Thinking critically is hard. When we are asked to think in a way that forces us to bring new ideas and concepts to mind, it can cause physical discomfort. To think "big" means to challenge our current champion ideas. It forces us to consider the current things around us as old or outdated, or passé, and to believe we know what should replace it.
As hard it is sounds, our society has done it before.
In fact, our history is filled with big ideas. Who knew that companies would pay for outside advertising and marketing services? Who knew that people would relate to images and words that try to sell jeans? Who knew that we could use concepts like fitting in, being a rebel, or being loved and pair them with brands?
It is clear that the advertising world — maybe even the creative world — is desperate for new, big ideas. We were talking several days ago with self-proclaimed film aficionados who were tired of Hollywood recycling ideas and remaking movies, or taking books and turning them into movies. They want something new.
We read blogs and articles from our advertising and marketing colleagues about the rise of adtech, or the decline in digital advertising, or the fading glory of advertising. They too, want something new.
But who will pioneer it?
Hard to say. When we gave our marketing students an activity to create a brand new product or service, the overwhelming majority needed extra time just to start thinking about it, let alone create one. And for those who were the first to create one, the ideas were small and based on an existing product (e.g. a new iPhone case).
Very few had very good ideas.
That observation brought us to several different conclusions. First, it reminded us of history — it is always the very few who do something very big. To expect an entire generation to go all gung-ho on innovation would prove to defy everything we have previously come to know. Second, it showed how impressionable the current "big" ideas are on those trying to think. Third, it proved how hard critical and "design" thinking can be.
Advertising can do wonderful things for society. But it cannot do it by itself. We must be advocates for new, creative, weird, and unconventional products and services that have the outside chance of benefitting an audience.
Because complaining about "no new ideas" isn't going to cut it; we all have to put some skin in the game.
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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