After months and months of listening to Big Idea bashing and all kinds of attempts to discredit the honorable practice of creating powerful overarching ideas...
...I decided to shed some more light on this beloved art...
...since I know that there are thousands of people out there who have to come up with some ideas.
When I started working as a planner, this was actually my main question: "Idea? What is it?"
Everyone was talking about "the power of ideas" back in those days. Well, nobody could answer or say anything helpful. In that respect it is difficult with any of the advertising key terms but this one simply seemed impossible to be talked about - at all!
To make a short story short, here's a simple way to at least get at a sense of how a fertile idea feels like.
For this purpose I suggest to think of ideas as words grouped together to create a "line" or sentence. Yes, forget about insights, relevance, differentiation, all of that. In the end, it's a group of 1-5 words.
A sentence used as a briefing... as something to work with.
So what I am suggesting here is a distinction between two types of sentences:
THE "FINISH-TYPE-OF-LINE" vs. THE "BEGINNING-TYPE-OF-LINE"
The "FINISH Type of Line" sounds like most of the last sentences you would hear in a TV commercial. Yes, that is what we normally call a claim or slogan - the latter being a less misleading and more honest term from the old days. here are some examples of such a sentence:
Nike. Just do it.
Ford. Feel the Difference.
L'Oreal. Because I'm worth it.
Such sentences make sense when you've seen what happened in this piece of film - they make much less sense when they come by their own and are not explained by a piece of advertising or manifesto or whatever. This is why I suggest to call them The "Finish Type of Line". They finish-off and summarize what you have explained before - in a memorable and striking manner. These sentences are not very good to express an idea. Mainly because the idea precedes the work. And this brings us to the "Beginning Type of Line". The kind of sentence that precedes and predicts the work that is yet to be done. An i don't mean something like "once upon a time...", but rather something like a title of a text.
That is the reason why "Just do it" is not an idea. If you wouldn't know how Nike looks and talks you would not know what "Just do it" could mean. For instance you would have difficulties writing an alternative claim to "Just do it" if this was the only thing you knew.
This distinction seems obvious and banal. But in everyday work it gets forgotten all the time because we are so used to hearing and saying slogans - and very often don't know how the original idea expression might have sounded like.
So let me try to come up with some possible freestyle "Beginning Type of Lines" for the 3 brands above to make the distinction even clearer. Please excuse me if these don't match with the notions the teams working for those brands actually came up with. I just really don't know for sure what their idea sentences are or were. It doesn't matter actually, since I rather want to make clear the difference between the two types of sentences. Here we go:
Nike: The Will to Win.
Ford: User-oriented innovations that matter.
L'Oreal: Ego Cosmetics.
I really do hope this text was not too common sense and doesn't sound somehow patronizing. I really believe that our minds often get lost in slogans - even if we know that they aren't ideas. The distinction above might be helpful to catch the right kind of words.