“It takes a big idea to attract the attention of consumers and get them to buy your product. Unless your advertising contains a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night.” â€” Advertising Legend, David Ogilvy
What Ogilvy calls a Big Idea, I call a tentpole.
And I do that mostly because it’s too easy to assume anything vaguely idea-like counts as a “big idea.”
So I use “Tentpole” as a sort of throwback to my days in Independent Movie-Making and as an allusion to circus-style showmanship.
InÂ a big-top circus,Â a supporting tentpole holds up the fabric of the tent, whileÂ a single must-see, “tentpole” act, can draw the crowd for and support smaller acts within the circus. In both cases, the tentpole is crucial; no physical tentpole means no big top tent to perform under, and no tentpole act means no crowd to make the whole thing profitable.
In both cases, the tentpole is crucial; no physical tentpole means no big top tent to perform under, and no tentpole act means no crowd to make the whole thing profitable.
While in the film industry, a Tentpole Movie is a high-concept, sure-fire hit that typically appeals to a wide audience and contains universal themes. In other words, a film with enough story-power and star-power capable of ensuring studio-supportingÂ profits.
So for my purposes, a Tentpole is an exciting and unusual Branding Concept that has:
- Universal appeal (within our targeted audience),
- An ability to keep an audience tuned-in to hear the â€œrest of the story.â€
- Memorable imagery that de-commodifies the brand
- Unfakeable truth to it
The tentpole is the showmanship which takes a branding campaign to the next level. It’s what allows you to grow a company by multiples instead of percentages.
Want an example?
My favorite example is Canada’s “Huggable” Car Dealer, where “huggable” is the tentpole.
Huggable means trustworthy, caring, likable and, well, akin to family. So it’s got universal appeal — I mean, who wouldn’t prefer a huggable car dealer to a typical used-car salesman?
And the highlyÂ incongruent imagery of a huggable car dealer not only draws people’s attention and causes them to listen for “the rest of the story,” it also sells Gilbert’s Wheels and Deals as an utterly unique car-buying experience.
And best of all is that it was true â€” Jim Gilbert really is a huggable, genuinely likable guy.
So let me ask you: do your ads have a tentpole? Â Would it meet the requirements I laid out?
If not, are you getting the results from your advertising that you want?
Let me know in the comments.