What’s the ‘Big Idea’?

The big idea. It’s what most ambitious agencies and clients strive for when developing their communications platforms. Both share the responsibility, but each side often plays the blame game when the work fails to produce the desired results.

Here, three marketing directors discuss the creative process and what it took to get new brand messages into the marketplace:

Nicorette: “Quitting Sucks”

Smoking cessation campaigns face unique challenges. Combating an addictive habit that has complex physical and psychological roots, the products must become trusted allies in an often long, difficult process. To create that critical consumer connection for Nicorette, Amardeep Kahlon, marketing director, behavioral sciences at GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare, worked with TBWA/Chiat/Day, to introduce a new platform for the brand late last year: “Quitting sucks. Nicorette makes quitting suck less.”

The communications needed to address powerful emotional issues faced by the target audience. There are often intense feelings of hopelessness that accompany the arduous quitting process that often requires repeated attempts — an average of eight or nine — to achieve lasting success.

Finger-wagging and scare tactics common in anti-smoking messages did little to encourage quitters.

“Smokers know all the rational reasons not to smoke,” says Kahlon. “It’s an emotional issue. It’s about relating to them and being honest and realistic about how you can help.”

The creative team, led by Mark Figliulo, CCO of TBWA/Chiat/Day in New York, devised a campaign that positioned the brand as an invaluable tool to minimize cravings and withdrawal symptoms. The work used direct language and a sense of humor to show how Nicorette can help.

TBWA introduced the “Suckometer,” a fictional device that measures the “suck level” of a smoker’s craving. In one commercial, the device, placed in the passenger seat next to a driver, beeps with a red-light warning when the motorist catches sight of someone smoking. In another, for mini lozenges, a man can only focus on his cravings even though there is a shark attacking his arm.

Taking an approach unique to the category did not come without its risks. “Big ideas are going to be more challenging,” says Kahlon, but the senior marketing and communications teams at the pharmaceutical company “started with the fact that we needed a breakthrough” idea and shepherding it through corporate channels so its public debut wasn’t difficult, he says. “It was grounded in the right insight and strategy.”

So far, “We’ve grown the business by three percent in a category that is flat,” says Kahlon. “It’s a really good initial sign of success.”

Allstate: “Mayhem”

Mark LaNeve, who joined Allstate last year from General Motors, was new to the insurance company when he challenged Leo Burnett, Chicago, to develop fresh ideas. The company had relied on actor Dennis Haysbert to relay the brand’s protection positioning since 2003. But with a mandate from CEO Tom Wilson to innovate, LaNeve pushed Burnett and its CCO Susan Credle, who was also relatively new to her job, to explore different avenues. They decided that adding another layer of communications could go a long way toward growing the company’s business.

Competitor Geico has been following a multiple ad-campaign strategy for years. This year, Allstate adapted a similar strategy. With an increased media budget, Allstate introduced “Mayhem,” with actor Dean Winters (pictured) personifying various unexpected reasons people need their car insurance to come through. In one spot, he sports a pink headband and hand weights as he power walks through a suburban neighborhood to show how easily a driver can be distracted and cause an accident. In another, he declares, “I’m a typical teenage girl” while driving a pink SUV; he pays more attention to his mobile device than the road and ultimately crashes into a car.

“‘Mayhem’ was the most risky” idea, says LaNeve. “It gave us the best chance to be disruptive.”

A mischievous antithesis to Haysbert’s reassuring character, Winters’ “Mayhem” gave the company a new way to talk to the younger end of its 20-to-54-year-old target audience. And it has helped the brand build momentum online with social networking groups. A new football-oriented “Mayhem” series began running last week with a tailgating theme, while a fresh Haysbert push challenges competitive claims with ads about “truth in advertising.”

While one causes the trouble and the other solves it, in the end both campaigns communicate the same message about Allstate: “It’s really about trust,” says LaNeve.

Kia: “This or That”

When Michael Sprague, vp of marketing and communications at Kia, first heard the idea of selling cars with human-size hamsters as drivers, he had no idea it would become anything more than a one-off spot for the Soul. The car, with its boxy shape, needed a dramatic introduction, says Sprague, so he challenged the agency to “show us something different.”

The team pitched an idea showing the rodents riding around in hamster wheels instead of cars, contrasted with Kia Soul drivers’ cooler means of conveyance. The 60-second commercial began running in cinemas in March 2009 and heralded the arrival of “a new way to roll.”

Apart from the hamsters themselves, here’s what provided unique appeal for the Gen-Y audience: Each time the commercial aired, it featured one of four different music tracks, a curiosity-building tactic that served as an entry point for new consumers.

“Every time the commercial played, it drove people to our Web site to find out about the music,” he explains.

The hamsters became unexpected brand drivers, with dealers reporting that customers were coming into showrooms referencing the ads. “It blew us all away,” says Sprague.

So this year, Kia challenged lead agency David & Goliath to pitch with a follow-up, and a few months ago the hamsters returned to TV, this time rapping on “Hamsterdam Ave.” to Black Sheep’s “The Choice Is Yours.”

“As everyone knows, the sequel to any movie is never as good as the first,” says Sprague. “But personally, I think the second one is better.”

The hamsters have struck a cultural chord, and while they were originally devised to appeal to Gen-Y, they have broader appeal. “A lot of different people find them cute, they transcend age” and race, says Sprague. “The agency has a huge task” ahead of it, he adds. They have to figure out “how to make the third one even better.”