One Big Idea by Rajan Narayan: As icons crumble, the Big Idea is increasingly a fallacy

02 Apr,2013

By Rajan Narayan, President, Quadrant Communications


In this hurried world, brands have lost their authority and aura. They are reduced to transactions, service providers, labels and vendors.


Much like Po, the Kung Fu Panda who realizes that there was no secret ingredient in his dad’s soup, today we are waking up to the harsh reality that the elusive holy grail of advertising – the Big Idea – may be dead.


Or rather it has become irrelevant. Why is this so? Because the very definition of the Big Idea – that it held the brand idea together for years if not decades – has now changed permanently.


Ah the luxury of time! Today brands don’t live for a decade, so what chance do the brand idea and the Big Idea have? And what does this do to the concept of the Big Idea? It is reduced to the need for many small ‘Big Ideas’ (excuse the oxymoron!).


Today brands need continuous engagement with their consumers to stay relevant. This puts tremendous pressure on the brand to refresh itself continuously and present itself in new and different ways to stay on top of the consumers mind. This calls for more continuous ideas that steadily flow to the consumer rather than the one Big Idea that is followed by silence.


Tearing away at the Big Idea is also the proliferation of media that a consumer today engages with. The availability of the plethora reduces his involvement with each to a bare minimum.


Gone are the days when a consumer read a newspaper end-to-end. Or subscribed to a magazine. The television comes to life at fixed hours called ‘family time’ or does the odd job of being a ‘filler’ at gyms, pubs, restaurants and hair salons!


The internet is everything in a snippet – emails that reduce communication to a line, social networking reduces it further to a ‘like’, YouTube reduces every video to under a minute and Twitter says it all in 140 characters.


And you can cram it all into your lunch break or coffee break or travel time, thanks to phones, pads and pings.


In this hurried world brands have lost their authority and aura. They are reduced to transactions, service providers, labels and vendors. Call it the great ‘Dumbing Down’ of brands, if you may.


Few if any have maintained their vision and led a collective belief. And it is impossible now to do it under constant media glare. One slip and everything is recorded and dissected to the brand’s end.


Iconic brands like Cadbury’s, Coca Cola, McDonalds, Nike and Apple have all faced this heat of consistent scrutiny.


The crumbling of icons and the need for constant relevance steals the depth in every interaction. Today relationships are shallow and weak. Companies sell off brands in a matter of a few years. Entire marketing teams change in less than two years and in that time half a dozen agencies work in and out of the brand.


So who’s thinking long-term? The tremendous pressure to perform leads to marketing and advertising folks dubbing ‘little engines’ as Big Ideas. Because the target is often the next awards show or the next performance appraisal. Often the target of the idea is not the consumer – it is an awards jury or the CEO of the company.


Lastly, the judgement of what constitutes a big idea has moved away from the consumer to the amount of newsprint grabbed by the idea.


How well can a minor idea get written about? How many people in my network can I get to write and talk about my idea. Can I convince the marketing head that this can become a star point in his CV, making him more marketable?


So here we are at the end of it all, content to create many tiny little ideas and spend time trying to convince the world that they are big. While the concept of the Big Idea passes us by – along with our consumers.


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