What’s the big idea?

Cadbury%20gorilla%20adDo campaigns still need a big idea that can be applied across all channels, or is it more effective to tailor content to each platform? By Caroline Parry

When the contestants of last year’s reality show The Apprentice were challenged to create an advertising campaign, CHI & Partners founder Johnny Hornby bestowed upon them a piece of received advertising wisdom: “What you need,” he informed the eager competitors, “is a big idea.”

It has long been believed that the very essence of a successful and creative campaign is the “big idea” that can be developed consistently across all relevant channels. Traditionally, this was developed by the above-the-line agency as a glossy television campaign with all other media in a supporting role.

With TV in decline and online in the ascendent, clients are increasingly throwing the “big idea” gauntlet down to all their agencies.

In the early days, display advertising online was limited to banners and skyscrapers, but with nine out of ten households now connected to broadband, there has been a massive increase in the use of rich-media formats, such as animation and video.

Major advertisers have embraced video streaming and interactive campaigns. Indeed, the latest figures from the Internet Advertising Bureau show that internet display advertising (including banners, skyscrapers and richmedia) grew by 33% in the first half of 2007.It is now worth £287m and has a 21.5% shareof the market.

Core values
While the digital agencies – albeit a broad term for a variety of different shops and services – may accept that it was rich media that finally won over traditional clients and ad agencies, they say the big idea has always been at the core of their campaigns, not the novelty value.

James Kirkham, co-founder of digital agency Holler, says: “It will always be the big ideathat generates the most interest and praise. Rarely do true digital experts think much of an exploding, eye-popping homepage, but intelligence or core idea is still a much-sought-after commodity.”

The Cadbury gorilla ad, created by Fallon, and launched as a major TV campaign during the Big Brother final last year – which features a gorilla drumming along to Phil Collins’ In the Air Tonight – topped the viral charts on YouTube with 5 million hits. As one online source says: “It shows how a campaign can break on TV, but gain momentum online.”

However, not everyone agrees that the traditional concept of the “big idea” should necessarily apply to online. Glyn Britton, planning director at digital agency Albion, explains:”We don’t talk about the ‘big idea’, as it relates to traditional advertising and can be very restrictive. We haven’t found the term to describe that in digital.”

He points to Albion’s work with eBay, the £10m integrated account that the agency won last year, which has combined TV ads showing “live auctions”, press ads created by usersblogging about their experiences and a branded Facebook application. Britton adds: “Thecampaign is all based on the same premise,but what has been created is different. Themost appropriate content for the most appropriate channel.”

This increased understanding of how to use and combine new channels with traditional media, and the increased use of rich media formats, is allowing clients to use online advertising as part of brand-building campaigns. Oscar Niebor, marketing director at online betting company Betfair, says: “It has an almost experiential use. It helps to give consumers a deeper experience online, because they use the Web so much more now.”

He adds that creativity online is “flourishing”, but warns that the internet is getting so busy that it is also becoming a much more challenging environment to get a message across.

Long-term appeal
This is particularly true for traditional packaged goods brands, says Vexed Digital business development director Emma Foster. “It is harder for the commodity brands. They are having to think harder about the big idea. They can’t just rely on putting the same old stuff on different channels. It has to be something more engaging, with longevity.”

She is keen to point out, however, that content and engagement do not just have to be practical, and brands should not shy away from offering “fun” applications.

NSPCC digital communications manager Stephanie Hughes says that despite the growing clutter online, brands can still be “opportunistic” on smaller projects. “You have to look at the creative platform as much as the solution to make it work,” she explains.

Advertisers should embrace new channels and the best clients should allow some experimentation with new ways of working, says Britton. He adds: “Traditionally, creativity has related to the craft of advertising and how to make a 30-second TV spot emotional and beautiful. Perhaps a lot of digital agencies haven’t focused on it, but it can be hard to know how to in emerging media. The worst agencies don’t engage in the debate, but the majority are engaged in it every day.” 

Caroline Parry is news editor at Marketing Week

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