Shrinking of the Big Idea

Advertising agencies have always craved for the precious Big Idea: The point of differentiation which would lead them to award or client winning. The treasure hunt is fierce since creatives never speak about small and negligible ideas. And so the Big Idea is a single-minded message that could run across a handful of media channels – outstanding, disruptive and memorable. If it were big enough, then it would be rather neat and straightforward one-suit-all-channels-strategy.

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Much like Hemingway’s fisherman, who commenced his journey in the sea with the only aim to come back with a really Big Fish, advertisers place the Big Idea on a pedestal and chase it as if it is the Holy Grail. When ultimately, the fisherman caught a truly big marlin, on his way back to shore, sharks ate his catch and he docked his boat with the marlin’s skeleton left only.

When accounts discuss ideas with clients and then creatives fight for the bigness of their ideas with accounts and then competitors get to know about this certain creative twist that could turn the market upside down and eat our Idea like sharks ate The Marlin, are we left only with the Big Advertising idea skeleton during the brainstorming process?

Certainly, at least the skeleton of a big idea is also big.

But big became outdated. Also as an adjective it gives away quite limited information. It tells us nothing about quality or effectiveness or flexibility. Books are not judged upon their thickness. Otherwise, haikus would have been destined to fail.

Eastern philosophy also speaks of thin trees – they withstand the storms because they are able to bend over. Big idea is solid as an oak tree. It looks solemn but it’s not flexible enough. And how could one ignore agility in today’s fast world context?

When powers shifted to consumers through social media empowerment, big lost its greatness.

Attention span is scarce and should be deserved in social media channels. In the era of earned attention, still money can’t buy us customer’s love or long-term attention. Advertisers need another pair of ears – to be able to listen to the customer’s voice and respond with relevant and consistent creative strategy.

Once upon a time, David Ogilvy asked a question to determine how big the idea is:

‘Could it be used for 30 years?’ 

The only problem with this question is that now we need 30 small ideas for different communication channels to be able to keep up with the market not for 30 years but for a single one.

Long-term plans are obsolete, as they can’t survive in an innovative and fluid market.

Smart, relevant and flexible is the new big. 

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Decisive perception

At the beginning of the class we were asked what we expected to learn in those English lessons. We all wrote unnecessary long list of demands just to stand out – ‘grammar’, ‘improve our listening skills’ etc.

Then our teacher read us a story. Two people were going to Athens. On their way they met a man and asked him about his opinion of Athens. He told them it was unpleasant, noisy and rather dirty. Not a very encouraging description, the two people thought. Further down their way, they met another man and asked him the same. He elaborately depicted Athens as the best possible city one could visit – full of history, spirit and beauty. The Athens visitors-to-be were confused by those polarised opinions. Luckily, they encountered a third person on their way to this Athens mystery. The wise man told them: ‘Athens is what you expect it to be.’

Momentarily before my eyes emerges the concept of ‘The dip’ by Seth Goddin: Being in an abyss where there is the strong probability for your things to pan out if you play your cards right. The Dip concerns relationships, jobs and everything worth doing, of course at the expense of a little risk, a lot of patience and a bunch of very well-developed guts – for the sake of the gut feeling. The latter needed for the daily decision-making when you are in the Dip.

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Is the Dip like the Athens moral story – what we expect it to be? Sure, it does depend on outer factors as well but essentially, when we are in a sort of abyss, do our expectations influence the longevity of our Dip residence and its successful exit?

I think yes.

As discussed in the book, corporations aim premature quitting: not at the right time but in the middle of an either seemingly hopeless crisis or at too late a stage. We are encouraged to give in during the process. It is also a human reflex to let go of something/somebody when it hurts.

