Alternative marketing thinking

iCONTRACT

Archive for the category “Agencies”

An Agency of Makers.

In a first for a non-technology company, Unilever brand AXE had called for a developers’ day in early October.  One that I believe has a strong message for agencies.

Digital is the way ahead. Yes!

While there’s nothing path breaking about this fact, I’d like to argue that agencies can participate in the digital revolution in ways we have never imagined. Not just by being partners of our clients as we have always been, but by making things for ourselves, and profiting from it.

Planner Griffin Farley is one of the smartest minds out there. He makes an interesting point in this presentation on Fringe Planning, and I borrow shamelessly (God bless the Internet).  Slides 16 and 17 are noteworthy.  “Ad Agencies have recruited some of the smartest creative people out there.” And 17, “the byproduct of agencies are ideas that don’t get sold, or are not appropriate for a particular client.”

I see the second point as particularly appropriate. With agencies thinking up more business ideas as part of the integrated marketing communications mix these days, than merely communication ideas as they did in the past. For example, this Cannes winner from Tesco is not so much a communication idea as much as a business changing idea. Or the recent announcement from Shoppers Stop of setting up a Facebook store is a business idea, and less a marketing one.

So how are agencies taking advantage of the rich stream of “by products” they create? Griffin has listed out a few in his deck.

Anomaly, an agency with offices out of New York and London discovered YouTube amateur Lauren Luke and helped her develop, manufacture and market her own range of cosmetics. This is not a one off from Anomaly. They have developed a few IPable ideas, including ShopText, a mobile based shopping and couponing and commerce service.

There are other agencies too who think alike. Among the better known ones, BBH has Zag, a brand inventions agency. Deutsch has Consigliere, Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal and Partners  have KSBP Ventures. While independent traditional agencies have set up innovation shops, there are a new bunch of making agencies building things and creating a niche for themselves. Breakfast out of New York, Definition6 , the guys behind the Coke Happiness Machine, Deep Local, who built the NikeChalk bot, or London based agency, ustwo, who have a portfolio of client work and a bunch of independent products.

What connects these new agencies? Unlike traditional agencies that spend their energies creating communications ideas, the new ones are focusing on out and out innovation for their clients and for themselves. Thinking product ideas, which can be patented, to create intellectual property and build new revenue streams in the future.

A simple way for agencies to take advantage of “making” opportunities, we have to go beyond the campaign mentality. For example, with mobile apps, now accepted as a tool for marketing. (Most traditional agencies have an app or two to show off these days which means we have cracked the model of how to imagine and make them.) So instead of doing an app for, say, a diwali mela campaign, could we think long term? If we can understand the key reason for a person to buy a brand or use a service and then build something that fulfills an unmet need.

As this story in Fast Company points, can agencies think more like startups, and less like communication partners? Or as advertising planner Russell Davies goads us so eloquently in Wired UK, make things, not messaging platforms.

In a changed world, there are ways of making them happen. Thomas Freidman pointed us to some mega trends in his bestselling tome The World if Flat. For this story, the key ones from the book are outsourcing, rapid prototyping, workflow software and supply chaining.

So an idea, that comes up in a brainstorm, ideas that we agencies are so good at spotting, can be scaled up with help from partners who the agency has relationships with, and taken to market with the support of a client, or independently.

To do this we will need to add new skill sets though. Which is where agencies will have to have the startup mentality. We have rarely hired to build revenues in the future. But an agency with a headcount that runs into many hundreds can afford a small team of geeks, engineers and project managers for sure.

In a state of the union address early this year, Barack Obama told his country that their future lies in taking leadership of innovation. I believe the same should apply to the communication business that is seeing its fundamentals shifting with the arrival of the digital revolution.

DIY culture is a growing trend. This trend is spawning whole revolution, led by small groups of people who are using technology, easy connectivity, access to venture capital and microfinance.

Advertising as an industry that has a rich history of identifying and nurturing creativity. Unlike engineers, we are masters at helping find a way to make things that make an emotional connection with people. Could an agency create the next Angry Birds, Instagram, Klout or Hipstamatic asks this story. I believe we have the credentials. The inclination? Let’s wait to hear from the winners of the Axe developers’ day.

Advertisements

The Joy of Failure

In most agencies Digital is cool these days. And as a digital guy, you can walk around with this smug,  know-it-all expression. Augmented Reality? No problem! Shoskales? You should ask me! SEO? I know abbreviations!

