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IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > articles >  Luke Sullivan: Big Honkin’ Ideas


Luke Sullivan: Big Honkin’ Ideas

Posted on January 21, 2008 and read 5,862 times

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ihaveanidea is pleased to present the first in a series of excerpts from Luke Sullivan’s soon to be released third edition of his renowned book Hey Whipple, Squeeze This. To order your copy today, click here. Tell ‘em Ignacio sent you.

Because I am frequently accused of being old, I feel the need to point out that I was not a winner in—nor even in attendance at—the 1902 award ceremonies for the One Show. However, since you brought it up, I believe it was a very short program. They announced winners in just two media categories—best newspaper ad and best sandwich board—and pretty much called it a night.

Times have changed, haven’t they?

The other day I found myself in a meeting where somebody actually kept a straight face as he proposed making a “blog-isode.” He also wanted to create a few “content-mercials,” and a “web-inar.”

I can wrinkle my patrician Merriam-Webster nose at it all I want, but we may actually have to start inventing words for some of the new media fragments created since the whole grid reached critical mass in the late 1990s. A truncated list of what’s called the new media might include banners, blogs, branded entertainment, bluecasting, buzz marketing, consumer-generated content, experiential marketing, gaming tie-ins, interactive billboards and kiosks, intranets and extranets, mobile phone texting, mobile video, PDA downloads, public relations and earned media, rich media, screen savers, video on demand, widgets, and those funny viral videos you e-mail to friends even though their company firewalls will probably block them.

This list doesn’t count all the odd nooks and crannies now for sale as paid media. You can print your client’s good name on the stripes in between car spaces in parking lots. You can paste it under diving boards, stick it on the skins of fruit at the grocery store, and by wearing shoes soled with a client’s logo, impress their name into beaches everywhere. Citizens are even selling the space on their foreheads. And now that urinal deodorizing pucks are a hot media opportunity, it’s no longer considered curmudgeonly to grumble how a guy can’t even take a piss around here without seeing an ad. It’s crazy.

“…before we start filming a “webi-sitcom” or writing ads for every flat surface we can see from our office windows, it’ll pay to first sit down and figure out a few things.”

I’m reminded of a headline in the Onion that read “Area 14-Year-Old Collapses Under Weight of Corporate Logos.” Everything is branding, ladies and gents. It’s all for sale. We can either bemoan how we’ve become the dystopia once imagined in the opening scene of Blade Runner or we can decide to fill all these new spaces with stuff that’s cool, stuff that’s interesting. (Come to think of it, that Blade Runner scene was actually pretty interesting.) One of Wikipedia’s contributors nicely summed up the draw of new media: “Within the advertising business there is a blurring of the distinction between creative (content) and the media (the delivery of this content). New media itself is considered to be creative and the medium has indeed become the message.”

This is where the clients are spending more and more of their marketing dollars. The shift is clear; it’s away from huge TV buys and toward the new media. Roy Spence of GSD&M says we should do more than just welcome all these new opportunities; he says, “Kiss change on the lips.” I’m pretty sure he’s right. But before we start filming a “webi-sitcom” or writing ads for every flat surface we can see from our office windows, it’ll pay to first sit down and figure out a few things.

Imagine a day in the life of your customer.

Let’s put our ad-writing pencils down for a minute and think way upstream about our client and their customer.

How does our client’s typical customer spend a day? What does he or she do in the morning? Is the radio on while he fixes breakfast or does he grab something on the go? Does he drive to work? Does he have an iPod? Does he recycle? What blogs does he read when he’s supposed to be working? Does he run at a gym or on the streets, or does he run like me . . . into the kitchen for another Krispy Kreme?

This thinking doesn’t have to be guesswork. It’s likely that your agency colleagues have gathered all kinds of good research about the customer. So before you start work on a campaign, it’s time to sit down with the account, planning, and media team and map out a day in the life. (I read the news today, oh boy.) Newspapers may indeed play a part in this person’s life, as will other common media, like television and radio. But those are the easy ones. And we’re not making a media checklist here anyway. What we’re doing is looking for insight. It’s kinda like we’re trying to see the aquarium from the inside out, to move through our customers’ world. We’re looking for contact points with customers that are unexplored. We’re looking for places where customers might even welcome a cool message from our brand. Places where the right message could be less of an ad and more like information or entertainment.

A day in the life of a real estate agent is gonna be different than a corporate executive’s day. A real estate agent practically lives online and his cell phone rings constantly. The executive probably has people to answer her phone and gets information by listening to podcasts at the gym or reading business pubs on the plane.

While all this different-strokes-for-different-folks stuff may seem a little obvious, it’s surprising how many agencies use the same media plan to reach every audience (“We’ll buy TV for reach, magazines for frequency, and throw in a little radio for promotions.”)

