Think Bigger

‘Tis the season for New Year’s resolutions and forecasts. I’m not sure of their value, but I am sure they’re practically unavoidable on the blahgs I read.
Even Vinny Warren of The Escape Pod has one for us to consider.

2009 will mark a return to the basics of advertising in a big way. and i don’t just mean in a there’s-a-recession-we-have-to-sell-stuff way. I mean a refocusing on what advertising is supposed to do as opposed to “ooh look there’s a new digital thingy let’s obsess about that for ages”. we see a return to big ideas. big ideas that can effortless be incarnated in any medium or platform or whatever. big ideas have, and always had, power. they are infectious and usually elemental. they have intrinsic value. they are WORTH something. they can make or break a brand.
i think at this point we have all digested the idea of the internet and had enough experience of it that we’re not in its thrall anymore. we get it. it has its uses. but it’s not the only tool available to us. so let’s apply big ideas to to it.

How fast shiny objects lose their gloss today.
In my opinion, this particular shiny object is special, still brand new and FAR from fully understood. So, the obsession will continue. Yet, that’s not to say Vinny is off base. Far from it. The quality of the ideas we bring to this medium has everything to do with how far we can take it. Great ideas can change advertising and the world.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. One of the major downsides of the proliferation of media has been, at least in my estimation, the increase in tactical thinking versus the big or even the kind-of-big idea. this is a sure way for brands to fail as they try to move foward. In fact, without a big idea to guide them, many brands will be swallowed up by the ever-increasing white noise the internet is in good part responsible for.

  2. Stu Sutcliffe says:

    Repeat after me; The internet is not the idea, the idea is the idea…

  3. I remember Cornwallis or some loyalist or another saying something about how once all this revolutionary fervor and obsession with this shinny new republican stuff dies down, we’ll be back to the basics of a strong monarchy.

  4. er…shiny 🙂

  5. Eliot, I’m not quite clear regarding your reference. Wasn’t Cornwallis best known for his defeat?
    It’s more than a little ironic that people are criticizing digital via blogs.
    There’s talk here about a return to big ideas. When did we ever leave?
    Digital is getting a lot of press, and it’s even getting increased billing, but digital budgets are nowhere near traditional ad budgets. Not even close.
    The problem with big ideas as I believe jim schmidt is describing them has more to do with the proliferation of marketing partners versus the proliferation of media. That is, clients have broken the process apart and distributed the pieces amongst multiple agencies (and clients are usually segmented themselves – separate client departments handle separate disciplines). As a result, each division is creating their own big idea. And please don’t blame the non-traditional agencies for going rogue. The traditional agencies have shown they are incapable of creating big ideas that work across all media and efforts – and even if they could, they don’t create the idea with enough lead time for the other disciplines to generate synergy. We’re all working on the same schedule and deadline.
    Schmidt is correct that there’s a lot of tactical thinking. But certain disciplines have been positioned as tactical (e.g., direct response). A lot of digital is closer to direct marketing than traditional, and so clients expect it to be more tactical. The fucking obsession with ROI has made “tactical” thinking more attractive to clients. Again, don’t blame the non-traditional shops. We can’t be blamed for delivering measurable results.

  6. david, thanks for reading. i have an actual reader!
    and digitalent, just so we’re clear, i wasn’t criticizing anything. i’m as guilty as anyone as fixating on the latest thing. it’s just that i feel endless discussion and theorizing about the internet etc is yielding little in terms of things i can actually use in my job. and i’m guessing i’m not the only one.

  7. Actually, I agree with you, vinny warren. In fact, I think there’s too much endless discussion and theorizing on everything involving advertising and branding. And there’s little being offered to any of us creative types that actually helps us do our jobs (I’m mostly referring to strategies, insights or resources that might be helpful). All the discussions and theorizing leads to over-thinking and complicating, when our goal should be to create clarity and simplicity in breakthrough fashion.

  8. @HighJive – offering these “strategies, insights or resources” sounds like an opportunity for someone, somewhere to do something

  9. Stu Sutcliffe says:

    I never met a creative with his salt who depended upon anybody to hand them insights or strategies. Thinking is a skill that defines the creative process. Have we created a generation of creatives who can not think about anything other than what’s new in popular culture?

  10. Stu,
    Oh, I never said creatives should not be thinking strategically and searching for insights. I just wish there were fewer instances where we’re handed generic briefs devoid of original thinking and expected to immediately deliver breakthrough concepts. I fear we’ve created a professional environment where the creative process is not truly respected – or even understood. It has little to do with the generations of the players.

  11. Stu Sutcliffe says:

    Fair enough Digitalent. My point is that good creatives are good thinkers. We should never cede that “department” to anybody.
    If we are supported by a good planner (or brief), so be it. If not, we are still responsible for our output. Some of the best advertising in the history of our trade was created sans planners. My global thought is that we are specializing ourselves into extinction.

