Re-Imagining the Ad Agency of the Future : A Systematic Approach to New Agency Business Models.
Four years back I was on my way back from a project and had a stop-over in Warsaw. I dropped by to catch a quick coffee with an old friend of SIT, who is the MD of McCann Erickson. To my surprise, I found out he was sitting in an open space together with all the employees. I’ve asked him why and he explained that its part of a new spirit he brings to the agency. Like an open source attitude towards information flow in advertising agencies, he said. It sounded new and interesting to me and I offered that we gather other agencies from his network and develop a new agency format.
Five months later, 19 brave and open minded CEO’s and MD’s from 13 different offices of McCann Europe gathered to rethink the agency as we know it today. Using the SIT methodology, we developed collaboratively 11 different business models of the Agency of the Future. We all felt we were making history, changing the landscape of advertising for good.
In an environment of ever-changing markets, the advertising agency has to constantly re-invent itself to keep up with the new demands and challenges. Today budgets are split between different service providers, talents are “shopping” between the agencies and clients take more and more functions in-house, cutting out many of the ad agency’s traditional roles (and revenue streams).
Responding to this new zeitgeist, SIT has also changed the way we engage with ad agencies. From reinventing creative campaigns, we now help reinvent the future of the ad industry itself, working with leading advertising networks to design innovative, unique agency models.
Instead of applying innovation to the inner structure of a piece of advertising, we now apply it to rethink the structures, culture, process and talents of the agency itself, asking ourselves what is it that we’re REALLY selling from now on?
During Cannes Lions 2012, we spoke with marketers and creative minds from all around the globe, asking them about their vision for the agency of the future. This is what they imagined…we’d love to hear your take too.
It’s my third time in the French Rivera’s glamorous Cannes Lions festival and I’m still dazzled by the scene. Everyone seems so cool and upbeat. There’s so much to make my heart beat faster – walking down the red carpet, dancing in the galas, going to Facebook, Contagious and Bill Clinton’s talks and watching the new media hocus-pocus in the corridors.
Yet, it’s taken me three visits to be able to look beyond the cocktails and caviar to see the amazing hard work that talents from all around the world are putting into this competition. I’m proud to say that this year’s winners, who actually held the Lions and Grand Prix, are the ones who truly paid attention to the little details of the ads, just like craftsmen.
If there’s only one thing I will surely remember from all the entries I’ve seen in Cannes, this Grand Prix will be it.
It’s a truly delicate, sensitive animation campaign full of wisdom by the Creative Artists Agency Los Angeles for a Mexican fast food chain called Chipotle. I like the way it puts an emphasis on finding sustainable solutions in whatever they do – showing that social and environmental responsibility are no longer just “nice to haves” in the advertising world, but are becoming essential. For those who look out for SIT patterns – this is also an interesting use of the SIT Inversion logic by dramatizing the consequences of not using the product. Following this logic, the negative consequence of not being sustainable is practically ruining the planet and mistreating animals.
Another work of art by JWT Shanghai for Maxam Toiletries (and a Gold Lion winner) shows again, the in-details-emphasis of the juries in the festival this year. A classic SIT metaphor with a strong message fusion, where cavity takes over ‘ruining’ historical heritage.
Maxam Toiletries, by JWT Shanghai
Last but by no means least, is the very craftsmen-like work for BAJAJ done by our veteran client Leo Burnett India (all done by hand) who took a silver lion – again another beautiful use of the Inversion logic:
There is little argument that Dr. Seuss is one of the world’s most popular and loved writers. His name is associated with imagination, creativity, talent and originality – and on a personal note – he is one of my favorite writers as well.
In 1954, after reading an article about the shortcomings of books used to teach reading to first-graders, Dr. Seuss was challenged by his friend, William Ellsworth Spaulding, to write a book that first graders “can’t put down”. But there was one additional constraint – he was to write that book using no more than 225 words out of a designated list of 348 words that every first grader should know. Dr. Seuss ended up using 236 words, of which 221 are monosyllabic (!!), to write The Cat in The Hat – a book that has been one of the most successful children’s book ever since.
As if that was not enough, Dr. Seuss’s publisher bet him that he would not be able to write another book using as little as 50 different words. As impossible as that may sound, Dr. Seuss not only won the bet – he did so with a bang. In August 1960 he published Green Eggs and Ham – the book that would become his most successful, and the 4th best-selling English-language children’s hardcover book of all time!
So what’s going on here? How did the unreasonable constraint of writing a book using only 50 different words become the catalyst for one of the world’s most successful and admired books? After all, when we try to be creative we usually go through considerable trouble to break the constraints that limit us, and certainly do not choose to embrace new constraints. Can the explanation simply be the extraordinary talent of Dr. Seuss, or is there something else at play that could be relevant to mere mortals like you and me?
Before we try to answer this question, please take a look at these Viagra TV commercials:
In both these commercials, and for fairly obvious reasons, the advertisers had to avoid describing in detail what their product does, or enables… This constraint is not unique to these specific commercials. What makes them unique, though, is the way the advertisers chose to deal with that constraint.
In many similar cases advertisers have tried to bypass this constraint in various ways, such as portraying men in “the morning after”, filled with energy and joy. But in the examples we just saw there was something very different. They do not contain an attempt to avoid the constraint – quite the contrary. If you think about it, what the advertisers did in both cases is to use the constraint – and in a central and conspicuous manner!
