Here's the Campaign thing from last week:
I've spent a lot of the last year bouncing between digital agencies, regular agencies and brand-owners, watching how things are working and trying to help. And the first thing you notice is the different kind of ideas different businesses need to do good work. So if you'll forgive some typically plannerly word-flummery, I want to spend some time teasing out the difference between a Big Idea and a Rich Idea.
Big Ideas are what everyone in advertising and marketing seems to want all the time. The bigger the better. No-one ever really defines what this means, it just has to be big, but I always think of it as something like a High Concept Hollywood movie, something you can express in very few words and everyone will immediately 'get' like; "Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito are Twins". Big Ideas are supposed to be instant, loud and obvious once you hear them. And there's nothing inherently wrong with this, except a lot of Big Ideas end up feeling more like the famous Hollywood sign; big, bright and noticeable, but with nothing behind it. They're a bit thin, a bit insubstantial. This was OK when all a Big Idea had to support was three TV scripts and some print and posters, but its flatness really shows when the poor digital agency has to turn it into an extended, immersive, online experience, not just a silly game of whack-a-mole with the brand mascot.
Which is why, although it's just playing with words, I prefer to think about Rich Ideas. Richard Huntington describes this kind of idea as 'generous' meaning it's something that every agency and partner around the brand management table doesn't just 'get', they can immediately think of a dozen great ways to bring it to life in their particular medium. A Rich Idea might have instant appeal but it also has hidden depths, emotional resonance, inherent drama. If a Big Idea is like a high concept movie then a Rich Idea is like the premise for a soap opera or a series. It implies some development, some unfolding over time, some mystery. Those high concept movies didn't spawn a load of interesting sequels because they were so thin, the cinematic equivalents of one-liners, but a simple premise like the one for Buffy The Vampire Slayer - high-school as horror movie - conjours up an entire imaginary universe, one which its fans are still exploring. Give a good digital agency something like that to play with and they'll do something magical, give them the average advertising idea and they'll do a stupid flash game.
And, then, I realised that I missed one out a few weeks ago, and I've not scanned it. So here's the text, it's greenish:
If a group of alien anthropologists arrived from a distant planet and started to study advertising agencies what do you think they'd conclude about our purpose? I suspect they'd conclude that agencies are in the business of putting bits of polyboard in taxis and driving them around town. Or that maybe they exist as places for big, black cars to wait outside, engines idling. Or that they're machines for getting huge wodges of paper, putting very few words on them and binding them together so they can, again, be put in taxis and driven around town. I don't think they'd conclude that communications agencies are at the cutting edge of sustainable practise. And we're not are we? We're happy to do alarmingly dramatic and award-winning ads about green issues and carbon neutrality, we're less inclined to make sure all the computers are switched off in the evening.
And, frankly, all you hard-nosed business types could be forgiven for not caring less about my funny little morality parable if it wasn't for the fact that, just around the corner, your financial existence may depend upon your ability to get things switched off and your understanding of what kind of inks you're using in your Christmas cards. And it's all because of Marks and Spencer.
Their rather splendid Plan A initiative feels like a tipping point for sustainability practice in the UK. The other big retailers are bound to respond in some way. And then everyone else. Sustainable compliance will become a boardroom priority. Voluntary codes will be established and popularised. Government ones will swing in with the force of Health and Safety. And then this influence will swim up and down the supply chain; reaching to factories in China and posh restaurants in Soho. And then you'll really have to worry about it.
Because it's not going to be long for before most pitches will be accompanied by a Sustainability Compliance document and those nice procurement people will be poking around your photocopying room and visiting you at night to see how many lights you've got left on. That's probably the easy stuff to fix but I bet your production people have been trying to talk to you about your printers recently mentioning things like ISO 14001. Have you been listening? You probably should. You should probably do what they say. It might make your new business mailer a little more expensive but it'll keep you from falling off the list for all those big fabulous pitches. (For a quick, readable primer on printing issues you can go here: http://tinyurl.com/2hhc8c).