Only some ideas are big - big enough to cross boundaries of media, partnerships, screens, and audiences. Big enough to spin off 1,000 smaller ideas that can all work together in a cohesive way.
So let's take an example. What if you had the idea to chop up every Schwarzeneggar movie scream and put it into one video. That would be super. So someone did it.
But then you took that idea to a community manager, an offline agency, a media company, the client, the fans - what do they do with that idea? It's limited. You can take the video and place it in pre-roll. You can share it. You can talk about it in a status update maybe. But there's not all that much to add.
But what if you had expressed that idea one level up? The Supercuts meme takes movies and television shows down to their essential ridiculousness to expose the cliches or shared techniques that exist within them. When you frame it that way, everyone gets to play. You could get this.
That's often the difference between big, integrated ideas and stuff that just does a single job. One gives everyone the freedom to create, the other does not.
So - let's talk examples.
American Express - Create a Black Friday for Small Business
You can think of these ideas as gardens. They define both boundaries and fertile territory where other ideas can grow. American Express could have just made the small business tools and Levi's could have just made the tv spot about a fictional steel town getting back to work. And that may have done a job, but it probably wouldn't have spurred as much participation or conversation either.
Even when we do stay solely within the digital space - more often than not, things tend to work better when it's big enough to become a banner ad, a series of social updates, an influencer program, a website, a video and on and on. If all you can do in each of those spaces is tell people that this other thing exists somewhere else, your idea will limit the content teams, social media teams, bloggers and whoever else wants to help it spread.
This isn't always about good ideas or bad ideas. Sometimes our ideas need to be big, programatic, expansive, and sometimes they need to be very specific. But it's important that you understand the difference because even the smaller ones should be additive at the core.
So putting it together - go for ideas that give room for others to play. Infuse them with borrowed elements from music, art, tv, film, fashion, books, memes and magazines to gain attention and make them feel familiar for the audience. Marvel at how awesome you are.
Working Out the Big Idea
Pull out a sheet of paper. On the top - write "The idea." In a few words, write down the basics of the idea.
Below that - you could write this:
Facebook status update:
Then beside each one (and feel free to add other channels) - write down a related idea that would fit with the big idea at the top. If the only thing you can think to do is to tell people about the big idea or you have a slew of hackneyed, unworkable nonsense - might be time to think bigger.