There is a lot of talk about bravery in advertising these days. On the Super Bowl last Sunday, Budweiser’s support of immigration and Audi’s props for pay equality were indeed brave. But what I think really makes them work is their interesting intimacy. Intimacy is shocking. It is honest. It brings up awkward things. It speaks to you knowingly about the undergarments of your life, the things you do when no one else is around. Is anyone looking? Did you really say that? How did you know that about me?
What if advertising said something so surprisingly intimate that it made you feel vulnerable? Intimacy tells us: They know what I am thinking. It creates an indelible bond between a company and the individual. Intimacy makes us remember. Big Data and research are vital in the creation of this kind of relationship, but they are just the beginning. With enough money, every advertiser can buy the same data. It is not intimate to say things everyone already knows.
Instead, we must go beyond common knowledge to find the things in-between the well-trodden paths, the things that signal that a company understands and is one of us. These things are the essence of a big idea. Success in this search will determine who wins the Big Data battles. The people who can help you do this are the most valuable people in commerce.
When my agency worked for Nike in the late nineties, we strived for something I then called "astonishing intimacy." Skateboarders, for instance, were astonished to find that Nike knew they resented being excluded from the realm of athletes, and particularly hated being kicked out of public spaces. Some female runners put Band-Aids over their nipples because the sports bras and T-shirts they wore chafed them over long distances. Pro golfers believe that hitting a golf ball on the logo adds distance because the covering is thinner there.
More recently, Doritos celebrated one of the most intimate issues in life—gay marriage and coming out—with a special edition Doritos Rainbows. REI tapped into the vicarious outdoor longings of their customers by giving employees the day off on Black Friday. Adobe’s ongoing series, "Do you know what your marketing is doing?" portrays kneebucklingly pivotal moments in the lives of CMOs and media people, certain to elicit the reaction, "Wow, I’ve been there." And year after year, Dove’s "Real Beauty" campaign continues to zero in on things we thought we said only to ourselves. You can feel the snap in those examples.
But today, in an age of always-connected social media and customizable television, there is perhaps something to strive for that is even more powerful than mere intimacy. At my agency, we call it mass intimacy. Mass intimacy is the replication of this kind of feeling over a wide, even global audience, yes. But it’s also a snowballing kind of momentum created when we experience an intimate message and realize that it’s going to millions of people around us at that same moment. It is the very best, pure uncut drug form of this effect.
We once called it fame. But it is more than that. It speaks stunningly to us alone. Yet we can’t wait to share it because we know others just saw it too. Mass intimacy is not something that comes merely from a creative idea. It takes strategic brilliance and unheard-of media thinking. But the result can be historically affecting. We can have people sharing the most intimate, emotional message—think about it—in seconds.
Be careful out there.
Jeff Goodby is a co-chairman and partner at San Francisco-based agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners.