The Big-Idea Wheel of Fortune

You would imagine that a lot has changed since I commenced my career four decades ago. Not everything has. Creative agency practices have been remarkably resistant to change. Back then, most advertising was considered ineffective at changing the relative trajectory of the brand. That remains the case today.

At the core of this inefficient allocation of resources, is the intuition based ‘big idea’. I like to call it “The Big-Idea Wheel of Fortune” and the problem at play here resides squarely with the communications message – that is, “what to say”. Instead of being based on the scientifically derived drivers of behavior, the communications message has, and continues to be, based largely on best guesses and gut instinct.

Being “creative” should not be permission to be unaccountable. Accountability in marketing communications requires the discipline to align advertising performance with the commissioning organization’s objectives. If the client wishes to gain relative market share, then the marketing communications should seek to raise the target’s perception of the brand on the primary drivers of choice. Given the known difficulty of achieving this, the fewer drivers the better, ideally, one rational driver of quality, and one price cue accompanied by an emotional detonator. And in eliciting the emotion linked to the category, the creative needs to keep in mind that the brand is the facilitator and not the object of the discrete emotion.

Some creative agencies get lucky

As the seasons change, creative agencies come in and out of vogue.  Had any of them moved beyond The Big-Idea Wheel of Fortune, then the brands that they worked for would be enjoying sustained success and abnormal returns. As businesses, some creative agencies have amassed tremendous scale however, this has been based on excelling at selling rather than excelling at delivering a consistent stream of effective work.

The advertising industry’s stain of wastefulness has been stubbornly resistant to removal. Even in the face of clients’ direct demands and threats of termination, like the problem gamblers’ erroneous belief that following losses will surely come wins, creative agencies habitually return to The Big-Idea Wheel of Fortune.

I have has been staggered at the rigidity with which most creative agencies have clung to their proven ways of failure and stoically resisted marketing science. Although, it is by no means universal. I identified three ARF Ogilvy prize winners as having based their winning creative on scientifically validated drivers of choice.

The consulting firms have adopted the same practices

Some commentators have heralded the entry of management consultants into the marketing communications field as likely to address this serendipitous hit and miss of the soothsayers’ intuition. So far, the management consultants have just been “problem announcers” also lacking the science of “what to say.” Some have even entered the murky mire of themselves taking a spin of
The Big-Idea Wheel of Fortune and producing their own intuition-based campaigns.

The alternative to The Big-Idea Wheel of Fortune is a scientifically proven marketing science-based method for identifying the rational and emotional motivations for category and brand-specific consumer behavior. It is these motivational drivers that should form the foundations of the creative brief and the big idea.

It is these motivational drivers that should form the foundations of the creative brief and the big idea.

All in all

Quite simply, the creative community has been very, very late to realize that it is in the midst of a revolution of Copernican proportions. Instead of embracing science, the creative community is sailing directly into a catastrophic, cyclonic wind by continuing to rely on intuition and gut instinct alone to develop its stock in trade.

Meanwhile, tremendous focus has been brought to bear on media. The market has become obsessed with “where to say it.” Yet, the science of “what to say” – the content of communications, has been largely neglected. “Where to say it” is important but only about one-quarter as important as “what to say.”

I encourage creative agencies to pull apart their end-to-end creative process to identify what aspects have escaped 40 years of advancements in understanding consumer behavior. They will find that it is the intuition based big idea at the core of the creative process that has remained steadfast.

Businesses literally gamble tens of millions, hundreds of millions and in some cases, billions of dollars on intuition-based hope, wrapped up in the creative agencies’ Big-Idea Wheel of Fortune.