Whose Idea Was That Ad?

When I was a kid, one of my favorite past times was running the Christmas light gauntlet. The gauntlet comprised streets that started with one house covered with lights, then the slow progression of competition arose. Pretty soon, whole sections of a town looked like a suburban Las Vegas. It was good fun and a great way to get out of the house during the long, cold winter nights.

Tip O’Neil, the Boston politician and former Speaker of the House, once said, “All politics is local.” He had it right: when it comes to ideas, the best test is in the cauldron of local opinion.

With the Internet’s great equalizing force, all events and ideas have the potential of becoming local. In some ways, that applies to advertising ideas; some very memorable campaigns have been created by people not entirely experienced in the online advertising world.

Today, that fact looms large in the online world. With the onset of video usage and publishing, we see more and more homemade advertising. Poor production quality aside, most of it is good, satirical fun. People show their love or hatred of advertising by emulating it.

Such video content’s limitation is that it’s usually one-off pieces, not full-fledged campaigns. But the Internet’s power forces us to debate whether the idea of a campaign is still relevant. Viral marketing tells us something remarkable can make a big impression and never need be reiterated in any other way, shape, or form. Sometimes the content is out there. We just have to find a way to recapture some homemade content’s magic rather than try to automate a process around spontaneity.

Last year, one of the top videos merged technology and the Christmas light gauntlet to make an even louder statement in an average suburban neighborhood. And the story doesn’t end there. Over the holidays, a Miller Beer spot probably made some advertising agencies a little worried: a great idea that your neighborhood amateur electrical engineer could (and probably did) build in a weekend became a national TV spot. For a professional ad agency, the assignment was simple: film it in high quality, add a smart copy line and logo, and you’re done.

Is this a wave of the future? Are we advertisers compelled to compete with John Q. Public for the chance to win a Clio? Maybe. But maybe these magic moments created in the hinterlands of America are just that: magic.

Then again, the public’s idea factory is closer to bringing a new approach to big brand marketers than ever before. Sometimes it comes down to exposure and TV airtime.

VH1 and iFilm have partnered to get the great things happening on the Web into the living rooms of the non-Web savvy with a program called Web Junk 20. Maybe it’s not the most flattering name for homemade video ads, but it’s getting amateur work into the big time.

Yes, local ad ideas could be a threat, or an opportunity, for advertisers. The broadening idea marketplace could offer a lot of new ways to evolve advertising. For now, we can only speculate whether your mom or kid sister armed with a video camera and a PC will be the next Jay Chiat or David Ogilvy.

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