Or you can expect to be branded a heretic and be ready to be foisted onto a stake for giving clients and agency colleagues the feeling that something complex can be done, without actually having done it before.

I must admit that I have been at the receiving end lately. Accused of being a complete loser who jumps onto new technology bandwagons (Hype Cycle, as Gartner puts it) because it’s out there waiting to be done (a campaign on Percolate anyone?). Or plunging smooth running client relationships into crisis by trying to do audacious things.

Frankly I’d rather die a trapeze artist trying to do one new stunt after another, rather be a Spanish goat herder stuck by lightning while he took a midafternoon siesta. Yes! More than ever…

Since the early seventies theorists have been postulating the emergence of the Attention Economy, where for brands and ideas, getting people’s attention is going to be the biggest problem. Traditional communication models like AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) are being threatened because of our reducing attention spans and the proliferation of devices.

While old theories are being laid to rest every day, ideas that once sparked and shone are biting the dust more often. This is not just true for traditional advertising ones, but for newfangled digital and nontraditional ones too. While Coke’s Happiness Machine version 1was a viral rage globally, attempts to recreate the magic have not been as spectacular. The original Old Spice Man Twitter response campaign got far more traction digitally than the recent shootout with Fabio.

But that’s not the point.

The point frankly is that we don’t know. We don’t know for sure what will work, and which ones won’t. And we have to believe that this to be the first principle of our business. Be prepared to throw away rule books, process documents, research methodologies and more in today’s over communicated world. Many ideas that fall in within our brand and communication comfort zones right now may not make any impact at all amidst all the noise around us.

Sure not every idea will be worth people’s attention. And that has always been the case. But to believe that tried and tested approaches will work again and again is to believe in the value of diminishing returns. I think we in agencies and at client offices have to build a culture of trying new things time and again. Create ideas that can creep into people’s attention spaces that may not necessarily fit within the boxes of advertising or marketing. So even if they are too busy to pay any attention, the sheer novelty of these ideas mean they get seen, heard and discussed.

Now there’s so much more motivation to step out and swim across to the unknown. The Cannes Lions Advertising Festival broke the rules this year renamed itself to the Cannes International Festival of Creativity. Awarding ideas that refuse to be contained in neatly defined boxes and silos that fall in our traditional comfort zones.

What would you call the Bing J-Z Decoded campaign or Tesco’s tryst with stores in the subway? Or the exceptional work done by the German agency Kempertrautmann for Hamburg Philharmonic? Here even the conductor agreed that the idea was crazy, when she first heard it. How would you measure such ideas even before they are approved and executed? What frameworks would they fall in?

We may want to pause and reflect on this.

Are we asking enough questions about our ideas, when we complain that are 99% of all advertising campaigns don’t cut it creatively? Why are we satisfied with just 2%, .2% or .02% banner clickthru rates? I could go on…

While attention is scarce on one hand, we are spending more time to seek out things that really interest us. Surely some of this can be advertising. Additionally, in this age of wonderment, most of the magic is being created outside departments that may not be designated creative. Also, the landscape of communication is being disrupted even by little kids armed with a computer and an internet connection.  As organisations that are being looked at as places that produce new and breakthrough ideas, we need to step right back in and claim our position. Whatever it takes.

As author Kathryn Schultz celebrates so evocatively in this TED talk, On Being Wrong. “Our capacity to screwup, it is not some embarrassing defect in the human system, something we can eradicate or overcome. It’s totally fundamental to who we are.” So if you have 20 minutes to spare. And it is not totally wrong to spend some time watching TED in office, maybe worth jumping in and listening up. Steve Jobs urged the class of 2005 at Stanford to stay hungry, stay foolish. Maybe we should too.

Sleuthing through the recent Facebook shutdowns

There’s been fear and loathing in social media land recently. As some of India’s most visible Facebook fan communities started to go missing. It all began early this month when the Pizza Hut India page was shut down. The news was important enough to feature in mainstream media and on digital blogs. While the Pizza Hut page came back up, two other Indian properties, FCUK India and Cadbury Bournville, went down too. Both the pages are back up after the blip. Check out this interesting inflection of the FCUK India page on Wildfire Social Media Monitoring App.

So what’s happening in social media land? Is the promise of limitless, free consumer engagement is beginning to evaporate even before we have started? What are the future challenges that brands and social media managers will have to keep in mind to ensure that their carefully built properties do not disappear?

