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Sunday, February 26, 2012





When we began instructing marketers some 20-years ago regarding how they could make their marketing matter more, one of the participants kept raising the question, “When are we getting to the BIG Idea?” Back then we believed it was a judgment of relative value as in one idea proves to be more fruitful than another. There are ideas, and then there are really big ideas. But we’ve come to learn that’s part of it but there’s more to it, much more. Chances are you are searching for the BIG Idea. Nearly everyone is in search of a BIG Idea these days. Nobody wants little ideas. Even small brands and companies want, and need, BIG ideas.

Why’s It Important?

A BIG Idea can make the difference between success, mediocrity and failure. It’s that important. We live in an “age of sameness.” Our products do the same things in the same way and produce comparable results. Most of us cannot win with more favorable pricing than competition. That’s a downward spiral into oblivion. Nor can we afford to win by out-muscling our competitors (such as putting more feet on the street, or pumping-up our marketing budgets). In fact, it is highly likely that your company has been “streamlining,” cutting people and marketing support funding in order to make its bottom-line of profits. So we need to differentiate our offering from competition. One very important way we do this is with the development of a BIG Idea. Generating and executing a BIG Idea gets us more bang for our marketing support dollars. It is about generating a highly favorable return on investment (ROI). It’s about being able to leap frog the competition. It’s about driving brand preference and winning customers.


So, pursuing a BIG Idea should be a priority. But, generating the proverbial BIG Idea is easier said then done. Why? Because many marketers, and their organizations, don’t know what a BIG Idea is. They haven’t established criteria for it. What’s more, they lack the ability to recognize one, particularly if it comes from someone or someplace else (NIH, “not invented here,” syndrome) and/or it’s so different than anything they, or competitors, have ever done. As such, they are more likely to kill a nascent BIG Idea than embrace it.

What’s A BIG Idea?

So, then, let’s start by defining what’s a BIG Idea. Well the word “BIG” is defined as something of great power; something that is significantly or surprisingly great. That’s BIG! “Idea,” to our way of thinking, could be defined as a realization of a possible way of doing something that successfully solves a problem or exploits an opportunity. Pulling it all together we believe we can define it as follows:


The BIG Idea is a way of doing something that
arrests, engages and compels the behavior of customers, and other constituencies (such as management, the sales force, retailers, etc.),
to enable the achievement of stretch business objectives.


While it may ride on societal trends
it capitalizes on a ”legitimate” and “productive” customer insight.
As such, it fits the brand perfectly, and if any other brand tried to do it
it would be false (or not work as effectively).


It is distinctive, getting customers to see the brand in a new,
 and highly favorable light.


It not only drives brand preference but also may even drive competition to distraction.


It is capable of enduring a long time across many mediums and executions.


It is more, much more than advertising!


Classifying BIG Ideas

There’s too much emphasis on chasing after the BIG “ad” Idea, or a way to take advantage of the so-called new media. These are, at best, tactical. It’s not to say that these aren’t important but, instead, there are more important places to look. We are in the process of classifying BIG Ideas from “Biggest” (most impactful) to least “Big” (but still very impactful nonetheless). While we are still thinking through this classification we believe it offers a thought provoking start. Yes, you may note some overlap from one classification to another. But we believe it’s because BIG Ideas, regardless of the type, spill out and influence other elements. The classification is summarized in the table below and discussed in further detail in the following pages.


BIG Idea Classification

Idea Type

Key Driver

Brand Positioning
iPod; EES Realize Behavior Modification
Marketing “P”; Apple Retail Stores; Gatorade;
Crest ADA Endorsement
MasterCard “Priceless”; Lipitor “Lower Numbers You’re Looking For”
MasterCard “Home Office”
Marketing Activity

AXE Dry “Gamekillers”; Zithromax “Z-Pak”; Prilosec/Nexium “The Purple Pill”

  • Brand Idea – This is the theme for the subsequent development of a “competitive” brand positioning strategy that differentiates it from its competitors in a relevant way for its target-customers. Everything the brand does is consistent with the Brand Idea, including the Advertising/ Communication Campaign Idea (see below), which is the basis for their advertising.

-        The AXE brand is an example of a BIG Brand Idea. You know it: guys can become “chick-magnets” if they use AXE products. Now we don’t believe we’d become chick-magnets (not anymore, that’s for sure!), but adolescent males, their target-customer, think differently. They choose AXE as opposed to competitive products. Why? Is it because AXE has some special formulation that gets them cleaner, or prevents perspiration and odor better? Hardly. AXE, regardless of the product line, has basically the same ingredients as its competition (and works in the same ways, etc.). The answer is the Brand Idea! And, everything, absolutely everything, that the AXE brand does in its marketing (communication campaign, tactics, etc.) is about supporting the Brand Idea that their consumers can become chick-magnets.

  • Product Idea – The Product Idea can be either for a new product, or a product enhancement. It comprises product tangibles and/or intangibles. The key is that it leads to customer preference for the product offering versus competition.

