I am an adman.
Well, I am not.
I am a brand strategist. But I spent years in the ad business.
First with McCann Erickson in South Africa, then Hong Kong, Greece, Mexico and then New York as EVP/WW Director of Client Services where I managed the Coca-Cola business globally. In 1996 I joined TBWAWorldwide in New York as Head of Global Clients.
I have been a lucky guy. I have worked and learned from some of the best. John Dooner, Michael Sennott and Marcio Moreira at McCann. Jeff Weiss and Lee Daley at Amster Yard. Sergio Zyman and David Wheldon at Coca-Cola. Bill Tragos, Uli Wiesendanger, Adam Morgan John Hunt and Lee Clow at TBWA. Steve Jobs at Apple. And my late ex father in law was Horst Sambo, the man who created and executed the incredible Red Bull campaign.
I love the ad business. And as a brand strategist, I am still a part of it.
But the ad business is not ready for the conversation economy … and it will take a lot of getting ready to get there.
The social media experts?
The good ones know how to get the bread out of the refrigerator.
But can they make a sandwich? Someone else said that … and I can’t remember who.
AD AGENCIES MAKE ADS
Well, creative people make ads.
And great creative people make amazing ads.
The skills and characteristics required to make amazing ads are many and diverse.
Strategy. Insight. Psychology. Imagination. Restlessness. Perfectionism. Craft. Design. Good taste. Courage. Intelligence. Curiosity. Arrogance. Humility. Sanity. Insanity. Recklessness. Responsibility.
Believe me the list goes on and on and on.
How many people combine just a few of these?
Not many … that’s for sure.
That’s why there are not that many amazing ads.
IN THE BEGINNING
Ad agencies were born with mass media.
They grew up with mass media.
The word “agency” hints at their origins.
Agencies originally represented media. They were the middlemen through whom advertisers bought media space.
In order to attract business, some agencies offered to work on the content. And that is how the modern agency arose. In the good old days (I am talking pre-nineties) agencies worked on a standard commission of 15% on the gross media buy. This was an industry wide standard. Nobody competed on price. The point of differentiation was the creative work. The content. Agency management was focused entirely on the professional product. The advertising was what mattered.
Everything changed with the emergence of the media shops. Services were unbundled. The 15% commission system collapsed. And price became an additional point of differentiation. Agency managers became money managers. The focus moved away from creative.
THE INTERNET MATURES
And threatens the revenue base. What’s the reach of a viral ad on Youtube? What’s the potential reach? What’s the cost? What’s the revenue stream? What happens to the agency business model? …… Have you seen “Charlie bit my finger?”
THE BIRTH OF THE CONVERSATION ECONOMY
Everything has changed. But nothing has changed. It’s back to the days when word of mouth was, as Gary Vaynerchuk puts it, “the most important currency”. But this time round it’s “word of mouth on steroids”, according to Vaynerchuk.
IT’S NOT ABOUT GETTING INTO SOCIAL MEDIA.
IT’S ABOUT GETTING BACK TO SOCIAL
Back to the days before agencies were born.
Back to the days before mass media.
Back to the days of micro conversations between living breathing humans.
But this time the village street is called the internet.
SOCIAL MEDIA IS SOCIAL BUT IT’S NOT MEDIA
It’s a social gathering place.
Where equals (or close to equals) get together to interact.
On Facebook it ‘s like a school reunion or a family picnic or an office party. A loose social gathering with no specific interest focus.
On Twitter it looks more like a cocktail party. Lots of subgroups with specific interests. But however it looks, it is not a medium. It’s a social gathering. To twist McLuhan, “The message is the medium.” This is not a broadcast environment. People are not on Twitter for the content. It’s all about the context. And the quality of the conversation is what reigns supreme. And here’s the problem ….
AGENCIES PRODUCE CONTENT THAT DISRUPTS. IT SHOUTS. IT’S A COMMERCIAL BREAK.
I swear. If I spoke to my friends the way that most ads speak to me I’d lose my friends.
THE PEOPLE WHO PRODUCE ADS ARE NOT NECESSARILY THE PEOPLE TO ENGAGE IN CONVERSATION IN THE SOCIAL GATHERINGS THAT TAKE PLACE ON THE INTERNET
Their skill set is not right.
Their experience is not right.
Their branding model is not right.
Their process is not right.
And their management are focused on the kinds of revenue streams which simply do not exist online.
I mean, Twitter is free!
WRONG SKILLS, WRONG EXPERIENCE
Advertising on mass media shouts. It’s intrusive.
Conversation at social gatherings is inclusive. And it’s rude to shout.
Can these masters of the 30 second spot sustain a lengthy conversation?
Do they have what it takes?
WRONG BRANDING MODEL
A great branding strategy is the key to great creative.
It defines what the brand needs to say. And a good one does so beautifully well. You can almost see the creative in the document …
But the conversation needs something different. It’s interactive. It’s give and take. It requires flexibility and agility. It requires that the brand strategy is deeply understood … inhaled and then exhaled with every breath. Harley Davidson does not sell to riders. Harley davidson IS a rider. Big difference.
A great piece of advertising takes months to develop and produce. Months don’t exist at social gatherings. “Excuse me, I need to research what I am about to say next …” Forget about it.
WRONG REVENUE MODEL
I don’t need to go there. The Blendtec videos cost $5000 each. Media was free. Agencies cannot survive with those revenues. No way.
What was the budget on “Charlie bit my finger?”
SO WHAT’S THE ANSWER?
Clients need to take charge.
I can hear my agency friends go ….. urggh!
Think about it.
The conversation is not a campaign. It’s conversation. It’s ongoing. It never stops. It’s not an assignment. It’s a way of life.
Yes. But it’s not the right title.
You don’t manage the community.
You participate in it.
And there is no “you”.
There are many “yous”.
Everyone in the organization is a “you”.
BRANDING IS AN INTERNAL JOB
The entire organization must live and breathe the brand. With every breath it takes. Branding is the key to organizational alignment.
But it’s not the organization that “gets” the brand. It’s the people within the organization.
SOCIAL MEDIA EXPERTS?
To design the channels.
To reach the right people in the various interest groups.
To coach the participants.
IT’S NOT ABOUT THE TECHNOLOGY
Facebook may come and go. Twitter too. (Though I doubt it will happen anytime soon).
But their impact on your consumer is long lasting.
People behave differently to what they did a few years ago. Online and offline.
And this affects every aspect of the marketing mix.
Everything you say.
Everything you do.
Everything you don’t say.
Everything you don’t do.
GREAT BRANDS HAVE ALWAYS UNDERSTOOD THIS
Coca-Cola. Disney. Nike. Apple. Avis. Starbucks. Absolut. Heineken.
And Harley Davidson who don’t sell the ride.
They ride the ride.
NOTHING HAS CHANGED