A BIG Awards Promotion: BIG-ging up British ... Direct

"What's the big idea?" This is a question that has been levelled at me on several occasions... climbing out of a bedroom window last thing at night... or caught in the kitchen with my hands on someone else's Crunchy Nuts first thing in the morning. It's probably a question you'll be asked or ask someone today. Big ideas are what we've been taught works and what are bought by clients. It is how we define our worth and what gets us out of bed in the morning.

So safe to say, big ideas are always better than little ideas, yes? Well, no, actually. Because the world is changing and little ideas may well have a big future. The influence of the small and increasingly info-greedy platforms means that ideas are going to have to be quicker to execute or agencies are going to have to work in their sleep. Daily blogs, e-mails, RSS feeds, iPhone apps, Tweets and Blips (yup, Blip, that's another new one) are just the start.

What is required now is multi-taskers. And the one thing the British direct marketing scene has in abundance is a talented can-do culture. In direct, the ideas come in all shapes and sizes. We delight in the detail. We like getting our hands dirty and we like having ideas, lots of them.

So what defines a big idea in terms of direct? For me, "big" is an intellectual property rather than execution. What's important in direct isn't an idea's sheer impact and stretch but the overall effect it has on the individual at the moment they read it, hear it or participate in it. That moment of engagement.

As media opportunities mushroom further still, the chances that one big creative idea will "integrate" across all platforms going forward is slim. So in a world turned upside down, I'd suggest a more bottom-up approach than top-down - the sum of the parts making the whole, rather than a single-minded idea being the big thought. And the parts will be made up of targeted communications to individuals rather than the mass-audience message appeal.

Let me give you an example: last year's Friends of the Earth "big ask" campaign by CHI & Partners was the perfect example of what direct does best. It gets people engaged with the brand. A virtual protest march asking for tougher laws on climate change encouraged more than 170,000 people to have a voice by posting a video of themselves, viewing others or talking to each other in chat forums.

Direct is really very simple. It's all about striking up conversations between the audience and the brand, or with one another about the brand so they will buy. Generally, the trick is to keep the conversation going for as long as possible, so they will buy more. We used to call that customer relationship marketing. Now we call it fundamental.

Many would argue that a big idea, even if written on the back of a fag packet, is still a big idea. But the challenge in direct had been to convey a big idea with no more production values at our disposal than that of a fag packet. We had a little paper, a little ink, a little fold here and there, and, more often than not, a little budget per item.

But now the direct world just got bigger and more fun. Now we have pixels to play with where before it was really only ever ink on a page. If Tesco's mantra is "think big, act small", then paradoxically I'd say think small and you might end up with the next big thing.

For more information and to enter the BIG awards, visit campaignbigawards.com


Sight. I thought I'd explore the five senses, starting with our sense of humour. Little Britain springs to mind. The only gay in the village, always a sight to behold.

Taste. Skippers or Fishers restaurants, both Edinburgh institutions. But if you're on a budget, fish and chips out of the Rapido in yesterday's newspaper will do just fine too.

Sound. Northern Ireland gave us The Undertones, England - The Jam, Wales - The Manics, and Scotland gave us Susan Boyle... plus The Eurythmics, Blue Nile, BMX Bandits, Edwyn Collins, Primal Scream, Travis, Teenage Fan Club, Biffy Clyro, The Fratellis, Glasvegas, The View, Belle & Sebastian, the young Paulo Nutini...

Touch. Rather predictably, I'd have to say the unpredictable weather. Yesterday, I was pelted by hailstones and scorched by sunshine in equal measure.

Smell. The irresistible waft of a British pub. Unpassable.

Dave Mullen, co-founder and creative director, Story; chair of the BIG awards direct jury