The next big thing

The next big thing - image for article by Greg Alder

Everyone’s waiting for the next big thing.

Everyone’s looking for the first sign of an innovation that they can borrow or adapt to their own needs.

Everyone’s looking for a breakthrough product they can copy and make a quick buck.

That way of working is opportunistic and lazy. You earn income, but not respect, by copying the innovations of others.

Here’s the shocking truth: It’s remarkably easy to be the originator, not the copycat.

I’m certainly no Leonardo da Vinci, but I can think of a few innovations from the mediaeval period of my working life that were breakthroughs in their own way.

I’ll share them, not to boost my delicate ego, but to show how easy innovation can be.

Many, many years ago in my advertising days, Breville was a client. Breville makes kitchen appliances. Their first big success was the Sandwich Maker. I remember going into stores to have a look at the electrical appliance departments. I saw shelves displaying irons, toasters and the like.

Stacked up on the top shelves were boxed products. All of the boxes were plain brown or white cardboard with the name of the product, its SKU, brand name, country of manufacture etcetera.

I remember looking up at all these dull boxes and thinking what a wasted opportunity. My art director and I had an idea. We developed a mockup of our idea and took it to our client. He was excited, but simultaneously apprehensive.

Our idea? Full colour packaging. We presented our client with the concept of using packaging as point-of-purchase advertising. Our boxes displayed full colour photos of the products inside, with features and benefits presented as bullet points. What excited our client was the idea of being able to promote the advantages of his products right there where the customer was about to select his or her purchase. Our client’s apprehension had to do with cost. Full colour gloss packaging was considerably more expensive than plain brown cardboard.

Of course, our client approved the packaging change and we quickly converted all Breville products to the new colour boxes.

Today, it’s virtually impossible to find plain cardboard packaging for appliances.

A second innovation occurred in the early 90s. Another client was the New South Wales Roads & Traffic Authority. This authority created road safety messages on themes such as the dangers of speeding, driving whilst tired, pedestrian safety, cyclist safety and drink driving.

We were working on a campaign to warn drinkers that excessive alcohol affected their driving performance. We had a few ideas that needed the approval of the Australian Hotels Association if they were to be implemented. One idea was to print messages on the base of beer glasses so they would be read by drinkers when they downed their beers. This was a bit much for the AHA.

What they did (reluctantly) approve was something that hadn’t been done before. They approved the placement of ads in rest rooms – above urinals and on cubicle doors.

So, if you’re tired of ads in toilets, I am sorry.

The third innovation that has come to mind dates from the mid 90s. Bundaberg Rum was one of the brands I worked on as creative director. Whilst Bundy R Bear is the best known of the campaigns we created for Bundaberg Rum, a campaign for Dark & Stormy (a mix of rum and ginger beer) was the real innovation.

I had an idea of what I wanted to do. However, in order to do it, we had to go and talk to the radio network about it. You see, there was no media schedule to cover what we wanted to do. This wasn’t a standard 30 second commercial in drive time.

The idea was a radio serial. We would start a new story on Monday morning. The story would develop through the week and conclude on Friday evening.

Each episode was to be 90 seconds long. Each episode opened with the words, “It was a dark and stormy night …”.

When we presented the radio network with the idea, they initially baulked. Their advertising rate card and scheduling process didn’t accommodate something like our proposal. Eventually they gave us 90 second spots at 60 second rates. They scheduled each episode to run immediately prior to the 8am and 6pm news bulletins.

Ultimately, I think I wrote 50 episodes. It was a labour of love.

The thing is that all it took to bring each of these ideas to life was to believe that each was possible – and to push to change the status quo to make them a reality.

Each of these innovations met with some resistance. Our Breville client resisted the additional printing costs. Publicans resisted the presence of anti drinking messages on premise. The radio network resisted changing their set advertising scheduling and prices.

The point is that these are just three small innovations. There are thousands of them introduced every day. They are the creation of people who don’t simply want to be copycats.

Instead of looking for the next big thing, create it yourself. Armed with a few creative thinking tools, a streamlined innovation process and a belief in your own creative prowess, you will find that innovating is ridiculously easy – and, best of all, enormous fun.

2 Comments

  • Greg,
    I completely resonate with the energy in this blog and I recall a phrase I picked up when I was living in Japan of all places.
    My original phrase was circa 1997-1999 and I now see it everywhere promoting global fast food outlets – Gotta Love It! If I recall correctly the reason the phrase was so frequently used was because of the wonderful food and beers we savoured for nearly three years living in Tokyo.
    I often ponder advertising slogans and imagine the colour of the energy generated by the words as they resonate to me; more importantly how they connect to me.
    Today’s blog has resulted in me commenting and thanking you for reminding me, we all have the big next things in our lives and all are capable of achieving them if we believe in them. Small to some, irrelevant to others, but to the individual it can be the foundation upon which we build our dreams and expand our own connection with humanity. Whatever impact it has on you. big or small it reminds you that you are alive, growing and expanding – the choice of speed, completely in your own hands. Thanks Greg have a great day too!

    • Andy, thanks for sharing your story. What you’ve demonstrated is that it’s possible to have brilliant ideas, but no immediately channel to implement them. You had a great line, but no food business client. I saw a site recently with a list of innovation ideas submitted by users. There were hundreds, maybe even thousands of them. Some that I read were brilliant. But the people with the ideas had no access to the tools, partners, money or time to develop them. Some could become wealthy if they had the opportunity to develop their big ideas. Sadly, most of us will die wondering. So next time you have an idea, do whatever it takes to make it happen. Take care, Greg

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