-        Apple Corp’s iPod is an example of a product idea that revolutionized how we purchase and listen to music. It replaced Sony Walkman and retarded the CD market. It led, in turn, to the iMusic store. Technology and design elements helped it leapfrog competitors. Then there’s the iPad …

-        Ethicon Endo Surgery (EES) is an example of adding an intangible service to enhance their product offering. Specifically, EES added a behavior modification program to its bariatric surgery product to assist patients in not just losing weight, but helping them keep it off. It’s an “intangible” that adds-value to the company’s offering, differentiating it from competition to drive preference.

  • Marketing Idea – This is a new way of marketing the brand. Remember the 4-P’s of marketing? That’s right - product; price; promotion; and placement. (There are actually more, and the most important “P” is positioning!) Change any of these and you could be on to a marketing idea. The idea translates into a complete marketing campaign to promote the brand to customers.

- represents a marketing idea – sell books (and now, other stuff) directly to customers versus through bookstores. Apple Retail Stores is another example. Both of these deal with placement (or distribution) that provides distinct advantages to customers versus conventional retail outlets.

-        Apple Retail Stores are all about supporting Apple brands. There’s a dedicated sales team of Apple evangelists, the Genius Bar to assist with problems, and One-To-One specialists to help customers get the most out of their Apple brands.

-        Another example might be Gatorade’s development and use of endorsements from all the major professional athletic associations. It’s been a BIG Marketing “Campaign” Idea that has permeated how it goes to market in everything it does. Is it consistent with its Brand Idea? Sure it reinforces that Gatorade is essential athletic equipment of champions and can make you a winner! It has made Gatorade a winner.

-        Crest Toothpaste securing the endorsement of the ADA (American Dental Association) is a classic example. No brand had ever received the ADA endorsement. Crest proved itself worth with clinical studies that demonstrated it reduced cavities by more than 80%. The endorsement became the focus of the brand’s advertising, it was highlighted on its packaging, it also became the basis for marketing the brand to dental professionals. It served as the impetus for all of the Crest brand’s marketing efforts. It was truly a Marketing “Campaign” Idea.

  • (Advertising/Communication) Campaign Idea – The Campaign Idea dramatizes the Key Thought (that which the customer must realize in order for you to achieve a specific behavior that is favorable to your brand) from the Creative Brief in provocative customer language in the brand’s advertising (or, if you prefer, communications). It consists of the Naked Idea, which is the creative concept that defines each execution regardless of the medium; Key Copy Words, a sort of post it note that links the brand name and benefit; and Core Dramatization to strike a responsive chord. All three work harmoniously to deliver a single-minded message (the Key Thought) in a single-minded way that will connect with customer on a gut level. The Campaign Idea is the center of the plate for advertising or, more broadly stated, marketing communications.

-        The MasterCard “Priceless” campaign is a wonderful example of a BIG Campaign Idea. It was introduced in 1997 (that’s 15-years ago folks) and is still growing strong. The sales results are incredible. The campaign has turned MasterCard from an also ran to a leading competitor. It did it all behind a Campaign Idea, no change to the product, or its distribution system. To-date there has been over 500 television spots and thousands of print ads (including digital!) fueled by the “Priceless” campaign. What is the Campaign Idea for MasterCard? The Naked Idea is the contrast between everything you can buy with MasterCard with that one priceless moment that money cannot buy. The Key Copy Words for the first dozen years were “There are some things money can’t buy, for everything else there’s MasterCard,” which were recently changed to “That’s MasterCard. That’s Priceless.” And the Core Dramatization shows the contrast of a purchase with the priceless moment.

-        Lipitor’s was introduced to consumers via a DTC (Direct-to-Consumer) campaign. The brand, which recently went generic, took the lead from its branded competitors (Pravachol and Zocor) and grew to about $14-billion dollars worldwide. The Naked Idea: Patients share with a loved one that they failed to achieve the doctor’s goal and, as such, have been prescribed Lipitor. The Key Copy Words: “Lipitor. The Lower Numbers You’re Looking For.” And, the Core Dramatization: “Sharing optimism with a loved one.” This campaign achieved its behavior objective of switching. It was followed-up by another campaign (Lipitor. For Less Cholesterol.”), which was designed to grow the market by encouraging patients to seek cholesterol testing and, if they have high cholesterol, to adopt Lipitor. By the way, it did work to grow the market, and Lipitor’s business.

  • Ad(vertising) Idea – This is the idea for a specific execution, regardless of whether it is TV, print or digital. (Perhaps, a better way to classify the various media is video and text - among which we have a plethora of vehicles, or tools, at our disposal.) Each of the TV commercials and print ads has an idea. The Ad Idea has the same components as a Campaign Idea but it is for a specific execution.

-        Let’s go back to the MasterCard example because each of its ads contains an Ad idea, that perfectly executes the Campaign Idea. For example, one television spot, originally produced in Singapore, contrasts all the home office equipment purchase with a MasterCard with that one priceless moment of being able to work from home, and be with family. That’s the Naked Idea for a specific execution within the campaign. What makes the MasterCard campaign priceless is how every one of the ads contains a compelling Ad Idea that stands on its own and yet works to support the campaign to build the business.

