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Guest Article: Parag Tembulkar: The Idea of the Big Idea is Dead

By Parag Tembulkar , afaqs!, New York | In Advertising | September 25, 2013
The brands of the future will be made by the people, and not the clients or advertising agencies.

What's the big deal about the big idea? I'm not sure I'm too hot on it anymore. I feel it is as outdated as a TV-led media plan (yeah, right?). I'm more interested in the simple, small thing that organises the next big thing.

Parag Tembulkar

Working as a creative consultant in advertising, production and related story-telling companies in the United States, I sensed a growing disinterest in the pursuit of the big idea. Why? Well, brand building in the time of social marketing and user-generated content seems to be a different game.

Traditional advertising gets really excited when a big idea is 'cracked'. Social media gives a rat's arse to an idea that has been apparently 'cracked'. It is more interested in the small little 'uncracked' thing that attracts, and allows people to touch it, retouch it and define it. It keeps getting 'cracked' every time someone lays his or her hands on it. If the consumer was king, now, the user is the creator and co-creator. Because, the brands of the future will be made by people - not clients; not advertising agencies.

Hey, Facebook was made by you and me and millions of others. Not Zuckerberg (this was my opening line during a huge global client presentation - to the sound of crickets). Creative directors would WTF "Connect with friends and people around you" if you told them that's your big, cool idea. But it is a great organising idea and came from a simple human need.

Traditional advertising waits and crafts till the idea is baked before it rolls out, announced. Social media lets it out quickly and keeps fine-tuning again and again in real time. All it needs is something that organises, excites and engages. It makes the viewer a user and finally, the owner.

Google is Search. Again, probably not a great 'idea' in the conventional sense as such, if you think of it, especially in the early stages. But, it organised a company and focused it to think search. It organised hundreds and thousands of engineers and storytellers to work towards search. No one's a perfectionist at Google - my friends working there tell me - no one talks about big ideas. Well, not at least the way traditional advertising talks about it.

Twitter didn't start with a hashtag. In fact, it started with lots and lots of problems. But as time went by and more people took to tweeting, especially celebrities, things ironed out. And, at some point was born the hashtag. Not made by Twitter but by the users.

The social app that I am helping some friends with doesn't earn me any money at the moment; but tons of fun, experience, learning and the occasional "hey you ad guy" kind of friendly badgering. It's like an assembly line where the workers consist of some of the coolest digital crafters in California. Each one is doing his or her thing, really fast and 'getting it out there'. Once done, the same process starts again, taking into consideration the usage patterns of those who are playing with the app. No one is waiting for a big advertising idea that will sell the app, but at the heart of it is a simple premise, an organising thought and constant improvisation in real time at full speed.

Nothing is perfect and there is no need to be. No one talks about advertising. That's because the start up world believes that if you need advertising, your idea is not good enough. Just let people use your product and the brand will happen (Huh, interesting).

As opposed to that is another recent experience I had with a beauty brand run by a traditional advertising agency. I believed (and still do) that for long the beauty industry has played on the insecurities of women. Rather than make them feel beautiful, it has frightened them to look beautiful, to an extent that these women don't own their beauty anymore.

To me, it shows a lack of respect for women. It shows that you don't really understand them. It shows short sightedness. Granted, you may sell loads of products today through disorganised propaganda and short-term offers. But you may never create a brand for the future that is created and co-created and owned by the very people who use it. Because your brand is telling them what to do rather than giving them the power to touch and retouch it and make them fall in love with it.

Increasingly, I feel that we may be in advertising but we don't own it anymore. We aren't creators. We're curators. We're organisers. We're storyscapers. We light a small spark, fan it every now and then, guide it, and let people increase the flame into a raging bonfire of their wonderful making. Then, watch them gleefully dance around it. The sooner we realise and work around this, I guess the better off we will be.

Anyway, I think I've rambled enough. And, in any case, I am not an expert on social media or the future of advertising. I am a student, an explorer, an observer.

Speaking of observation, here's one - a watch out for my buddies in advertising agencies. If you don't rethink the traditional pursuit of the big idea and the rest of it, if you don't stop telling people what to do, data analytics is going to run you out of business.

Because brand building and product selling in social media is run by highly organised, accountable data analytics. Not a big idea.

Parag Tembulkar is back in New York and is missing his good ol' ad buddies in Bombay. He is currently reorganizing his life on paragtembulkar.com.