Okay, now before we start writing, there’s one other mental exercise that may be helpful.

Imagine the buying process.

After you’ve mapped a day in the life with your customer, switch gears. Now think through how a customer decides to buy your client’s product. Here again, agency research and insights from your colleagues can help you see the entire buying process through a customer’s eyes.

Some folks call this the purchase funnel, though that’s a little creepy for my money. I guess any number of visual metaphors might be helpful in visualizing the buying process. Whatever image you settle on, scribble it on a big pad and start visualizing what happens to your customer as he or she moves toward actually buying your client’s product. Think it through. How is it that a normal person can move from a state of being perfectly happy without, say, your client’s fabulous flat-screen TV—to noticing the flat screen in the sports bar—to thinking, “Geez, my old TV does kinda suck”—to swooning in front of all the brands on display at the mall—to checkin’ prices online—to triumphantly swiping their VISA card through the machine at Circuit City (or swallowing hard and hitting “Buy now with one click”). As you go through the process, jot down the contact points that pop up—those times a customer might have occasion to think about a flat-screen TV, or about the whole home entertainment category in general.

As you might imagine, the consideration process is different for a flat-screen TV than, say, buying a pack of gum, or a car, or insurance. Depending on the product, the process can be short or long; the longer ones typically consist of phases. I’m sort of making up some phases here for a nonexistent product, but a customer could move from (pardon my punctuation) general awareness > short-listing > comparison > store contact > trial. Phases such as these may be useful to keep in mind as you work on your overall idea. Different media will be in play at different parts of the purchase cycle, and each of them has its strengths.

Here’s the thing to remember about this whole exercise: Your main idea may come out of one of these contact points—an idea you can then spread sideways and backward to fill in the whole campaign.

“When you sit down to begin work, start by imagining there are no TV commercials and no print ads. Anywhere. They’re all gone.”

Pick a small customer contact point and then think big.

We’re ready to sit down and start coming up with big honkin’ ideas. Oh, one last thing. You can’t do any TV or print.

When you sit down to begin work, start by imagining there are no TV commercials and no print ads. Anywhere. They’re all gone.

Here’s where it gets interesting. You still have to sell your client’s product or service, but you have to find a new way of doing it.

What are you going to do?

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying TV and print are passé. What I’m saying is that when you start with TV (and its usual side orders of print-’n’-radio) you’re solving problems in a prepackaged way. Ultimately, you may very well end up airing a TV spot. Great. But you don’t have to start there. This advice may at first seem kinda weird, since most of this book so far has been about coming up with print ads and TV, right? Well, yes and no. We’ve used print and TV as starting points to talk about the craft, yes. But what we’ve really been talking about is thinking creatively. And now it’s time to apply that creative thinking free of form.

Start with a blank piece of paper. In fact, let’s not even think paper. How would you tell your brand’s story around a campfire? How would you tell the story if Blackberry PDAs were your only medium? Or vending machines? What if all you had to work with was the way the store operators answered the phone? What if you made it a free download from iTunes? How would you start bloggers talking about your product? How about those flyers placed under windshield wipers? (Uh, on second thought, I hate those things. Never mind.)

As you can see, I’m exhorting you to start somewhere. You have to, obviously, but I urge you to pick one of the more intriguing customer contact points and then begin. It’s sort of like that bumper sticker: “Act Locally, Think Globally.” Go over the two lists you just made: a day in the life,and the purchase process. What opportunities jump out at you?

In Laurence Minksy’s book (How to Succeed in Advertising When All You Have Is Talent), Weiden’s Susan Hoffman put it this way:

Think holistically. . . . [What] would you do in the store? How can you pull the iconography of the campaign right into the clothing hang tag? A coupon? Online? The best work has legs to go everywhere and puts a strong, consistent, visual imprint on every consumer touch point. It’s important to bring this kind of thinking to your work. . . . Take this inventiveness and apply it to the business. But do more than just ads. Produce an album, experiment with graffiti, invent a new product, shoot a film, or write a book.

Think creatively about different media where your message can appear. Play out that day in the life of your customer, see where it matches up with the world of your product, and then just start screwing around with it.

For instance, the inside bottom of a paper coffee cup might be a good place to put a message about sweeteners. (Nahhh . . . the ink printing inside the cup would creep the drinker out. Anyway, you see my point.) Maybe a dingy subway car is just the place to tell a glassy-eyed commuter she needs a cruise to St. Thomas. If your client is an organization for some social issue, why not paint your idea all over the building across from city hall? (I heard an agency actually projected a provocative ad directly onto a government building.) Just go for it; maybe you can do it, maybe you can’t, but until someone makes a phone call, you don’t know.

