Big Idea: Matt Herrmann, BBDO San Francisco

Matt Herrmann, EVP and director of strategy at BBDO San Francisco, explains that sometimes the next big thing seems ludicrous at the start.

While I was delighted to offer my thoughts as the first commentator for PRWeek's Big Idea, I have to admit, it created a wave of anxiety and nausea.

The all-important, yet often ill-defined big idea. What is it? What makes it different than a regular idea? Ironically, the anxiety provoked by this column is actually a microcosm of what it's like to be asked to come up with a big idea for a client.

We know this tension can be counterproductive. We beat our heads against screens believing if we think harder, we will think of something epic. Along the way, we dismiss a lot of ideas as being too small, tactical, or silly. I'd like to submit that sometimes the silly ideas are the most effective and inventive ones.

Using humor
The great David Ogilvy once said, "The best ideas come as jokes. Make your thinking as funny as possible." What he is saying is that lighter thinking can lead to bigger ideas.

Neuroscientists are proving him right, too. We don't know all the causes of laughter, but we know a comment, or concept that is radically discordant with convention often evokes a chortle. In this sense, laughter works as a flag that shows how an idea is new, different, and innovative - the heart of all breakthrough ideas.

I'm sure Tourism Queens-land's campaign for Best Job In the World as caretaker of the islands in the Great Barrier Reef was almost laughed down, but someone found a way to do it. That $1 million investment generated an estimated $70 million in publicity.

Making it happen
A recent successful project my agency produced in partnership with Hunter PR was the Great Paper Airplane for the Pima Air and Space Museum.

We wanted to bring more families to the museum and communicate the hands-on learning opportunities the facility offered. When the idea of building a 45-foot paper airplane came up, most people found it completely ridiculous and improbable at the start.

That airplane ended up generating more than 130 million media impressions the week after the flight. The campaign drove a 4% increase in attendance from 2011, making 2012 the highest year for visitation.

No doubt there are plenty of hilarious bad ideas, but I'd encourage all of us to take a closer look at ideas that seem too ridiculous to work the next time you are at a brainstorm.

You might find the next epic idea. But, even if you don't, you will get a good laugh.

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