However, expectations could beat logical arguments and reflexes at their own game. When one expects the abyss is only a step, a cradle to success and an obligatory gap between start and mastery, the whole misery factor collapses. When one accepts reality and starts dealing with it, rather than chaotically fighting it back, depressing or panicking: The Abyss turns into a Dip – and suddenly there is a way out. One relocates their resources from investing them in various cul-de-sacs into the beneficial energy depot. The high water river of misdirected energy gradually becomes a channeled stream.

My insight from contemplating on the Dip, the Athens story and general decision-making is that the perception of right and wrong could sometimes catch us off guard. Exactly what happened with me and one of my English language students the other day.

We were discussing the difference between present simple and present continuous lying mainly in the progressive action, happening at the time of speaking. After a lot of theory and exercises, I gave my student the following sentence for her to determine whether it is right or wrong:

‘Look! This man over there tries to unlock your car.’

My student told me the sentence was wrong. Immense pride suffused me. ‘So I’ve managed to explain well, and she knows it should be ‘is trying’ – present continuous. Alas!’

‘And why do you think so?’ I asked to fully enjoy this moment of glory.

‘Because it’s wrong! Obviously it is wrong somebody else to try to unlock your car. This is a crime!’

The Dip is what you perceive it to be.

Window quest

My Father told me he had to save money for a project of his own. Walking along the street, we spotted a colourful ice-cream van. Bearing in mind what he had just told me before, I tried to suppress my excitement. ‘Shall we have some?’ he asked me. I gave him a perplexed look.

‘No, no… Ice-cream is childhood. And we don’t save from childhood.’

We (1970s-1990s) are the generation of ‘bowed heads’ because of our unconditional love for our mobile phones.

Two-year old kid I know freely browses on YouTube, downloads mobile apps and knows exactly 3 songs by heart. Parents seem proud and content. And they should be – their child is super smart, better educated technologically than they were and cutely running its fingers through iPad with a toothless smile.

It’s sweet and genius isn’t it?

What do you mean by ‘it’s sad’? It’s just the modern substitute for meeting other children at the playground, playing outdoor games, painting, skipping rope and coming home late because of hide-and-seek.

They are just children who enjoy themselves inside. They have a safe, ‘behind-the-door’ childhood. Their friends always like them and parents can keep an eye on them at all times. It’s convenient.

Visiting Cospicua, one of the historic Three Cities in Malta, something long-forgotten crossed my path.

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Five ladies, two dogs and two lady shoulder bags.

It was amusing seeing children on the streets. Obviously, they were oblivious of petfinder.com as a viable option for animal raising.

In fact, all the narrow, full of local charm streets, leading to the dock, were awash with children laughter. Even saw a boy who was fixing his bike chain. Alone!

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I found slightly disturbing he was not using the FAB Bike Doctor app…

Children I met in Cospicua can doubtlessly add a skill to their profile of LinkedIn:

Childhood authenticity management.

Turns out childhood and its genuineness (let me app that word) is a skill.

Of course one has to be granted the opportunity for accessing childhood. But mostly: one has to be able to see this window of opportunity. And you tend to ignore such windows, if you have opened 20 iPad windows.

Walking along the marine, I realised people from Cospicua have the skill to preserve their childhood all the way through to adulthood:

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The wizard of Uz

When Dorothy and the gang of metal, straw and fur reach the great Wizard of Oz – he has the simplest solutions to their problems.

Scarecrow wants a brain – boom, you have it, but here’s a diploma.

Cowardly Lion wishes for courage – boom! Here’s a medal for bravery.

Tinman pleads for a heart – boom! A medallion with a ticking heart.

For every ‘I wish I were’ – expression we just need a tap on the shoulder: ‘You can!’

My grandmother suffered from multicellular sclerosis. One day she stopped spelling rightly. Several months later she couldn’t recognise the letters. There were two choices – to let go or not to let go.

Oblivious of what exactly was going on, what her abilities were at the moment and what the doctors said, I suggested we played games with her. We started with small quizzes, through hangman, to trying to write more complicated words. I didn’t know the limit, so I was dispersing courage generously onto her. It didn’t all turn out brilliantly and it wasn’t a story with a happy ending.

