Are digital agencies the new dinosaurs ?
It seems to me that the problem with dinosaurs was that they had such short arms. Looking at the small rubber T.Rex I have in front of me, it’s obvious that they were incapable of feeding themselves in a civilised fashion, they weren’t going to be able to punch anyone, and they’d never be able to knit the warm clothes they needed for the ice age.
But advertising is kind of like paleontology, in that we’re always looking to locate the dinosaurs; it’s like finding the fat kid at school, so at least you don’t come last in the 100 metres.
And various people have recently suggested to me that digital agencies are the threatened species – not the big bad indistinguishable behemoths of traditional adland, the agencies named after people whom even John Tylee has never met.
Some friends who run some of the sexier digital agencies are saying this because they can see complacency all around them. The generation that vowed to hole adland under the waterline is now in its mid 30s, married with kids and thinking that the industry owes them a living.
(Always an early sign that it won’t fulfil that obligation.)
Yet another accuser was a social media expert I saw who claimed that working on websites and banners was like working on dead media like bus-sides.
He was absolutely fascinating.
It was a seminar hosted by a school set up by EACA (the European version of the IPA) – so in my portfolio life I was there wearing my EACA hat.
This was based loosely on the sort of hat worn by John Lennon early in his career and later adopted by Joe Orton – a camp workers’ cap (because teachers wear that sort of hat) but garnished with Austro-hungarian feathers because of the European element.
I’m not sure that, as a hat, it worked at all. But the event was fascinating.
And now comes the meat of the blog. The stuff which Richard Stacy said at the seminar.
He said “advertising is the answer to a question nobody ever asked.”
As soon as he said that, I loved him.
Later on he said “the limited conditions of old media have created advertising. In the same way as the limited conditions of the ice age created the woolly mammoth”.
He carried on to quote Ron Bloom as saying that in the very near future 50% of all media consumed will be created by consumers.
He said that this insight alone prompted him to dive headfirst into social media – into working in “spaces” rather than “places” (hence the attack on websites).
He said the role of marketing would be divided into conversation, content-creation and community-building, and suggested that marketing departments should be re-named conversation departments. It’s now well-known that Dell, one of the leaders in this area, have a staff of 40 constantly working on the social media sites.
Andy Lark, the guy at Dell who has driven all this, has said that marketing is about “listening to and coalescing all the conversations going on out there”.
Richard then said that propositions, the backbone of old advertising, weren’t just irrelevant – their dead weight could kill brands off in the next decade. It’s all about stories not propositions. E.g. Apple’s story is built around Steve Jobs’ vision that it isn’t about technology, it’s about the users of technology.
By contrast to companies like Apple, giants like P&G, which have dominated marketing for the last 5 decades or more, are in danger of disappearing because they “burn” their brand stories. E.g. they buy IAMS and take away the passion and personality, and substitute a kind of empty, logical proposition.
The other thing that will threaten these big companies is that they’re still buying into the idea of buying media. As Richard said, the future is about making media, not buying it.
And if you look at the notion of engagement in this new world, you have to look very closely at what your story is. Consider the difference between Ryanair and Easyjet. Both products are quite similar but Easyjet’s story is “be smart, don’t pay for what you don’t need” and Ryanair’s story is “tough t*tty, you get what you pay for”. Anybody who knows both brands would choose Easyjet over Ryanair every time.
Richard took a group of us on a very exciting journey and I’ve only scratched the surface here.
It would be well worth dinosaurs of all types checking him out.
If they can just get their stubby little fingers to reach the keyboard.