An Active Idea is the shortest distance between your issue and your audience’s motivation to do something about it. In pursuing the Active Idea, we strive to break down everything we know about an issue to the one relevant concern or belief that our audience ranks higher than any other. And then we build a creative and strategic campaign around that one idea.
It’s like isolating a strand of DNA, and then creating a living, breathing organism out of that single genetic blueprint.
For a good example of a great Active Idea in action, check out Coal Cares, a satirical site created by a group called Coal is Killing Kids with help from the Yes Men. The DNA in this case is the understanding that the thing most likely to galvanize Americans against Big Coal is the fact that coal pollution is dangerous to our health, especially the health of our kids. If you build a campaign entirely from that single insight, Coal Cares is what you get.
In a nutshell, the campaign imagines Peabody Energy, the world’s largest coal company, giving out free asthma inhalers to people living within 200-miles of one of their coal plants. Rather than owning up to the fact that their pollution exacerbates asthma problems for the communities who live in the shadow of their smokestacks, Peabody rallies the world to instead address the bigger problem of “asthma related bullying (ARB).” Its would-be goal is to “make asthma cool” by offering designer inhalers branded with images of kid-friendly characters like Batman, Justin Bieber and Elmo. These inhalers would be right at home in a Happy Meal.
It’s a brilliant spoof on the kind of propaganda you see from dirty energy companies, who spend millions saying how benevolent they are while avoiding real responsibility for the harm they cause. Its brilliance lies in its construction, which gets you to connect three very real and very strategic dots: coal, kids and asthma. The words may say, “coal cares,” but one look at the Bieber inhaler and you know that the exact opposite is true.
The real testament to the power of a great idea is whether it can spread. And the early signs for Coal Cares are positive. Nearly 100 media outlets have covered the prank, including the Wall Street Journal, Time, Forbes, Wired, and CNN. In each case, Peabody is being scrutinized for the health dangers they spread and forced to respond. Meanwhile, 19,000 people have “liked” the campaign on Facebook in just a matter of days.
Of course, an idea like Coal Cares will only have an impact if it keeps building momentum, which is why you should check it out and pass it on.