The simple answer. Adhere to Facebook terms of service. Live by the rule book, they are straightforward, and everything will be fine. No problem.

In reality things are a bit different. Most brands want to grow their fan pages exponentially, And Pizza Hut India has had some success as this report from December points out. A good promo can do wonders to your page and your confidence, terms of service or no terms of service.

These takedowns are widespread. Allfacebook reports that there has been a slew of app take downs around the world where one of Facebook engineer tried to explain “We’ve been getting a lot of user feedback recently, spiking significantly over the past week, on the amount of application spam people are seeing in their feeds and on their walls. We turned on a new enforcement system yesterday that took user feedback much more heavily into account.”  Apologies and a form on a disabled application appeal page continued in the engineers post.

Spam and blackhat stuff aside, what can legit brands and social media companies do to avoid seeing their efforts and nascent fan pages go down? Once again, play by the rules. There’s no escaping that. Don’t misuse the “like” button, don’t try to induce fans to comment, tag or post.

If you have been managing a Facebook community, you may have received mails from Facebook staff urging you to remove apps and promotions that violate Facebook’s terms. We have received a few and  have been proactive in working to ensure compliance.

We think the problem arises when you don’t respond.

The Facebook platform has been written to record every action that a person makes on a page. Dig around the code and even you will know who commented, who posted, who shared something on any page. So it is easy for Facebook to track admins and what they do, the promos and apps they post etc. And if they find an offending app or promotion on a page they write to the specific admin who posted it.  Now this could be the reason why some pages are being taken down and others narrowly missing the cut. The admin who posted the app or the violating promo has moved on and is still the page admin, or has not checked his Facebook designated mail in time. Our experience is that Facebook does warn offending admins and if they respond and take necessary action then the page stays on. Simple.

So going forward. Stay within the limits of what Facebook allows. Ensure that the admins you have on the page are people who are actively managing the page. And three, and this is a tricky one. If you are an admin look thru every one of your Facebook mails, yes, you get a lot many of them from your friends, fans and the community. Read through them, lest one of them happens to be a mail that warns you about an offending item and the future of your million fan social media community.

And the TV Commercial Came in Last

Anyone who’s been following the incredible story of Tony Williams (Adam Schweigert has a detailed post on how the story unfolded) the homeless man with a golden voice from Columbus Ohio will notice how sluggish brands and agencies have been in responding to the story. The moot question here could be; should brands and agencies really react to such a thing at all? But now that Kraft has, well this post…

The story began, as Adam writes, on January 3rd when The Columbus Dispatch posted a video on their website. This video was later reposted on YouTube by an anonymous user, which then blew up the internets and in a day raked up over 6 million views.

Adam goes on from being a homeless man to a national and now an international celebrity that once again demonstrates the power of the net, word-of-mouth marketing and social media.

Somewhere in this all, came Kraft. Who had this TV commercial in production perhaps, and thought why not ride the viral and get some buzz for itself. The funny thing is that due to the nature of how traditional TV works, the actual made-for-TV commercial will only go on air later today. While the story developed on the internet and is now beginning to die out, the Kraft ad will go on air as a paid for advertisement. In fact the YouTube posting of the ad has already notched up some 300,000 views from around the world. The Kraft ad, dad in the doghouse has nothing to do with the man and the voice himself, and is at best a corny attempt to ride the wave of sympathy that Tony Adams is getting at the moment.

In a world of breaking news, reality television, and more importantly trending topics, how can brands be more inventive in taking advantage of the moment, in more unique and original ways?

Advertising. Not Like the Music Industry.

There have been many stories in the media in the last few weeks about the decay of advertising. There was this long one about The Future of Advertising in Fast Company. BusinessWeek countered it with this one on how Big Dumb Agencies may not be going away anywhere soon. The most provocative one, however was by Adaptive Path’s Peter Merholz. It was a brutal piece, one that tore apart our business as one with a “poisonous core”. While there has been a lot of debate and discussion around the post – in fact Peter has posted a rejoinder explaining various points on his original one, I thought the last item on his first rant to be a bit off key.  Advertising Agencies are the New Music Industry, he wrote.

I am not sure if the music industry analogy is the right one for the advertising business. While just like the music business, traditional advertising is being run over by the arrival of the Internet and other digital mediums, unlike the music industry, which went down primarily because of the growth of file sharing, I think advertising will evolve thanks to a combination of many smaller changes.

Search Marketing. While Google and others in the search marketing business are seeing exceptional growth, search marketing alone will not end advertising as we know it.