-        With regard to the second Lipitor campaign “Lipitor. For Less Cholesterol,” one ad showed a fit and distinguished grey haired gentleman at the community pool being ogled by female sunbathers as he approaches the diving board. The ad boasts of his physical fitness – does 50 pushups, 100 sit-ups, etc. But in the middle of his dive his high cholesterol number appears and he does a belly flop splashing everyone around him, much to the chagrin of his female admirers. That’s a particular Ad Idea to support the Campaign Idea of ‘people with all the right dimensions for weight, fitness, etc., who one would not expect have a cholesterol problem, take a pratfall when their high cholesterol numbers are revealed.”

Many brands don’t do (Advertising) Campaign Ideas. Marketers claim they don’t have the budget to support a campaign, or so they think. They use advertising to support a new product or line extension via which is an individual TV spot, print ad or other messaging. (That’s one approach to marketing, one we believe is suboptimal. Even if you use advertising just in support of new products to the brand line you should pay-off an (Advertising/Communication) Campaign Idea to reinforce the brand positioning and build brand equity.) Regardless, there’s simply no excuse to launch advertising that does not have an idea. To improve ROI all advertising should contain, at minimum, an Ad Idea.

  • Tactic Idea – This is an idea for a marketing element (other than advertising) such as what you will do (as in execution) at medical conventions or PR or your third quarter consumer promotion. The Marketing Tactic Idea should be consistent with the Brand, Marketing and Campaign Idea. It is a sibling to the Ad Idea. It’s an idea for an execution for a specific tactic in one of the other marketing mix elements.

-        Axe Antiperspirant Dry created a 1-hour TV program for MTV, the “Gamekillers,“ to introduce the product line to guys interested in hooking-up with girls. Gamekillers are people whose sole mission in life is to keep a guy from hooking-up with a girl. These are defined as people like the One Upper, the Mother Hen, and the Mess (who is defined as the worst “Wingman” of all time), among other insufferable types. Each Gamekiller, they claim, is based upon archetypes from real life. The show features a real guy going on a date with the “object of his desire” (hey, we didn’t makeup this stuff) only to face Gamekillers who are trying to ruin his game (as perspiration can). Despite the Gamekillers the guy must keep his cool, the messaging for the product benefit, to get the girl and “all the ‘jiggy’ stuff that goes with it” (the consumer benefit). If he doesn’t then he doesn’t get the girl. The program offered tips on beating Gamekillers. It generated a lot of buzz and millions of free impressions that communicated the product and consumer benefit from using AXE Antiperspirant Dry. “Keep Your Cool. Axe Dry.” Note that the Tactic Idea is consistent with the Brand Idea and became the basis of the Advertising Campaign Idea.

-        The Zithromax “Z-Pak” is a packaging idea that we’re all familiar with. It reinforces the brand’s selling proposition “5 And You’re Done.” Patients needing an antibiotic would ask their doctor to prescribe a “Z-Pak.”

-        Prilosec and, in turn, Nexium from AstraZeneca (AZ) colored its pills purple to help differentiate the PPI (Proton Pump Inhibitor) from its competitors for consumers suffering from GERD. Patients know each product as “the Purple Pill.” Perhaps, you might classify this as a Product Idea but to us it is more of a branding element and tactic. Regardless, it worked well for AZ twice – Prilosec and then, when it went generic, Nexium.



1.     Generate Ideas. You’re not likely to employ pricing or muscle to win in the marketplace. So your brand is going to suffer in this age of sameness unless you can differentiate it in a relevant way for your target-customers. That takes ideas! So get working on generating ideas, many ideas.

2.     Get beyond advertising. There are other avenues that have been proven to be productive to the business, which we suggested in our classification. These are worthwhile areas to explore. So don’t fixate merely on advertising.

3.     Dare to be different. What ever you do, don’t do the same thing as your competitors. That’s a waste of money.

4.     It has got to sell! As the legendary Bill Bernbach remarked about advertising, “It’s not creative unless it sells.” The BIG Idea doesn’t have to be creative, as in being artsy. It just has to be appropriate, different and, importantly work! It has to connect with customers at the gut level if it is going to drive preference and sales.


We’d like to hear what you think about the BIG Idea and the classifications of idea types that we’ve shared with you. Please reply directly to this DISPATCHES article by hitting reply and sharing your thoughts.


In Part 2 (which will appear in two weeks) we’ll share some more thoughts about BIG Ideas, and how to assess them.

Richard Czerniawski and Mike Maloney


Richard Czerniawski

430 Abbotsford Road

Kenilworth, Illinois 60043

tel 847.256.8820 fax 847.256.8847

reply to Richard: or



Mike Maloney

1506 West 13th

Austin, Texas 78703

tel 512.236.0971 fax 512.236.0972

reply to Mike: or

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