Branding: Introducing the ‘Big Long Idea’


There’s a universal paradox when it comes to branding. As Schley and Nicholas Jnr. put it in their book ‘Why Johnny Can’t Brand’, “the narrower you focus, the wider your message goes”. Which over the years has been the reason for the ever-coveted ‘Big Idea’. That one defining idea that creates the foundation for all brand strategy decisions and executions. Because, put in the most accurately simple and resoundingly true way, people only remember one thing.

And it’s true. People will only really remember one thing about your brand. This is especially true in today’s no-attention economy. Where the broadening amount of devices and platforms your brand can exist within has increased the amount of touchpoints, and affected our ability to manage them, making it difficult to achieve that holy grail we call; consistency. And it’s not just consistency of design, tone or message, but the consistency of experience.

The irony of the no-attention economy is that we’re ‘always on’ but seldom there. So developing this consistent experience across the digital environment can be tough. You’re consumers are always connected, engaging in a forever conversation about anything and everything and when it’s time for your brand to take centre stage, I hardly think they’re going to remember that excellent font you used or the phrasing you proof-ed several times. It helps of course, but they’re only going to remember that one thing. And it’s up to you whether you want be in control of what they’re going to remember.


Back in 2011, Gareth Kay proposed that brands should no longer focus on meticulous planning and execution of one big idea but instead, as he puts it, “think small”. Something that rings true with the evolving culture of agile creativity amongst the most innovative companies today. The idea of building a culture of experimentation, not planning. All of these small ideas, executed in keeping with your brand message and identity, will play out to give you the new kid on the block; the Long Idea.

Paul Adams of Facebook iterates this idea nicely in a Bite whitepaper, he points out that audiences are developing relationships with brands the same way in which they develop relationships with their friends – “through many, lightweight interactions over time”. Which rings true when looking at the more successful brands today. These brands are trying to take a more human approach to their image in order to develop these deep, emotional relationships with their audience.

Which is why storytelling is perhaps the most important business skill a 21st century business can develop. These “lightweight interactions” are your small ideas, those little experiments, that are tweaked and fine tuned to contribute to your long idea. You can think of your long idea like a story. You’ll have an idea in your head of what you want your customers to experience when they interact with your brand, but you can’t just force it upon your audience. You couldn’t have made Lord of the Rings if you just threw Frodo on one of those big eagles and the ill-fated Hobbit just threw the ring into Mordor (well, you could but it would have sucked). No, you have to develop your long idea by weaving lots of small ideas, you have to develop and nurture that desired experience by experimenting and introducing lots of small experiences.

But I don’t think the Big Idea is dead, neither do I think it’s all about the long idea. I think it’s becoming increasingly apparent that it’s a beautiful and coherent mixture of the two. What I’ll imaginatively call; The Big Long Idea.

The Big Idea still has a place because people will only remember one thing. And it’s not the case that you’re not creative enough, it’s because of the density of the digital environment in which your consumer exists and behave demands it of them.  So this Big Idea must be used to generate lots of Small Ideas, lots of little experiences, that all add up to create your Long Idea. Your big ideas govern your small ones which in turn develop a long idea, an idea of an experience, which can survive the no-attention economy and do battle with your always-on consumers.


One brand who’s getting it bang on is Snickers with their Big Long Idea is “You’re not you when you’re hungry”. You’ve probably seen the ad featuring Joan Collins, she’s kicking off about some deodorant until one of the lads comes over with the nutty snack and delivers the line “Dan, eat a Snickers… Cause you turn into a right diva when you’re hungry”. Low and behold, Joan becomes Dan and all is right again.

However, this was just the more public face of the tagline. Behind the scenes, agencies MediaCom and BBDO were working on other ways to deliver the ‘hunger-solving’ message. Although the ad worked, it didn’t really serve the impulse purchase market where Snickers really works. They created a media storm by getting celebrities to tweet the YNY message out of character and by delivering ’emergency Snickers’ to commuters on their way to work, a time when you’re really not feeling yourself and probably a bit hungry. Over the 12 weeks of the launch campaign, they saw an increase in the number of Snickers singles sold in the Impulse channel; 705,000 more bars than last year. also seeing double digit growth in value sales in some channels. But like all good Big Long Ideas, the execution kept getting better.

Probably one of my favourite brand message executions, maybe of all time, is the Snickers Google Misspellings project. Thinking of new ways to tell the story in a digital space, Snickers teamed up with Google AdWords to create a list of the most commonly misspelt search terms made by office workers. This audience is tough to target through social due to web blockers at work and often cite hunger as a reason for low-productivity. So, through a very clever algorithm, the brand reminded them with a promoted top page search result every time they entered a misspelt search term. The message “you can’t spell when you’re hungry, so grab a Snickers” appeared like a shining light at the end of the hunger tunnel. The results spoke for themselves; over 500,000 impressions within 2 days of launch without any seeding. Impressive? Most definitely.

I could cite several examples, the Houdini image and the Robin Williams ad, but this post is long enough as it is. The point; a Big Idea, executed with many small ideas, can produce a Long Idea that can spread your message both traditionally and digitally with the same consistency and impact that your initial Big Idea had. Resulting in a consistent experience across all devices, platforms and environments.

So, just like you’re not you when you’re hungry. Your brand isn’t your brand when it’s hungry. So make sure to feed it lots and lots of good, small ideas. Your Big Idea is the protein that’ll build your brands muscle and give it the strength to compete, but your small ideas are the healthy side dishes to complement that protein. They’ll support, amplify and deliver the protein to the brain cells of your customers. This healthy, balanced diet of the two will produce your Long Idea, your Big Long Idea that ensures the experience you want your consumers to have, will be that one thing they remember.


3 responses to “Branding: Introducing the ‘Big Long Idea’

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