Social Media. Yes it is hot at the moment and will be extremely important in the years to come. Social media engagement will be one of the many things that marketers will need to help manage a brand.

PR. For years PR was a discipline that marketing had little influence over. Bougsky’s allegedly famous quote “…write me the press release” aptly describes how PR has become an important mover of marketing messages. Recently Pepsi’s Shiv Singh tweeted about wanting a partner who was a combination of a digital agency, a traditional agency and a PR company.

Video. BMW films showed us what can be done when branded messages are played out in digital media. There have been many experiments that have followed. The age of video, though, is just beginning to play out.

Mobile. Mobile devices will have as much or more impact on the marketing business as computers, TV and radio have had in the past. Always connected, always on phones are a tsunami that will change traditional messaging, but will need to do more to completely annihilate brand messages.

Location Based Services. These new and emerging concepts will add another dimension to real-time marketing. There are some simple and straight forward “Minority Report” kind of possibilities that location based messaging can do. These concepts will evolve and amaze us in the years to come.

Reality Enhanced. Ideas like augmented reality are just being experimented with at the moment. There will be more we will do by overlaying smart digital ideas over real things in the future.

Gaming. In an attention starved world, inventive new branded or brand embedded  games will give marketers access into the minds of people.

Crowdsourcing. Not so much a concept as much as an approach to producing ideas. Crowdsourcing will chip away advertising agency strongholds and change advertising in many ways.

Amazement. For decades, advertising had this knack of creating jaw-dropping moments. Not anymore. Anyone with a digital camera can now. Ads now have to fight even harder to be seen and talked about.

Marketers, marketing messages and the ones who create them, advertising agencies, will have to change to stay in touch with people who have lot more to do. The reason for this change will be many. All of them equally relevant.

Advertising’s Midlife Crisis

Interesting post by Warren Berger out at AdWeek on an industry in transition. He starts off analysing the recent departure of Alex Bogusky from Crispin and other broad trends. “There are lots of tough questions companies must confront in dealing with a consumer who’s more engaged, more informed and more concerned with social issues than ever before. Among those questions: What does the company stand for? What does it believe? How does it make its products and treat its employees? Is it being straight with us in its ads? All of these points are part of the larger conversation people are now having about brands.” He goes on to suggest the role that agencies could have in the future: “One of the new roles for ad agencies may be to help clients figure out how to have these expanded, deeper conversations with the public and come out looking good. It’s harder and more complicated than just doing one-way messaging in the form of clever 30-second commercials.”

Is Advertising Worth Saving?

Carl Long, writing on the Future Lab blog thinks that 2009 will be a defining year for advertising. Like many other industries, he writes, battling through a downturn, advertising in many parts of the world seems to be caught in this perfect storm. A combination of the economic downturn combined the massive shift in how people, formerly known as consumers, interact with and experience media, is going to put enormous pressure the industry. He likens the problems that the industry is facing to the one that changed the face of the music business. And unlike the music industry that is seeing its change coming from outside the business, he thinks advertising will be reinvented from within. By agencies and creative people getting back to the job of inspiring people, inspiring them to be part of something bigger, helping them understand how they can participate in increasingly valuable ways with companies and organisations. By going beyond mediums like print, TV or the web, concentrating on what they are doing, not how they are doing it.
More from Future Lab.

BBH creating media properties

What will agencies do if clients are going directly to media houses? Well BBH has a plan, and they are busy creating marketable ideas with their new company called Zag. Their first property, MrsO is a website that tracks the style of the new American first lady, Michelle Obama. Mrs. O and Zag are part of a business model transformation in the advertising industry. Agencies are parlaying their expertise in marketing the brands of other companies into creating and marketing their own. “Advertising is a massively old model based on the 1950s. As media has proliferated, it’s become a lot harder for us to earn enough money off our ideas,” said Ben Jenkins, the strategic director of Zag. “Zag is about creating the properties ourselves from scratch and having 100 percent of it.” More here.

The Agency. Boxed.

A Canadian company is selling a boxed kit on how to set up an agency, all for just $ 6.85. According to the copy on the box, this is apparently a “wealthy home business”. From MIT Adverlab.

Agencies As Product Design Companies

Boards Mag has a story on how some of the best agencies in the world have started to develop products and services for their clients. Crispin is interested in lowly sponge, the story reads… Other agencies who are thinking like CPB, AKQA and NewYork’s own Anomaly.

Post Navigation