Later, I understood it is not the wizard of Oz – the fellow who would occasionally praise us, encourage us and inject us with inspirational ‘can do’ stories. It is the Wizard of Uz – the starting point.

The inner-dialogue which connects Uz to ourselves. A connection which I believe ‘digital world’ weakens considerably. We are now seemingly connected to all the rest of the world; we have thousands of real friends and always somebody willing to listen, comment, like, share and re-tweet.

In the past months, I’ve been researching whether there is a way to better connect to myself, shout down the unnecessary, intrusive voices and opinions and turn to myself with trust. Getting ready to listen to myself turned out to be really hard, as I have lost my own voice. With my eyes closed, I could only hear expectations and opinions of others. But one of those voices actually managed to be of help and present to my attention the option of non-religious self-discovery practice, called Vipassana.

Due to reasons outside my scope, I wouldn’t be attending Vipassana in 2013. But I successfully provide myself with what I’d like to call ‘A digital Vipassana’. This encompasses the deletion of tools like Whatsapp, Viber and Facebook as primary sources of confusion at this very moment. Conversations about consumers’ overload of choices are endless – have you noticed there’s no such thing as ‘pause’ or ‘offline’ in Whatsapp? How about the heart-breaking goodbye message of Facebook “Leo, Kate and Joseph would miss you”…?

Yes, I should feel very guilty for ‘leaving’ all my friends from The Public Laundry.

Now I am living the old kind of life – sending postcards and letters, talking to people on the bus, actually opening my mouth to ask for directions and sometimes I even find myself playing with the sand or sitting on a bench, doing nothing.

My brave prediction is that 20 years from now (if not less), there’d be workshops for ‘Face-to-face communication’ where you would become certified if you’ve managed to talk to 10 other people for a month. Of course, some would question the face-to-face bit.

“Nah, they probably mean Facebook-to-Facebook here.”

Face-to-face is already starting to become vintage. Let alone you-to-you communication. It’s ominous.

“Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore”…

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Tagged

Hee-haw!

8 September 2013, Questura Trapani, Sicily

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Time has stopped in Trapani. It’s Sunday noon. 30 degrees and not many sunstroke volunteers.

Silence gets broken with a deep-throated scream. A fourth character has arrived to the piazza. He wears no T-shirt; he beats himself with fists in the stomach. Then pitifully cups his face in his hands. He mixes sounds of sheer desperation and revolutionary battle yells.

I don’t know Italian but I understand he suffers.

He stops and shouts his lungs out before the Questura.

He lies down. Then he crawls. Again he lies on his back and starts ‘making an angel’ without snow. Now rolling over and crying.

Time has started again. Tick-tock.

Piazza starts enlivening. Children are curious, parents – worried.

What is bothering this delicate Mediterranean soul?

Why is the pavement his church and the Questura his enemy?

Italian language knowledge – free, I guess:

One of his three twins hasn’t been admitted in a kindergarten. He must now work part-time and babysit.

He blames the Questura for not chasing him often enough to use condoms.

Or

Luigi has kicked him out of his bar at noon and interfered unlawfully with his human right to drink and be understood.

Or

His daughter has left with the neighbour’s son who had once stolen an apple from their apple tree. 20 years ago crime with an irretrievable loss.

Police car arrives. Now there are 7 anxious faces looking at the screaming man. Nobody takes action.

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One policeman says I guess: ‘I arrest you for your feelings’

Or

‘You have made time in Trapani start ticking again. You are arrested.’

Then the policeman offers him a hand to stand up.

Another outburst of fury overflows the piazza and its spectators.

A cigarette is suggested. This works. The stranger takes an orator posture.

He explains himself for 5 minutes. It all sounds like his heart has been broken. But Italian does sound like it all the time.

A policeman, who has stayed in the car, gets out and tells the stranger something with a mild tone of voice, smiled.

