Archive for October, 2009

Clients all want their content to “go viral”.

There are some obvious recurring properties of content that actually does “go viral”.

But, when push comes to shove, there is still a tendency to excise those very properties from ideas and content.

This is due to a natural risk aversion on the part of brand managers.

But to reduce the risqué nature of content is to increase the risk of nothing happening when that content goes live.

And what brand managers perceive to be risqué bears no relation to what actually is risqué in the eyes of the people whose help they need to “go viral”.

In the old advertising landscape, brands used to compete with each other.

In the new content landscape, brands compete with every other piece of content that a member of their audience might choose over theirs to engage with and pass on to friends.


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I watched the R/GA presentation on The Way Forward for agencies in the same week that I’d presented to the marketing department of a famously engineering-led company.

In both companies the people who make the giant leaps, whilst all around them are taking small steps, are the engineers and the technologists. 25% of the headcount at R/GA are working on the technology behind platforms such as Nike+.

It was the same when I worked on the Honda business. There’s a general atmosphere of cool around the place, and the marketing is awesome, but there was no doubt whatsoever that the engineers are the rock stars at Honda.

At Cadbury it would have been the marketing department.

At Standard Life it’s the actuaries – “Hey. I’m a rock star actuary!”

A long long time ago when I worked at BBH and it was a full-service agency (media planning and buying in-house), the TV buyers were the rock stars of the media department. Whether that remains true in today’s media agencies, I’m not sure. Like everyone else, media agencies are jockeying for lead/upstream planning and strategic partner status but I get the impression that clients aren’t necessarily willing to pay for this added value.

In every ad agency I’ve ever worked in, the ‘creatives’ have been the rock stars. For sure, there are rock star planners too. But rock star status for planners tends to stem from their endeavours outside the agency that employs them, or after they leave to go it alone as bloggers, conference speakers, futurologists and consultants.

There has been a lot of talk about the endgame in terms of ad agencies versus digital agencies providing digital marketing services, and the pure-play digital brigade can draw great comfort from the rock star status of their technologists.

These are people who can create and build technology platforms as R/GA describe them.

Not people who can build banners and campaign microsites.

Is there space in an erstwhile ad agency for a second band of rockers to compete with the creatives for ‘star’ status? And how do these rock star technologists feel about operating in an environment that doesn’t really understand them?

So. in short, R/GA’s distinction between short term campaigns, and long term technology platforms that become part of people’s lives has profound implications for a sustainable business model for ‘pure-play’ digital agencies.

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There’s a track on Public Enemy’s 1991 album – Apocalypse 91 … The Enemy Strikes Black – called A Letter To The New York Post.

Said newspaper had printed an article about PE rapper Flavor Flav allegedly beating up his partner, without (allegedly) checking its facts first.

Rather than suing, Public Enemy wrote a viciously damning song about the episode – responding in kind and fighting fire with fire. The lyrics don’t make pleasant reading for anyone associated with The Post. Here’s a sample.

Here’s a letter to the new york post

The worst piece of paper on the east coast

Matter of fact the whole States

Forty cents in new york city

Fifty cents elsewhere

It makes no goddamn sense at all

America’s oldest continuously published daily piece of bullshit

It got me to thinking that, if they could wreak this kind of havoc back in 1991, what would Public Enemy have done to The Post in 2009 with the likes of MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc at their disposal?

Rather than reaching a relatively narrow band of fans with an album track, they would have tapped into a socially active and well connected band of followers who would have spread the damaging message well beyond the immediate fan base.

It’s nice to think that social media will increasingly provide an added incentive for organisations to improve their behaviour.

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