“Big Idea” is often a misnomer. Big Ideas can actually be small ideas, and most of the best ones are. They do not necessarily point to unique selling propositions (USPs), but rather single out a small aspect of what a brand does and elevate it. Such an approach works in many categories, from the probably insignificant additives in brand name gasoline to the distinctive but largely unused camera features in cell phones. But when treated with creativity and ingenuity, they can become touchstones for a brand that symbolizes far more. 

One of the best campaigns is All State’s “Mayhem.” In the spots, Mayhem is a middle-aged man who acts out likely causes of chaos. Sometimes he’s a teenager distracting you with social media, other times he’s the latest hashtag campaign or even a dopey, former frat boy who ruins a wedding. Typically, he intervenes in the lives of ordinary people, resulting in crashed cars, smashed windows, and destroyed dreams. At the end of each commercial, he explains that if you have discount insurance rather than All State, you might have to pay for it all yourself.

While the commercials are humorous, the concept is not unique to the company. Protecting against the results of random mayhem is what insurance companies do. All State has merely taken a creative approach to an ordinary function of every company in its category. Of course, this process is much easier said than done.  

Start with (and reject) the first big idea

When you look at a brief, it’s a good idea to take careful note of the first idea that springs to mind. The really obvious one. The amusement park with the happy family. The extreme ski resort with someone doing a backflip off of a jump. The cruise ship with a gorgeous model emerging from a crystal-clear pool. Identify this idea as quickly as possible because it’s exactly what you don’t want to do. 

Take a deep dive into the business

Study the business. Look at every aspect of its product development process and customer experience. At the same time, look for something that symbolizes the whole. This can be an extremely small thing. Yeti famously got a bear-proofing certification for its coolers. This feature is irrelevant to 99% of its customers, but symbolizes a much larger and more important truth – that its products are built for any contingency, no matter how extreme. 

Remember your audience

A lot of teams get caught up in trying to create ideas that appeal to their advertising peers instead of the audience. They want to hang out with a celebrity endorser. They want to show they get the cultural zeitgeist by teaming up with an obscure musician or niche creator. Or they want to go huge with some new technological capability, like holograms or NFTs.

Instead, focus on the customer. That is your audience, and you need to find the simple human ideas that can make a difference to them. Sure, you can go big later with a campaign, but you need to make sure you know how to connect first. 

Distill the idea down to its essence

Drill into the idea, and make sure you can distill it down into a concise, potent message or concept that can be communicated through any channel or medium. The more economical you can make a concept, the more powerful it will be and more able to carry the weight of your brand. If you think of any great slogan, it’s invariably just a few words. Simplicity is not an accident. Simplicity gives an idea the strength and flexibility needed to carry a brand into the future.

Having a framework for thinking about something doesn’t eliminate the need for creativity. But rather than swinging for the fences, it’s a good idea to identify something small and work on that idea until it becomes more powerful. Big ideas don’t have to be big, they just have to be good.

Cover image source: David Gabrić