Maybe they have found the 20 years old apple so there is no reason to blame the Questura.

An ambulance parks in front the building. Excuse me, the institution.

Is the ambulance the problem solver for this miserable citizen?

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Because of us, the spectators with various motives, maybe, the Stranger is not picked up by force and thrust in the police car.

Italians watching the scene are clicking their tongues but are still present, although disapproving.

It has now been 40 minutes of psychological exercise for everyone.

The Stranger meets the doctors with a story. He starts crying and yelling and rolling again across the piazza.

Suddenly one doctor starts doing the same.

The infected doctor exclaims in a fit of rage. He starts pointing fingers chaotically at the Questura.

After the first infected doctor, the same happens with several policemen to our surprise…

The whole piazza is now full of half-naked, bellowing citizens, posing questions to the Questura.

That would have been a very wonderful ending, right?

The chain reaction of rage, honesty, expressed grief, sharing and maybe even decisions found.

But it ended in the expected way. The stranger was driven away from Questura, Trapani, we all have gotten back home.

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A similar memory was evoked. Pacing through fields at noon.

Time has stopped. A donkey brays from all his donkey heart and soul.

‘Hee-haw!’

And I was 4, I couldn’t figure out what was going on. Now I’m 24 and I still can’t.

Was it hungry?

Was it sad?

Or was it just a donkey thing?

Is it only human to collapse emotionally before the Questura?

Maybe ignorance is bliss.

Hee-haw!

How to successfully pack four and a half years of your life?

I don’t mean the luggage restrictions.

I don’t actually mean anything material.

The truly ‘heaviness’ comes from the emotional luggage. All the ups and downs. All the frowns and smiles. How do I pack that? How do I leave the UK with ease…

First step was working with the negativity I’ve accumulated so far. In order to process the sticky situations, I smiled at them and traced down what they had given me rather than what they had taken away from me.

Coming from the proverb, ‘A sin confessed is half forgiven’, I established: ‘A negative experience laughed at is ¾ positive already.’

Second step was to contemplate and focus on the splendid moments. Thus doubled them.

Third step was to step back from the above exercises and have a thorough look at my UK chapter.

Interestingly, we seem to have had the perfect relationship. (What you see is what you get)

My relations to the UK entirely fit my Life formula: be together until you grow together, if not, just grow apart.

If it wasn’t for the UK, I would have never woken up to spreading my wings. And I would have never appreciated which is the country I love and why I love it that much. Beautiful Bulgaria!

I feel I have so much more to explore than being anchored in the UK. Open to the newness, to the real challenges ahead is what triggers the cosmopolitan in me.

I’ve heard people saying it was ‘unwise’ to pack my bags and leave the UK. The argument: Because I had the best possible options in the UK and because I had graduated there.

 

I refuse to accept life is a routine, a complex of pre-set actions one has to complete. Or have a spine of a jelly bear.

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The flower of life is change. So to water this ‘endangered’ flower, apply to places outside your comfort zone and ‘toss a CV’…

So bye-bye UK! It was a twisted yet appreciated pleasure.

There are people who live by helping others. Not for money, not because of their religious instructions, not for society’s vanity, but for pure self satisfaction.

What does it take?

*Vast goodness capacity/resource

*The inspiring skills

*The mental powers

*The unconventional thinking

So I have been looking for the right term to name this occurrence for quite some time.

And I recalled Amelie who comes across a box of a little boy hidden at her place. Her immediate thought is to take that step and to make the difference. To research, to act, to find this supposedly middle-aged man and give him back his childhood. When she finds him, she rings the phone booth he is next to. He finds the box in the booth and tears up. He: the young, fragile, dreamy boy in a body of a mature man then goes to the nearby bar and tries to reach out to Amelie. She stays shy. She needs nothing but his smile.

We tend to construe goodness as a favour to the world, while the only people it favours is us.

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Ameliesm.

