Sunday, 11 May 2014

The subjectivity of the "Big Idea": The need for agencies to change.


There is no practical means to measure the big idea. It's subjective. Applying a size metric to an abstract concept is a little odd anyway. However, it is accepted parlance within the agency and marketing world, so accepting that the big idea exists, how do we know which ideas are "bigger" and hence deemed better, than others? 

In my humble opinion, we don't, unless we are brave enough to test, fail (but fail fast), learn and re-tune in order to succeed. Many agencies have tried and tested approaches and claim they do know which ideas will succeed, prior to going live. This maybe because of their "track record", their "process", their reputation and maybe even a degree of inflated self belief. However, the game has changed and changed significantly in the last few years; and what may have worked in the past, may not necessarily work today. 

In football (or any sport) a player and team are as good as their last game; systems are changed regularly to adopt to the situation; there is continual agility in order to maximise the chances of success. By contrast, in the agency world reputations and approaches tend to stick around for years, and this in a time where communications technology is constantly advancing, and being rapidly adopted by consumers/people. Unfortunately, this lack of agency evolution and agility, has led to mediocrity, poor results, and because of this new-world uncertainty, has caused businesses to become more risk adverse. That 30 second TVC format can no longer be trusted to be anywhere near as effective as it used to be. Big ideas are now selected by the agency because they think that is what their client will buy, as opposed to proposing the big idea that could actually deliver great results. This is a downward spiral (or helix to be accurate) and sustaining this legacy behaviour will see the agency industry continue its demise. 

The good news is, there are a select few agencies who are adopting new ways, they're prepared to be brave and are keen to attract similar like minded clients who share the same values. A recent
example of this is Wexley School for Girls, who are based in Seattle. They have recently issued a reverse RFI, inviting brands to apply to become their next client. Instead of the usual jumping through hoops approach, and costly pitch process that many businesses will have agencies jump through they have decided enough is enough. They believe in their own expertise and brand, and actually clients should be trying to attract them to help them with their marketing strategy. An admirable approach indeed, and I sincerely hope it works for them.

Similarly, some other agencies are destroying that baton passing briefing process. You know the approach, brief taken from client by suit, given to planner who passes to creative etc. where sometimes people with very little previous exposure to the product or category are asked to come up with the insight and idea (real-life examples I can immediately think of are the launch of a new femcare range and the planner responsible was mid 20's male; or the launch of a new prestige vehicle by a group of people who can't drive...take a look at the Ogilvy quote at the top.) that leads to a diluted and uninformed Chinese whisper interpretation of what the client wants, which may in fact be very different to what they really need....and usually disappoints both client and the agency themselves. Immersive approaches, embracing client and agency personnel working together is the way forward. Different experiences and expertise which can be shared and learned from. Brooklyn based, The Big Spaceship have been doing this for a while now, with great results.

They also believe creativity can come from anyone, and hence have no creative department or anyone with "creative" in their title. This is commendable. By taking this approach it eliminates the ownership, and dare I say "preciousness" of creativity of a specific group of people and in turn, eliminates the absolving of responsibility of those who don't have "creative" in their job title, when ideas don't turn out as everyone would like. Which, also emphasises that call to learn quickly, fail fast and go again....but better!


Of course, there is the need for clients to be willing to adopt this style of approach too; and quite clearly some just aren't quite ready to do so. That's absolutely fine of course, but the challenger brands within their own category, who are prepared to do this now, and find that like-minded agency will reap the benefits. That's why I believe some independent agencies in the UK will become more selective about who they choose to work with.

If there was a simple checklist that could be put together that could help agencies willing to adopt and adapt new ways, it'd probably be something like this:
  • Get the right people together, who are passionate about the topic, who have different experiences and skill sets. This includes client personnel
  • Tap into a crowd-source pool of research on consumer motivation and behaviour; the brand and the category. I'd encourage implicit research and action based data.
  • Allow time to do this properly
  • Match this with intuition; strike a blend between data and gut-feel
  • Stop crushing the ideas of young talent...give them the time and confidence to contribute
  • Be prepared to fail, ensure you fail fast and bake in a test and learn approach with contingencies.

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