What's the Big Idea?

The advertising industry is nothing like Mad Men. Three-martini lunches are long gone. Smoking in the office? Nope. Creative types wearing three-piece suits, starched white shirts and wingtips? No way.

The modern-day "ad man" is a different beast. You've seen him strolling down Nicollet Mall in tight jeans, All-Stars and a track jacket-hair disheveled, coffee in hand, nursing a hangover from last night's Uptown dive bar. Where he drank PBR. From a can.

An exaggeration? Mostly. But, let's face it, so is Mad Men.

While the Madison Avenues of yore and the Nicollet Malls of today are very different places, there is some common ground. It's something intangible. It's elusive. Mysterious, even. But, once found, it's as plain as day. Some creatives are more familiar with it than others. Some agencies hang their hat on it. And rightly so. It's arguably the most important thing to any advertising professional from any era. What is it?

It's the one thing a brand can claim that no other brand can, has or has yet. Some call it "the big idea." Rosser Reeves called it the "Unique Selling Proposition." Others call it "the hook." Whatever you call it, if it's big enough, strong enough and believable enough, it's the thing that makes a brand memorable.

For Barclays, it's bigness:

For Budweiser, it's genius:

Admittedly, a high-frequency national media buy can make just about any brand memorable. But, that doesn't mean the ads are any good. Head On proves that in spades:

And to combat any potential naysayers, I'd argue that Barclay's bigness and Budweiser's genius (not their huge production budgets) are what make the ads "good." But there's one more thing that makes those big ideas so powerful. Believability. It's the X-factor that makes a big idea even bigger. Don Draper alludes to that "believability," right after he eloquently illustrates Lucky Strike's unique selling proposition, here:

He calls it "happiness." I call it a human truth. And I'll tell you about it next time.