The big idea isn’t dead; it’s just smashed into millions of itsy bitsy pieces.

By Michael Mark, Creative Director/CEO @ NYCA

The most dramatic change since I started in advertising is the big idea. In the hallways and conference rooms, that’s all you heard: “You got a big idea? Client is demanding a big idea.” We would work nights, weekends, lunches, coming up with the single-minded, iconic, brain-straining idea that would be the center of all the work. Now the big part of the big idea is that it would have to be so insightful, so expressive that it could be long lasting in the marketplace. That’s a lot of pressure on an idea and the people who were charged to come up with it. I must say I learned a great deal and still apply the intense training and scrutiny that went into coming up with those ideas. I wrote the line for the New York Stock Exchange, “The world puts its stock in us.” which was used for more than a decade because trust and fidelity must always be part of any financial institution.

In those days an idea with a lifespan of three to five years was the goal. Those were the ones that would run again and again with just resizing here and there. The longer it could last, the bigger. It was if the product, the competitive situation, the consumer was stationary, frozen, stunned timeless. A target that was a sitting duck. Hard to believe, right?

Take the Marlboro man. He was one such big idea – man, horse, sagebrush, logo. Welcome to Marlboro country. An emotional territory. Ran years and years without a change in TV, print, outdoor, POS, events. Sometimes he would ride the horse, sometimes he’d walk at its side, but that was it.

Today it’s about a lot of little ideas – tons, thousands of them, generating and regenerating connections – all energized with consumer insight and relevance, customized to the media in which it’s delivered, the time delivered, the specific audience delivered to and from again and again. Lots of small ideas, emanating from a bigger idea, packaged to travel anywhere at any time.

A big idea without the tentacles, the ability to scurry to multiple directions to many locations, is too slow, too clumsy, too asthmatic to keep pace with the consumer’s voracious appetite for more: more unique, more personal, more more. Due to the ability to see them all over, ideas can overstay their welcome fast, get outdated, become irrelevant, stale instantly. Bad for the brand.

Small is the new big. Lots and transmutable is the new focused.

Warning: this small is a bigger drain on the talent pool than the old big was. So it’s critical to find big and small thinkers and lots of small doers. And they have to love making the stuff (makes you think of Santa’s workshop with the elves). If they are passionate about connecting with consumers and generating ideas for and together with them, then it’s energizing. Then it’s a high (makes me think of those three-martini lunches of yore).

There’s a big upside for me from the old days of the single big event. Compared to now, they were lonely, self-involved, stagnant times. Just like we imagined our consumer to be. I’m big on small.

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