Oh, Mary

What’s the Big Idea?

October 29, 2018
Michael Hoffman

We live in a world that’s drowning in information, but starved for knowledge. Throw in an unprecedented level of media fragmentation, data analytics, social opinion, and increasingly, “fake news,” and it’s difficult to know who or what to believe.

So dig deep and generate ideas. Not just clever phrases that live in the moment. But Big Ideas. A Big Idea is timeless. Because it is grounded in a simple human truth. The foundation of every Big Idea is a single core value that doesn’t change over time.

Bill Bernbach set the standards for Big Ideas decades ago. The seminal Volkswagen campaign encouraged people to “Think Small.” It capitalized on the common fears of investing in a car that turned out to be a “Lemon.” In the process, it elevated the category to new heights around simplicity and sensibility.

The modern icon of excellence in Big Ideas is Nike’s “Just Do It,” which recently marked its 30th anniversary. It paved the way for Nike to forge a true lifestyle brand. A brand with broad shoulders that wasn’t defined by merely footwear and apparel, but the soaring human spirit that lives inside of each of us. It’s aspirational, to be sure. But because Nike believes, deep down, that everyone is an athlete, it proved to be a clarion call to get off the couch and define fitness in your own way.

For other savvy brands, Big Ideas are anthemic. Who can forget when Apple burst on the scene with the Orwellian, “1984?” And then followed it up a decade later with “Think Different?” Both served as anthems to a brand that broke the mold of traditional advertising. The simple, singular message: the people who are most likely to change the world are the “crazy one’s” who ignore all the rules and think different.

Now, you might be quick to say that these are advertising ideas. What do they have to do with PR? The answer: everything. In fact, all three campaigns garnered millions of dollars in media coverage and editorial. Each made the evening news, each was celebrated on morning television, in business publications and elite dailies like the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, and generated street talk across the nation.

The bottom line is that Big Ideas know no bounds. They are not the province of any single agency discipline. They are equal parts PR, advertising, design, digital and social. A Big Idea is transcendent. It takes an unexpected leap of imagination to achieve. Which is precisely why they are so few and so very far between.