Remember when a big idea had to be enduring as well? The Internet changed all that.

March 31, 2010


“Sigh. No one appreciates my legs anymore.”

Nobody cares about “legs” anymore. While I certainly could be talking about our boob and butt obsessed culture, the point I wish to make relates to long running advertising campaigns. It used to be standard procedure when assessing an ad campaign to determine whether it had legs or not. If the work felt like a “one-off” it was usually cast aside. “Show me two more spots that work,” the creative director would say. “Then maybe you’ve got something.” Indeed, I spent much time thinking of additional ads to make my idea (or another’s) into a legitimate campaign. “Pool outs,” we called them. We do that less now.

Back when building a brand supposedly took time, it was deemed critical that marketing ideas have legs, particularly advertising campaigns.

Not so much anymore. The enduring idea has been usurped by the brazen, intrusive and fresh. Increasingly, creative practitioners now look for short-term wallops as opposed to long-term thinking. Winning by knockout versus going 15 rounds.

This phenomenon speaks volumes about our business and the world we live in. We want what we want and we want it right now! And for the most part we get it. The Internet changed everything. “Why wait?” is its mantra. Direct fallout, then, is our (consumers and creators) short attention span for advertising campaigns.

Experiential and event marketing enable us to touch, taste and experience the product. Social media is not only the new, new thing it is arguably the biggest thing to impact our business since viral video. We are living in the hyper present. So much so, bunches of clients are beginning to let go their old ideas about building brands. Even campaigns that took decades to fashion are being tossed. But in exchange for what?

For years, Maytag was known as the “Dependability” company. The Lonely Repairman stood for a brand that never broke down. Yet, ten years ago this famous idea began losing luster at Maytag. Old Lonely (as he was known) was, well, old and lonely. The client wanted something new and hip! I found it unconscionable that my former client would even consider walking away from “dependability.” I remember telling them that the out-of-work repairman was such a powerful idea it would be illegal had we just come up with it. Long story short, they still use Old Lonely but often as wallpaper behind sexier messages about style and performance.

And what about “the ultimate driving machine.” It appears BMW has moved from the ultimate brand positioning to something about “joy.” My opinion: Joy is a woman’s name not a reason to buy a BMW. I neither understand why they’re walking away or where they’re going. Do you? BMW website

On the other hand, one has to give Kraft a lot of credit for breaking old habits and trying new ideas. Without listing our efforts on behalf of this client, look at what they’re doing with Miracle Whip in the US and Lacta chocolate bars in Greece: See story on Adpulp. This is pretty radical thinking from one of the oldest schools in marketing.

In the end, I’m not taking a side. I’m just pointing out how fussing over legs seems quaint these days. Even old fashioned. Advertisers seem to favor showing us their tits.

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9 Responses to “Remember when a big idea had to be enduring as well? The Internet changed all that.”

  1. Kid Awesome said

    I don’t know, i think there are great examples of campaigns with legs, take the PC vs. Mac stuff, or the Caveman work, or the Absolute World work, all great ideas with legs executed over all kinds of media. I think it’s more about how interesting and fresh the idea is, whether it’s a cross channel campaign or just a really kick-ass one off viral promo, a good idea is a good idea. WIth technology what it is now, even if it’s a one shot, 80,000,000 people can see it over and over again. It seems that more and more brands are starting to recognize this and run with it.

  2. A key driver here is cost. Clients and agencies are now in a position to “try something” (anything) for a song. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, who cares–it’s the ultimate in disposability. In the old days of campaigns, a “try” would cost half a million dollars or more in production costs alone, let alone the media expenditure, so endurance was always an important factor.

  3. SRP said

    William & Kid-
    Many excellent points, which I hadn’t articulated in my argument. Thank you. Interesting to think that “viral” is the new definition of “legs.”

  4. Good thoughts.

    Some people are saying “we don’t need to come up with big ideas anymore” and I don’t think that’s true. We still need big, core ideas that stand the test of time based on truths about our brand and about the consumer. I see brands changing their personality way too fast, and it just feels sloppy to me.

    On the other hand, saying “just give me one big idea” made a lot of sense when we were just working on print, tv, and radio but doesn’t work as well now that the idea needs to work in a lot of different mediums.

    I think we need to come up with one big, core idea that we can continually refresh and reinforce with little ideas that work in tandem.

    I visualize it as the planets orbiting the sun in the solar system.

    • brian said

      At the risk of sounding like a kiss-ass, your Altoids campaign had legs and I argue that’s the reason the brand became so successful.

  5. Very well pointed out. Stunts with punch vs. the good long hard fight. What are the great boxing matches we remember the most? The ones that ended quickly or the fights that went 14 or 15 rounds…hmmm? Oh, and I agree, Joy is a woman’s name.

    • SRP said

      Matt-
      Love the boxing metaphor…though some folks love the KO no matter what it says about the competition.
      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  6. Trey said

    You are really referencing the Miracle Whip ad in a positive way? Are there really legs to an unselfaware ripomatic?

    • SRP said

      Trey-
      I wasn’t bringing up Miracle whip as a “legs” example but rather to show how some brands are trying a new and different approach. I’m not taking sides on this. I’m merely pointing out the seismic changes going on in our industry. Thank you for reading and commenting!

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