It has been said that, if you want to be heard, often it is better to speak more quietly. The thing is, historically speaking, advertising to or connecting with an audience has never embraced this philosophy. Instead, in its desire to be heard over everything else on the planet, it has been the ritual of marketers and their success-hungry agencies in boardrooms everywhere to ask themselves: "What's the big idea?"
The problem with this inflated and often unmanageable head-scratcher is that it's not always the thing that gets the audience all warm and fuzzy and loyal and engaged around what it is the brand in question has to offer.
Let's face it, big ideas are difficult to pull off. Ever seen a credible solution to the flying automobile? Thirty years ago, we were promised this would be the future of personal mobilisation and, let's be honest, it's complete rubbish and unlikely to happen in any way, shape or form that is meaningful to anyone. The same can be said in the advertising world, where a huge number of global ideas don't work or simply mean very little in real life.
I'm sure we have all, at some point, been in the situation where, as the consumer, we have bought into an agreeable and reasonably large end point that has been reached by the brand and its agency, only for the manifestation in the real world to let the side down. There is no point shouting from the rooftops "THIS IS THE NEXT BIG PROMISE TO YOU, MR AND MRS AUDIENCE" and creating the bombastically epic and monstrously expensive film that is rolled out in a wastefully pricey media slot if, when you next visit the associated retail environment, the assistant is rude, the website feels like it was created in 2006, the app doesn't work or you can't find what you are looking for. The small things matter. The small things are how the brand behaves and acts on the promise it has made. Small is not the grand gestures, but the delightfully nice touches.
Good things really do come in small packages. Small is fast. Small is easier to do. Small is easier to buy. Small gets done. Small can be tested quickly. Small can punch well above its weight. Small is not insignificant. Small is beautifully simple, not simplistic. Small is innovation too. Small is less wasteful. Small is specific. In fact, small done well many times over can become "the big idea".
Think about the small ideas that have made a huge difference to your world or the world much further away than that; the small details and innovations that make that product or brand worthwhile; the humble "like" button that connects communities, friends and the unacquainted like never before; the previously anonymous and now infamous "#" symbol that organises information, data, news and content to meet your demands; the ubiquitous barcode scanner on your mobile phone that transforms and democratises the retail experience for you, your friends and millions of other people; or the beautifully designed LED that breathes in and out while your hardware sleeps and humanises the cold mechanics of modern-day computing. Truly small. Truly brilliant.
What is also true is that small ideas travel brilliantly well and the digital age in which we live has already had a dramatic effect on the world of advertising by facilitating the distribution of the best (and worst) examples of brand marketing and advertising ideas by the audience, shared in their millions, instantaneously. Easily packaged up and transmitted via a share button (or similar) for digital media or snapped by the camera in your mobile device that's in your pocket for the more analogue examples. Within hours, a positive experience can travel around the world, create conversation, stimulate interest and create love for a product.
Beyond distribution and with regard to the creation and conception of new ideas for brands, it is the emerging trends and relentless advances in technology that start to define the year ahead as the window of opportunity for the smaller, inventive and original ideas to become the focus of how the brand can differentiate, lead and define itself by what it does, not what it says it might be. A time for some brand new thinking is upon us as the categorisation of ideas, the buckets they fit into and the media mix available diversify and become ever-more open.
More transparent technologies (often referred to as "open source") are enabling us to meet the expectation of consumers as they adapt and demand more from brands. Technology is allowing us to create to complement human behaviour. Live data of behaviour online that is influencing the retail experience in-store. Mobile commerce defined and inspired by the music you listen to and where you listen to it. Digitally enabled outdoor media that is connected to your online self via your mobile phone. The socialisation of commerce and evidence-based buying. The ambition of brands to offer services and utilities across multiple devices. The additional layers of value in the form of augmented content reinvigorating truly meaningful sponsorship platforms.
It's in the centre of this confluence, where the digital worlds and real worlds collide, that those seemingly small but transformational ideas can occur for those agencies able to bring creativity, technology and media together in a way that motivates and moves the audience by understanding their needs and behaviour.
"Critical non-essentials" is a phrase used in business and sport that describes the small advantages in many areas that, when added together, give an organisation or team the edge over its competition. I predict a transition to this philosophy for brands and their agencies, as small but ambitious, innovative and convention-challenging ideas will define the ambition they set out to claim as their own.
Remember: small is not an excuse to do less. It takes just as much effort, ingenuity and insight to speak quietly as it does to shout, but if what you have to say is exactly what people want to hear, it will inevitably become the big idea everyone remembers, tells their friends about and shares with the world anyway.
Daniel Bonner is the chief creative officer at Razorfish International.