  12. Agreed. But I suspect you’re focusing on traditional advertising when you use the term “our trade.” You’ll find far fewer planners in the other disciplines. Or the planners tend to think more tactically, to go back to jim schmidt’s comment. FYI, I don’t believe in assigning responsibilities to “departments.” At the same time, all the team players must attempt to fulfill their roles in the creative process, no? We’re always willing to say a great idea can come from anywhere, and we shouldn’t confine our efforts to our official job title. But it’s pretty rare when someone from account, planning or media actually executes the work. On the flipside, it’s not uncommon for creatives to develop strategies, sell work, uncover insights, etc. – and execute the campaign.

  13. Stu Sutcliffe says:

    I was not focusing on traditional advertising (whatever that is) when I used the term; our trade. I assume we are all in the advertising business regardless of the communications channel (please see my comments on specializing ourselves into extinction).
    P.S. If creatives are doing all that you say in the last sentence of your post, what is the problem? We are the goalies. Always have been and always will be. Everybody else in the chain can screw up. We don’t have that luxury because in the end, whether the support is there or not, whether the deadline is fair or not, we have to create something.

  14. it’s not uncommon for creatives to develop strategies, sell work, uncover insights, etc. – and execute the campaign.
    exactly! now show us the money.

  15. Stu Sutcliffe says:

    Different and very valid point David. A good creative person’s sense of responsibility often makes him ripe for abuse. Of course if you omitted creative from from the sentence, it would still be true.

  16. Digitalent – I can’t find a reference and I don’t remember where I read it. It may well not have been Corwallis.
    What I was trying to say—however shoddily—was that the focus on tools we’re seeing is exactly as should be expected. As McLuhan said, “We are what we behold…we shape our tools and thereafter they shape us.” We are changing, for real, in a spectacularly large way. That change is presaged by the tools; and not just the tangible tools. Social media comes with a whole set of metaphors and modes—indeed is suffused with them—which will and are changing the way we understand, well, everything.
    When we emerge on the other side of this transformation, we will indeed be able to get back to the business of accomplishing various tasks, marketing being one of them. We’ll just be accomplishing those tasks in a profoundly different way. We can’t get from here to there without this disruption. We have to get sweaty about the tools so that the tools and their concomitant insights can make visible what has heretofore been invisible.

  17. Stu Sutcliffe says:

    So if I get you right Eliot, first came movable type, then came the four color spread.

  18. Stu,
    Guess I misinterpreted one of your earlier comments: “Some of the best advertising in the history of our trade was created sans planners.”
    I don’t consider everything in the mix to be advertising. That is, direct marketing can be a tactical effort to spike sales – it’s promotional, and not as concerned with advertising or branding. There’s a lot done in direct that is not advertising. When you create a website, it’s often not focused on advertising (although you might disagree). Websites have to sustain beyond the advertising campaigns. There’s actually a lot in the digital space that barely constitutes as advertising. I guess I make a distinction between channels and disciplines. Ad agencies operate differently than direct marketing agencies and promotional agencies and digital agencies and event marketing agencies. Yes, on an abstract level we build relationships and develop brands. But it’s like building a house. The person pouring the concrete has different concerns and responsibilities than the person wiring the electricity, the plumbing person, the architect, the roofer, etc. You don’t necessarily want the electrician doing the plumbing, yes?
    Also, I’m not completely agreeing with your goalie analogy. Creatives are also expected to score, which is not a goalie’s typical responsibility. Everyone can’t be the goalie. A true team has specialists working in harmony, with a shared vision and purpose and goal.

  19. Stu Sutcliffe says:

    Advertising is persuasion. None of the forms you mentioned are anything but. And to your analogy, the plumber may not know electricity and the roofer may not know plumbing, but the architect better understand them all. Guess who the architect is?

  20. Ah, so for a hockey team analogy, we would be the captain or head coach?
    I suspect we’re getting into semantics regarding advertising. Yes, all branding functions are inherently about persuasion, yet the individual parts still deal with different levels and even types of persuasion. I agree with you regarding an earlier point about specializing to death. But is it reasonable to expect everyone to know everything? Additionally, who is really creating this obsession with specialization? If you view the online job listings (not saying it’s a good thing to do), the listings are hyper-specific (e.g., flash developer with familiarity in information architecture, conceptual copywriter with pharmaceutical experience, event marketing executive for urban audiences, etc.). It’s a paradox – you must know everything, yet be capable of specialization.

  21. Stu Sutliffe says:

    Pleasure jousting with you Digitalent. As far as the hockey team anaology, perhaps you are right. Whoever in the end is held responsible should know the most. As for specialization, I think it is important for creative people to know a little bit about everything. Not everything about one thing. I believe the industry will catch up with this notion as communications channels continue to multiply. In the end, being a well tutored generalist will pay off.