How You Can Have “Big Ideas”

big ideas ogilvy's advert on rolls-royce

How To Have Big Ideas

Do you struggle when coming up with unique ideas for your articles and ads?

I do. But I think I’ve had a break through, and it’s down to one book.

As people who read my Twitter will know, the other day I managed to grab a copy of David Ogilvy’s Ogilvy on Advertising. It’s a brilliant book, and I’ll write about it in detail in a future article. At the moment, I’m about a third of the way through, and yesterday evening I had to stop reading it because I’d had too many ideas and revelations that I needed to internalise before I could continue. My brain actually hurt.

Anyway, there’s a big section towards the front of the book which talks about how Ogilvy approached advertising and copywriting. Central to this is the idea that a brilliant advertising campaign comes about due to a “Big idea.”

Examples of a big idea include:

  • Rare ingredients within a particular product
  • The famous Rolls-Royce ad that mentioned that the loudest noise was the electric clock (look this ad up if you’re not familiar)
  • A country based on the point of view of a fifteen year old girl.

All of these “big ideas” take the form of looking at your product from a perspective or novel angle that no other advertiser – or customer – has thought of. In a world of ads and competing products, it’s hard to create something “new” but that’s the value ad of a copywriter; you sell the product in a way that the business can’t do without you.

The problem with “big ideas” is that they’re not common. Ogilvy said that he only came up with 20 in his lifetime.

Of course, he was talking about “big ideas” that bring in billions in revenue. If we set our sights a little lower, we can have some great ideas that put us beyond the reach of the average Upwork freelancer.

big ideas ogilvy's advert on rolls-royce

This “small detail” made a “Big Idea” point about the luxury Rolls-Royce car

How To Have Big Ideas

Rob from 30 Days To X wrote an article about brilliant ideas. His general gist is that you’ve got to look beyond what everyone else is doing and combine ideas in novel ways to differentiate yourself from the crowd. I agree with this, and I’ll add some other thoughts to his.

Get to Know Your Product/Service

Having written reviews of products I’ve never seen, I can tell fake reviews from about a million miles away. Whilst you might think that that’s the worst superpower in the world, it’s not a “power” at all. Everyone can tell a fake review, just some less consciously than others.

Nobody is going to buy a product where the reviews are all 5-Star and filled with generic information, because those reviews don’t add any value. “this protein powder tastes great and gave me big muscles” isn’t going to cut it.

In fact, this is true for copywriters and business owners: There’s a reason you can buy “turnkey” websites that sell wholesale protein powder for cheap. It’s because those websites don’t make any money because they’re 1 of a 1000 that sell exactly the same product at exactly the same price.

If you get to know your product intimately, then you can beat out every piece of generic copy with just a single idea.

Everyone talks about protein powder building muscles and tasting great. Every single type of protein powder has hundreds of reviews that all say the exact same thing. What is there that’s different about the product that you can exploit?

  • Does it mix well with ice cream?
  • Does it work better in a specific context (Like, after/before a meal?)
  • Is it the only protein powder that won’t give you stomach cramps?

You’ll find much better ideas than that. The point of this advice is to tell you to do your research. Remember, Ogilvy used a single minute detail to sell billions of dollars’ worth of luxury products.

Find One Idea, Use That One Idea

In the age of those ridiculous 15,000 word and 30-minute long video sales pages that are all over the internet, people have forgotten to be precise.

If you have a “big idea” for a product, you should gear your sales letter around that one idea. For instance, if you’re selling a product because it’s healthy for kids, don’t also talk about the price. If you’re selling something because it makes you money in the long run, don’t talk about how popular the course is.

Obviously, you need to include all the relevant information. Don’t confuse adding relevant information with adding different sales objectives, markets or other stuff that’s going to conflict or take away from your big idea.

To Come Up With A Great Idea, Connect The Dots Between Buyer and Buyer Dreams (Or Nightmares)

We all buy for a reason. We all act for a reason. We all learn for a reason. The reason is the genesis of your big ideas. That’s why I mention the point above: detracting from your big idea is taking a person out of the dream.

The other day, I was watching a crime series. It was about a terrorist cell that blows up a plane. That’s a big idea; it touches on the current political turmoil about the world and a massive personal fear that many people have. That’s great.

However, the show also had a side plot about the protagonist’s wife getting trolled by someone on Twitter. I guess that’s another fear that people have, but it massively detracted from “The Plot” and had no place on the show. The story would have been much better if they’d stuck with fear of terrorism and left it at that.

Your writing will be the same: There’ll be a tendency to say, “If you want to make a million dollars… then buy this course. However, if you want to pay off your student loan, it’s great for that too.” Don’t fall into this trap. You make your material weaker for including it, not stronger.

Final Thoughts: Big Ideas Require… Big Ambitions

One thing you get from reading Ogilvy on Advertising is that you’re learning from a guy who never had a problem with ambition. He’d go into a board room with a crazy idea, explain how his big idea would work, did it and succeeded.

He built one of the biggest advertising agencies in the world.

To bring that back to us, the point is that to have winning ideas, you’re going to have to do several things:

  • Research
  • Follow through and write/do your project
  • Make sure your vision stays on track

But none of these things are going to happen unless you actually commit to finding great ideas and doing great work in the first place. Despite what an average advertising graduate might tell you, creativity isn’t about natural talent or inspiring a muse, it’s about sitting down and thinking about avenues that nobody else is going down and then actually testing them out yourself.

If you do that, then you’ll create brilliant ideas. Oh, and you might end up living somewhere like this…

touffou david ogilvy copywriter house

David Ogilvy Actually Owned A Castle

P.S. I’ll write a full review of what I’ve learned in Ogilvy’s book later. If you’d rather get on with learning how to have big ideas from one of the best as opposed to me, you should probably just buy Ogilvy on Advertising from Amazon. It’s even an updated version which might be better than mine.



About the author

Jamie McSloy

My name is Jamie McSloy. I'm a writer from the UK. This site is about the business of being a writer. Copywriting, Content Marketing, Publishing and all forms of writing will be discussed here. Learn More About Me


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