And look at the results: two commercials that are based on a unique element, and are therefore interesting, distinct and memorable; dialogues in which the use of “censorship” leads us to imagine the exact same things you just cannot show on primetime television; a central role for the product itself, as an integral part of the commercial; and last, but not least, a Cannes award for the campaign. All in all not too bad for an idea that was paradoxically inspired by the inability to do what initially seems to be so essential (yes, you can read this sentence again…)
It is interesting to compare this campaign with another Viagra campaign that also uses the same constraint in an unusual manner. Take a look:
In this amusing commercial (that is even funnier the second time you see it) we witness a different way to address the constraint. Here, too, the advertisers are not running away from the campaign using something like “the morning after” approach. Rather, they are facing it head on by replacing the medium which is the object of the constraint – the language itself. The advertisers decided to go ahead and do exactly what they intended to do originally – constraint or no constraint. This “stubbornness” forced them to explore options and alternatives that would never come up were it not for the constraint.
Let’s summarize what we had so far. We saw a few examples in which we recognize a surprising connection between the presences of significant constraints and the ability to develop original and creative ideas. We can even go further to say that in these examples the creative ideas were not developed despite the relevant constraint, but rather because of it.
Yet with all due respect, the constraints did not do the creative work. That has been done by the individuals that chose to address them not as a force majeure that must be submissively accepted, but rather as raw material for a creative exploration. Not as an “end of story”, but as a starting point for a creative negotiation. And that, my friends, is exactly the insight we can take with us, and the state of mind we can learn to adopt.
Not every constraint, in any situation or creative process, can lead us to the development of an award winning campaign or a successful literary masterpiece; but some might, if we just give them (and ourselves) a chance. The widely accepted notion that constraints harm creativity, in not unreasonable; after all, constraints – by their very nature – limit the options available to us. But if we manage to change the way we view them, we may discover that in many cases they simply stop us from settling for the simple, immediate or generic solutions. And thus, by preventing us from taking the path of least resistance, they force us to explore and consider options we would never reach otherwise.
At any rate, in the complex reality we live in, the submissive approach to constraints is an omnipresent problem. When have you last faced a creative challenge, or a problem that needed a solution, in a constraint-free environment??? Constraints surround us in any task and every challenge, so that the ability to use them as a creative opportunity can come pretty handy in our professional lives (and our private ones, by the way). It does not take a lot of resources or complicated preparations – just a shift in our perspective.
So take a few moments to consider the challenges you are facing today, and ask yourselves what constraints make it difficult for you to face these challenges. Maybe these constraints can serve you in the same way the list of words did Dr. Seuss or the censorship the advertisers of Viagra. In what creative ways can you utilize these constraints? Which ideas can they help you come up with, and why are these better than the ones you came up with so far? It may take more than 20 seconds to find meaningful answers for these questions, but if you give it 20 minutes you might be pretty amazed at what you can come up with…
It seems that many beer and cider companies communicate their product using almost the same basic advertising ‘pattern’: extreme effort.
Budweiser, Heineken, Bud Light, Stella Artois and others are all communicating the message that someone is making an absurdly exaggerated effort to get hold of their beer. Or variations on this theme such as: the effort to be able to enjoy the beverage in its pristine situation.
Commonly it’s an effort made from the point of view of the consumer, but sometimes it’s from the company, telling us about the lengths it goes to allow its customers to experience their product in the most favorable conditions, or the sacrifices made to preserve the secret formula.
In a recent campaign from the UK cider brand Strongbow, the basic pattern is given a neat twist, and plays on the idea of being ‘deserving’ enough to drink the product. Pie stuffers, window-cleaners and gas fitters have earned it through their sacrifice, and banker…well, as the ads tell us, what have they done to deserve it?
In a world of fierce originality and brand competition, it is a curious phenomenon that a whole category tends to follow the same basic advertising approach. Why? Is it the lack of a unique selling point/message? And could this happen in other categories? For instance, could it be that all cellular companies will communicate the same message? Or should they make an effort to come up with a distinctive message?!
What would you say is the single most important characteristic of an advertising person? Or advertising agency? Or advertising campaign? Most people would answer all these questions with the same, single word answer: CREATIVITY.
There is no denying that creativity is important in advertising. It is considered so important that one of the major departments within an advertising agency is named after it. But is it really THAT important? Or could it be that we have taken the reverence of creativity one step too far?
To address this question properly we first need to discuss the roles of creativity in advertising, and as Goose (Anthony Edwards) says in the movie Top Gun – “the list is long and distinguished”:
I have to admit that I am generally a late adopter of buzz-words (poor form I know for someone who works in an Innovation company). One of the latest buzz words that I’ve encountered late-ly is Open Innovation. Now I’m ahead of the game, welcome to: Dew Mocratic Innovation.
If you read the Wiki link, you’ll see that Open Innovation has its roots in technology. Yet, the concept is fast gaining traction in many FMCG companies from P&G to Kraft. (Skeptics might say that OI is just a formalization of existing practices, namely: for years consumers-with-something-to-say have been sending companies “great ideas for the next best thing”. When I worked on advertising for BMW, we’d get ad ideas sent to the agency every few weeks, not by copyrighters but by owners.)
Mountain Dew, the US soft-drink brand aimed at teenagers, are busy taking the Open Innovation trend into new and exciting places.
Smartly packaged, their latest marketing campaign “Dew Mocracy” sees the company getting their 13-25 year old ‘fans’ to:
1. Invent new products and flavors
2. Come up with a catchy name
3. Create an advert to promote it
4. Vote for the best idea.
The chutzpah/brilliance here is that Mountain Dew has managed to get a whole lot more than just a bunch of cool new flavor ideas.