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The article below is one I wrote for the most recent issue of the Raving Consulting Newsletter. Needless to say, I feel strongly about this topic, so I’ve decided to publish it here on our blog as well.

Two days ago my creative director and I were discussing ideas for a potential client, and we were arguing. We had a great business idea for the client, but the business idea didn’t match up with the advertising solution I was convinced the client wanted to buy from us. The client was looking for a new brand solution, and they very much liked our Grand Casino “What’s Your Grand Casino Story?” campaign. And so I thought the answer was to find a Guest-centric testimonial-like branding idea, but Cathy felt her idea — which was not a Guest-centric testimonial branding idea — she felt her idea was something better, something bigger, and something that could reposition the client and drive huge business. I said, “The client wants a brand campaign that looks like this.” And she said, “No, our job is to help our client use their marketing dollars to drive more business. And this idea is bigger than advertising. It’s a positioning idea that is something more. Remember, an ad is only as big as the billboard, but an idea can be much, much bigger.”

She is right, of course. I was just being stubborn, wanting to give the client what they asked for.

Here’s a perfect example of the power of great creative. The following was taken from the Sept/Oct issue of Communication Arts magazine. The agency work highlighted is from BooneOakley, an agency from North Carolina, and describes their first campaign project. It’s genius…

…Its first project — a single billboard with a picture of George W. Bush next to the Gore 2000 campaign logo — went up just two weeks prior to the 2000 election.


“It went up on a Friday and within an hour it was media bedlam.” said David Oakley. “I got calls from CNN and the Today Show asking, ‘How could you do this?’ I said, ‘We just opened this week, we’re a new agency, we’re aware of the mistake.’ They asked, ‘Who hired you the Democrats or Republicans?’ I said, ‘We’ve been instructed not to say, we’ll have the mix-up fixed on Monday.’”

“People were telling us that local radio DJs were trying to find out who the idiots were that put up that billboard,” John Boone said. “On Saturday, every major newspaper in the country and CNN Headline News had a story on the big billboard blunder.”

“We put out a press release stating the billboard would be corrected at 11:00 A.M. on Monday,” Oakley said. “At 11:00 A.M. there was an NBC News helicopter hovering and filming as it was being put up.” The “correction,” “Today’s job opening: proofreader,” earned a ton of free publicity for, a regional career site competing against Monster and CareerBuilder for market share. …


…it’s about using creative leverage to the client’s advantage. Doing work that gets noticed and talked about makes marketing dollars go farther and work harder.

There are a thousand ways to design a billboard to market a job finder website product. But BooneOakley found a creative solution that was a thousand times bigger than that one billboard. Likely half of America heard about’s clever billboard that week. How many tv ads and magazine ads and newspaper ads and web banners and billboards would be required to reach that many people? Do the math…it’s millions of dollars. BooneOakley’s creative IDEA saved millions in media costs. That’s the power of great creative.

So here’s my questions: As you contemplate which path to take as you explore your next round of creative, have you thought of any ways that you could make a bigger bang than what you’re currently making? Is the agency you hired willing to stretch a bit to deliver this kind of work?

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 6th, 2010 at 3:21 pm and is filed under advertising, marketing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “An ad is only as big as the billboard…”

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