Big Ideas

Every month, we get all our account people together for Wunderkind University, a monthly in-house seminar where I torture them by having them write and present creative briefs for imaginary campaigns. We also bring in guest speakers. Recently, our guest speaker and guest “judge” for evaluating briefs was Mary Koven, ex-President of multiple ad agencies and a true Madwoman. She talked about the notion of a Big Idea, something that’s beginning to get lost in this age of technology and tactics we seem to be living in. Worth sharing.

A Big Idea, according to Mary, is one that stands the test of time. A big, overarching, inspiring concept or platform that seems to transcend segments, demographics, trends, etc. A big idea is a strategy expressed creatively. Case in point:  Rosie the Riveter. She was a symbol for women in the 1940s, when millions of women had to leave their housewife duties for the first time and staff the factories and office positions that had been vacated by the men who were sent to the European and Pacific theatres to fight the enemy. The folks at J. Walter Thompson (my former employer) developed this concept and image, and gave her a name, to symbolize the moxy, the patriotism, and the “get it done” spirit of strong American women. Rosie the Riveter, with that wonderful alliteration and the bandanna on her head, riveted an entire generation. And the symbol is still talked about today.

Another case in point, this one an urban myth:  Santa Claus. Many believe that Santa Claus was invented by Coca Cola, to personify the red and white can/bottle/label and get more people to buy Coke. Not actually true, though Coke would enjoy taking the credit. Santa Claus was a Christian saint figure for centuries prior to the 20th century. But yes, Coca Cola certainly commandeered him and gave him a nice makeover. The plump, well-dressed figure we see today was very influenced by Coke. And Coke still deliberately fuses the emotions around Christmas (joy, surprise and delight, familiarity and sense of belonging) with that of Coke. What’s their latest tagline:  “Open Happiness”. Sounds pretty Kris Kringle to me.

And perhaps one of the best, and most surprising examples to many people: the diamond engagement ring. Once again invented by a madman. The client was De Beers. A young copywriter named Frances Gerety realized that women were starting to wear diamond rings as a symbol of their engagement to marry a man. He saw the connection between the functional quality of diamonds and the desire for eternal. He capitalized on this and wrote the line: “Diamonds are forever.” One of the best lines, and the most successful campaigns, in the history of marketing. Now that is a Big Idea.