorable, creating an image for the beer as being much more interesting than other lagers. This didn’t necessarily translate into the sales that the brand hoped for, as you can take the consumer to a counter, but you can’t always make them drink. But it did put Heineken on the map.
Or to take another famous CDP campaign, “Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet.” “Happiness” is like “Fun” as a brand idea – but like VW, the Hamlet campaign was built upon a series of brilliant ideas to execute the thought. In each of which, with a puff of smoke disasters were turned into happiness.
While on beer, what a Big Idea to make Stella Artois “reassuringly expensive” here – when, as very few people realise, it is the same price as other beers in its home country
I suggest two reasons. The first is that classical advertising no longer has the geniuses that led it in the last century. And one reason for that is that advertising can no longer attract or pay this kind of talent. The other reason is where we started. Big Ideas are very, very hard to arrive at. Much easier is to describe the image you want for your brand. “Fun”, and you do something fun. Or “Contemporary” and you do something modern.
The execution may be (and often is) excellent. But next time you are looking at ads, ask what the idea is. You might be able to find it, but I am usually mystified.
A colleague of mine at Saatchi, Malcolm Taylor, who amassed a cupboardful of awards, feels that “Most advertising today seems to rely on piggybacking other people’s originality – buy a popular song, nick a trope from a big box office movie, recycle someone else’s success in another field, then sign it off with your name – wit and style in execution nowadays seems to me to be an ingredient sorely lacking, like bread baked without yeast. But then I guess parasitic creativity has always been big amongst creatives – I remember a heated argument in the Carpenter’s Arms about who’d been first to annex a Woody Allen idea as the basis for a TV campaign (“I pinched that before you so I’m more creative than you”) – but at least all the contributors knew what a Big Idea was.
Maybe my son was right, and we have used up all the best ideas. Like Paul Arden’s separating Silk Cut into Silk and Cut. Jeremy Sinclair’s ‘The Pregnant Man’ poster (“Would you be more careful if it was you who got pregnant?”) Andrew Rutherford’s long, long benefits queue “Labour isn’t working”. Jeff Stark’s “Do you love anyone enough to give them your last Rolo?” Or “Manhattan Landing” which showed Manhattan, instead of a plane, travelling though the sky to demonstrate how many people BA, as the world’s favourite airline, flew across the Atlantic every year.
Brian Harrod, the creative guru of Canadian advertising and inventor of the great and enduring line for Christie cookies “Mr Christie, you make good cookies”, believes the only way to build a great brand is with a consistent, powerful, single minded idea, citing examples from North America. The Energiser Bunny that keeps going. Avis’s great “We’re No 2, so we try harder”. Del Monte’s “We have Mother Nature on our side” that has run and run and run. “Every single time we came up with an idea that resonated with consumers and we could persuade the client to stay with it, we just refreshed the idea every four or five years without changing it, and saw the Brand grow.” Which is why he praises Maxwell House for bringing back their “Good to the last drop” idea and refreshing it by saying “make every day good to the last drop”. And you can understand why he feels that Apple should have stayed with their great line, “Think Different”. And that Coca Cola should stay with The Real Thing instead of leaving it, then coming back, then leaving again…
However, if we move out of the forlorn world of traditional advertising into the hot new areas of the persuasion industry where the real talent now is, they are having the excitement that old-timers like me had in the 60s, 70s and 80s, and are being rewarded accordingly.
However, as Russell Davies arugued in an article in Campaign in 2007, the Big Idea is too limited to serve here – great as it may have been for commercials, posters and ads. What is needed here is not Big Ideas in their simple one dimension, but Rich Ideas – ones that can be developed across a variety of very different media.
“Solutions for a Smarter Planet” did this for IBM. Think also of P&G’s sponsorship of Mums for all their hard and underappreciated work. Dove’s ” Real Beauty” campaign. And the wildly successful Old Spice campaign that totally revitalised an ageing brand. What the Rich Idea does, in Russell’s words, is to substitute continuous engagement for the quick hit of Big Idea. He argues that it requires unfolding over time to create the extended, immersive experience required in today’s online world.
My daughter Beth, who is a Digital Marketing expert at Leo Burnet in Sydney, believes that the Big Idea and the Rich Idea share the same ingredients, but are executed differently. She says, “Now that ideas require interaction with the audience, it’s more important than ever that they’re relevant (as in this hyper targeted world they’ll never reach your audience otherwise), surprising (as there is so much noise out there they stand very little chance of being remembered) and persuasive (although the call to action is less about responding to a singular message, and more about getting involved in the conversation)”.
The examples she gives includes Red Bull’s absolutely mind-blowing “Stratos”. What could be a more powerful expression of the brand message “Red Bull Gives You Wings”” she asks, than launching a man from space while millions watch in awe over a live stream?
Beth’s second example is “Batkid” for the Make a Wish Foundation, which turned San Francisco into Gotham City to make a five year old boy’s wish come true. This, she argues is something anyone can relate to, is certainly novel and its emotive power not only led to 20,000 people turning up to cheer him on, but millions to talk about and share the story worldwide.
So the Big Idea isn’t dead after all. More than ever in today’s fragmented and hyper-busy media environment, you need an idea that’s powerful enough to cut through the clutter, relevant enough to engage its audience, and motivating enough for them to get involved. In other words, we need a Big Idea that’s Rich enough to multi-dimensionalise.
Which means the Holy Grail is now even more difficult to attain. So how do you do it?
The first is to hire very good strategists, and really expensive creatives. That’s not a guarantee, but it does increase your chances. And the second is to do really expensive research. Not ordinary research which generally just gives a tiny tweak to what you already know, so isn’t going to take you anywhere new. But innovative, brilliant research which takes you into the realm of breakthrough ideas.
Sense Worldwide do this, by doing groups involving clients’ product people, their brand fanatics, and people who hate the brand. These are groups in which not only ideas fly around the room, but often the fur flies too. They do this mainly for product innovation, where the client is looking for market disruption, rather than trying to find out whether people would like an apricot version of the product. But, hey, why not do something like this to get a breakthrough Rich and Big .