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The single-minded proposition is God’s gift to advertising.

Like God, it manifests itself in many forms and is called by many names. And like God, believing in it is based on that exasperating thing we call Faith. However you look at it, getting to grips with the single-minded proposition means coming to terms with the single, most important commandment in advertising.

That is, the power of one.

Considered the latter-day USP, the single-minded proposition — or SMP — differs from the USP in that products aren’t really that unique any more. So selling them under ‘uniqueness’ leaves several possibilities for positioning unexplored. Instead, the SMP argues, why not brand your product with any relevant benefit — based on its central promise and personality — and make it meaningful?

In other words, choose the single most motivating thing you can say about your brand to your target audience (that’s motivating; not unique) and then wait for the cash register to ring. In this way, your product stands for the way it could be represented and not the way it should be represented. The SMP has turned the tables around: where the USP explicated a product’s reason for being, the SMP implicates it; where the USP pushed the product, the SMP leads it; and where the USP crowned a product that was king, the SMP crowns a strategy that is king.

In today’s advertising arena, where marketing is a battle of ideas and not products, the SMP is its warhead. But enough of theory; let’s get to work.

Pioneered by Charles and Maurice Saatchi, the creative duo who founded the two agencies that bear their name, the SMP asks that a proposition should single-mindedly come alive in a compelling way.

Sounds nice. But let’s analyze this:

Single-minded: Because in a cluttered marketplace, nobody absorbs more than one message. Too many creatives make the mistake of saying too much. It’s like throwing five balls at someone. What are the chances s/he’ll catch all five balls versus one? You get the idea.
Come Alive: Because a proposition must be interesting, original, arresting, entertaining. It’s got to have ‘magic’. It cannot afford to bore people. If you bore people, they fall asleep. And nobody buys anything when they’re asleep.
Compelling: Because advertising must force us to do something. Either to change our opinion, switch our brand preference, instill awareness, offer us a choice, etc. It follows, then, that if a proposition is designed to create awareness, it must not be judged on how well it did in increasing sales. A trap too many agencies fall into.

The single-minded proposition, the heart of your creative strategy, is the shortest statement any one will write in their career. Which is why it is especially important to understand its implications. For starters, it should be empty of jargon. It’s got to make sense and inspire — instantly. Fortunately, you (the client/ client service side) don’t have to do it. Yours is the second toughest: sourcing and defining the proposition. If you find that the creative department at your agency writes the SMP, then you have two problems: a) you don’t have a creative department; and b) you need to do something about your account executives getting pigeon-holed as glorified delivery boys. But seriously, just because they have an aptitude for language, getting creatives to write the SMP means robbing them of time to do something greater.

However you see it, whatever you call it — the big idea, the heart of the campaign, the platform, the concept — the single-minded proposition gives all of us the license to push towards the singularly sensational.

And, like the song from which this title was borrowed, it’s about every single move we make.

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