James Thompson
Dec 7, 2016

Has the ‘big idea’ lost value in our digital, social world?

The flood of information served up by social streams has spawned an attention-seeking ‘anything goes’ approach to brand marketing—but only consistent communications can deliver long-term impact.

Information overload: Even the stickiest messages seem to vanish in an instant.
Information overload: Even the stickiest messages seem to vanish in an instant.

The ‘big idea’—or the traditional concept of it—is being challenged as irrelevant in a world of always-on content, peer-to-peer brand reviews and meme culture.

In this media ‘Wild West’, taking a position of ‘whatever gets you noticed’ is becoming more popular—just ask the American electorate—allowing you to change how your brand shows up, and what it says, in every new context. The flood of messages that always was, is now a deluge so vast that any single message appears as the briefest flash in your sightline.

Whether they engage people or not, even the stickiest messages and content vanish increasingly rapidly, replaced by the next shiny flicker in the rolling current.

And the bar gets set ever higher for impact. Want to watch a human being beheaded? A village being erased with a missile? A presidential candidate being threatened with assassination?

Whatever you want.

We are exposed to both so much more, and so much more impactful stimuli every day that building a brand through time is a harder and harder swim upstream against a roaring torrent.

But studies show that only by triggering previous associations, by joining the dots, can all of your brand’s little exposures add up to something greater than nothing over time. Failure to build continuity is to effectively re-base your brand to zero in people’s brains with every appearance. Consistency builds the ‘compound interest’ of brand investing.

Most successful brands seem to understand this—Red Bull, Coca-Cola and Dove, to name just three who stay ahead of their competitors in Asia and elsewhere with a consistent sense and application of their core idea. 

The phrase ‘the long idea’ is increasingly used to describe a thought that lasts and can spin across all media types. The principle is the same, however—and however you interpret it, every brand needs its idea, now more than ever before.

James Thompson is global MD of Diageo Reserve (Diageo’s luxury portfolio).


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