What the Movies Can Teach You About a Big Idea

This is a guest post from AKQA creative and frequent Makin' Ads contributor Nathan Archambault. You can follow him on Twitter @NKArch


Greg has written before about the importance of having a great elevator pitch. Here’s another way of looking at it. This is something I picked up on after attending the Creative Week panel The Idea Matters… Still.

Your best idea should be like a great movie plot. For any great movie, you can reduce the plot down to a single sentence. For example:

Boy’s parents murdered, so he starts wearing a cape, fighting crime and talking in a deep, gravelly voice (Batman).
New York cop single-handedly stops terrorists from robbing an office building, all before the helpful proliferation of cell phones (Die Hard).
Nerd steals website idea from good-looking jocks and becomes an awkward billionaire (Social Network).

Your best ideas should be this simple and accessible. Try this test: take one of your ideas, write it down in a short sentence on a blank piece of paper. No visuals, no technology, no strategy, just an organized jumble of letters.
Now stare at it.

Does it still seem like a big idea? Does it pop? Does it wow? Do you look at that sentence, want to fold it in three and overnight ship it to Gerry Graf, Jeff Goodby and Dan Wieden?

Or, without all the glitter, does it seem empty, boring, unspectacular, less than large?

If, sans glitter, it’s not ready for the limelight, then figure out what it needs. Is it too complicated or gimmicky? Is it just a tactic? Is there something missing or is there something there that doesn’t have to be?

Boiling your idea down to a single, naked sentence can separate the great ideas from the good ones. Because all the glitter we sprinkle on our ideas makes them look better than they really are.

We’re storytellers, after all, and part of telling a story is making an idea seem bigger and better than it is on its own. When we present, there’s always more than the idea. There’s backstory and visuals. A beautiful presentation. People with varied areas of expertise go into an exorbitant amount of detail about each carefully-thought-out step of the process. Then, once sufficiently built up, the big idea is revealed with reserved aplomb.

And it’s glorious.

But if you start with a less-than-great idea, the final product will always have something missing.


So before you put all that effort into presenting and selling your idea, write it down in one single thought and stare at it.

If it still seems like the best idea you’ve ever seen, you’ve got a winner. Just imagine how great it will be once you add all the glitter.