Boldly Disrupting the Ideavation Paradigm

Agencies, and the creative phraseology they think sets them apart

Rather than admit there’s a certain alchemy to advertising, agencies frequently turn to buzzwords and gobbledygook as they try to distinguish themselves. Besides luring in like-minded clients, these rhetorical flourishes have a side benefit. Agency CEOs get to produce their very own books (or, at least, an earnest essay) about their phraseology.

The latest example of the trend is Ogilvy & Mather’s “The big ideaL,” which seeks to sum up how the shop developed successful brand strategies for the likes of IBM and Louis Vuitton. In a 55-page white paper that repeats the key phrase 101 times, the agency explains that “a big ideaL expresses something people would not be embarrassed about discussing in a pub or with a supplier. It gets at something authentic, and it can help companies and brands take market-leading positions.”

Why do shops use this sort of pop psychology? The short answer, according to consultant Hasan Ramusevic, is that marketers want it. “A process is comforting,” he says. “It indicates that you can do it over and over again.”

Below are some of the catchier examples.

Ogilvy & Mather

CEO Miles Young


CEO Tom Carroll

This buzzword was the brainchild of Carroll’s predecessor, Jean-Marie Dru, who turned it into a 1996 book with a bright yellow cover. It’s all about smashing conventions to create unique brand strategies. Hmm. Sounds kind of BBH-like (“When the world zigs, zag”).

The Kaplan Thaler Group

CEO Linda Kaplan Thaler

Kaplan Thaler uses a trilogy of books with one-word titles to describe her agency’s branding philosophy and culture. Bang! (2003) extols the virtues of breaking norms, Small (2009) touts the importance of sweating little details, and Nice (2006) is how they do it. Super.


CEO Duff Stewart

Stewart inherited this “calling”/book concept from his predecessor, Roy Spence. A Burnett-like idea that every company has a higher purpose, it coincidentally happens to neatly rationalize the success of the shop’s “freedom” positioning for Southwest Airlines.

Saatchi & Saatchi

CEO Kevin Roberts

How do you build “loyalty beyond reason”? By creating brands and ads that appeal to the heart—lovemarks. Roberts gets a lot of mileage out of this theory, the subject of a 2004 book. It helped Saatchi win JC Penney in 2006. And it makes us feel all warm and cuddly inside.


CEO Chuck Brymer

In a 2008 essay, Brymer argued that the Web and social networks have spawned human swarms that wield influence over most everything, including brands. To gain the trust of these influencers, marketers must be authentic and open. Reasonable . . . but maybe a bit obvious?

Leo Burnett

CEO Tom Bernardin

This “up with people” philosophy makes advertising seem downright noble. The agency that created the Jolly Green Giant and the Marlboro Man conjures “acts, not ads” that stem from a “human brand purpose.” It ain’t quite the Peace Corps, but it was enough to fill a book.