Abbott Mead Vickers put a message from the business magazine the Economist on top of a bus that rolled through London’s financial district, the Square Mile.

As for finding a startlingly effective place to put a client’s message, the most brilliant I’ve ever seen was a spot that ran on the porn channel in hotels. Virgin Atlantic wanted to tell business travelers about the nice new seats in their transatlantic flights. The team figured—cynically and correctly—that a day in the life of a traveling businessman might include a quick visit to the in-room “adult” channel. So that’s where they placed their commercial, smartly labeling it “Free Movie.” When you pressed “Play” you saw a 12-minute video that looked and sounded like porn but was really just a long, raunchy infomercial full of double entendres about the pleasures of flying across the Atlantic in a seat that goes all the way back . The idea was so naughty, its very existence drew tons of free media coverage.

To fully realize the possibilities of a multimedia campaign, you’re going to need to drag your main idea through each medium and start from scratch when you get there. What works in outdoor may suck as print. The challenge is to make your product look totally cool in each medium and then, at the end of the day, have your overall campaign hang together with one consistent look, one consistent message.

Bring your idea to life in one medium and then go on to the next.

Okay, we’ve talked about taking in the big picture before you write, thinking through a day in the life, considering a product’s purchase cycle, and putting a typical media buy into the blender and hitting purée. Any one of these mental exercises should help free up your thinking and take you to some new places.

“An entire campaign from one idea, expressed seamlessly in several media—boom, boom, boom. Man, if advertising gets cooler than this, I haven’t seen it.”

Now it’s time to put it all together and use them to create a fully integrated multimedia campaign. As an example, let’s look at some work done for the American Legacy Foundation’s truth® youth-smoking prevention campaign. (Strategically, the campaign was brilliant, and though I won’t go into it here, you should study the strategy behind this work. For our purposes today, we’re talkin’ tactics.)

whippletruthpoo2 150x150 Luke Sullivan: Big Honkin Ideastruth® wanted to point out to teenagers that cigarettes contain ammonia. Their first idea, the basic platform, was this simple parallelism: “Cigarettes contain ammonia. So does dog poop.”

Perfect. It’s an unpleasant idea and a grotesque image. Next, after thinking for a while, they found their first execution (and it wasn’t a TV spot or a print ad).

“Hey, what if we stuck small signs directly into actual dog poop in city parks? Signs with the message: ‘Cigarettes contain ammonia. So does dog poop.’”

Boom. There’s the outdoor. (Or what some call guerrilla advertising.)

Then they took the same small sign and turned it into a print ad. The ad featured three dog poop signs, die cut and ready for the reader to deploy. Boom. Print’s done.

Then they filmed some truth volunteers at a park sticking these signs in dog poop as curious passersby looked on. Boom. TV’s done.

An entire campaign from one idea, expressed seamlessly in several media—boom, boom, boom. Man, if advertising gets cooler than this, I haven’t seen it. A warning here, though, from Y&R’s Tony Granger: “Simply checking the boxes across every possible new media channel is no longer enough to stand out. . . . Each piece of creative should stand on its own as a great expression of the big idea.”

This truth campaign did happen to employ some of our usual suspects (TV and print), so let’s go back to our self-imposed rule and pretend TV and print don’t exist. How could we promote, say, a retail client that needs some buzz for a new store— without TV or print?

IKEA decided to get buzz going for a store opening in Toronto by putting a living room full of their sleek furniture on the public sidewalk of the train station. But to make it an event, the creatives at CP+B (Mike Lear and Dave Swartz) attached notes to the furniture that read: “Steal me.” The copy went on to ask, “What better way to make a friend than to say, ‘Excuse me, want to help me steal this sofa?’ The two of you will then be able to look back at this day and say, ‘Hey, remember that time we stole that sofa?’ And you’ll laugh. Of course, you and your new friend could always just go to IKEA and buy a Klippan sofa, seeing as they’re only $250.”

People didn’t believe it at first, but after the first two strangers helped each other cart off a couch without the cops showin’ up, the whole ensemble disappeared in an eight-minute scene of helpful, harmonious larceny.

Of course, the creative team was across the street filming the whole thing to post on the Web. IKEA repeated the exercise for a store opening in another city, and this time someone dropped a dime to the local news and the event was covered from a helicopter overhead. Roughly 10 grand to pull off, a quarter mil of free airtime, serious buzz, and no TV commercials.

With practice, you should be able to start thinking in big honkin’ ideas like this more and more. Of course, not every job that slides cross your desk will require this type of thinking—just the really fun ones, the big ones, and of course, new business pitches. However, you may be able to create something big and cool out of a small print-and-radio assignment just by finding some nugget of a concept and blowing it up way beyond what’s been asked for.


Luke Sullivan
Creative Group Head
GSD&M Idea City






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