I want to ‘profess’ Ameliesm with both vigour and patience. But then every person has their own Ameliesm to follow. Some would become therapists; others would turn a blind eye to social problems but would be devoted parents…

My Ameliesm bubble is social advertising. Not plaintive advertising. Not drowning in a sea of schmaltz today and tomorrow have obliterated everything from our memory. Memorable campaigns that make us turn the page.

Social advertising to me is not only art, but art that helps. Strategic art. Not making Person A buy product F because they would become more appealing. (Only for 5.99 of course)

What made me tick? Attending Cannes Lions 2012.

I truly enjoyed the virtuosity of the BBH’s Three Pigs advert , the simplicity of Coca Cola’s print advert (Ogilvy, China) and the crafty blast of JWT’s China Maxam ad.

But there was an extra something for the Publicis  Netherlands ALS campaign , the Down’s syndrome advert (S&S Italy) , the Israel/Palestine blood relations (S&S) ….

And that step, that extra something is the dream and the comfort that I eventually found my little Ameliesm spot.

Leaving you with the first social advert I fell in love with.

Death to death penalty

Amelism

Her Highness: the application

Applying for advertising jobs is a truly adventurous experience. The application is the cream of job hunting as you are free to do it in your own time, space, pace and atmosphere. It is a gut feeling process to get the answers of two questions:

  1. Is that agency right for me?
  2. Am I right for that agency?

Ad applications are in stark contrast to just ‘sending a CV out’ policy.

Based on my experience, I have ‘categorised’ the types of applications I have come across so far:

1.The blast: ‘We have invested time and thought in making it engaging to you, so please return the favour.’

Top interesting question:

‘Elvis has been found alive and well and 10 stone lighter in a shack in Hawaii. What advertising campaign would you use him for?’

2.The feeble application: ‘We are a big agency and we would rest on our laurels because we have deserved it. No need to sell our creativity to a bunch of newbies’.

Top uninteresting question:

‘What is your favourite brand and why?’ (Really?!?)

3.The hit-and-miss application: ‘’

Top killer question:

‘Tell us about yourself.’ (Quite nasty…)

The road to an advertising agency is paved with good intentions, isn’t it?

Lastly, I’d like to share a story heard from a drunken (so sincere) creative director at Cannes Lions 2012:

‘My secretary gazed at me with immense surprise when she saw me trashing half of the printed applications she had left on my desk. I explained: ‘We don’t hire people without luck.’’

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Head versus/plus heart appeal

Struggle or symbiosis?

Reading Osho and ‘Courage: The Joy to Live Dangerously’ I came across a life-changing for me quote:

‘When something New knocks on your door, opening it can ruin your current model of life. The mind defines that as ‘crazy’. But the heart welcomes the New and craves to explore. The mind is connected with the past. But the past is a part of the cemetery already.’

According to Osho, heart and mind do not go hand in hand. Choices must be purely emotional as they unveil the real opportunity to live here and now, to burn, to make mistakes, to be courageous (‘cor’ = heart).

Then, turning back to one of my favourite authors, Oscar Wilde, I remembered:

“What of Art?
-It is a malady.
-Love?
-An Illusion.
-Religion?
-The fashionable substitute for Belief.
-You are a sceptic.
-Never! Scepticism is the beginning of Faith.
-What are you?
-To define is to limit.”

The mind defines. The heart does not.

There is only one world that assumes that mind and heart can work together.

BBH introduces two concepts called ‘the heart’ and ‘the head’ appeal that stand for the emotional selling proposition and the rational motive of the buyer. Functional attributes have to combine with the symbolic values, John Bartle (BBH) says.

Only one illusionary world as Adland can do this mélange. For better or for worse.

If you are a good mum, you will use Persil. (= heart, emotion, symbol)

And also, Persil is there for you for the last 100 years. Hence it’s a stable brand. (=logic, mind, past experiences, stability, rational).

“In the factory we sell cosmetics; in the drugstore we sell hope”