Joseph explains why Integration in its current form will almost always fail (and miserably at that, and offers up a new breed of agency.
I’ve never been afraid to stick my neck out and make bold predictions about the future. It’s really something I encourage based on the perfect win-win vantage point. If you’re wrong, most people don’t remember, however if you’re right, you can milk it ‘till the cows come home.
Of course, being an independent consultant doesn’t hurt either!
One of my key areas of interest is in terms of understanding the agency business, for it is only with a deep knowledge of the process, infrastructure and even the politics of the agency world, that many of the most pressing issues facing marketing communications today can be truly uncovered and understood. Topics like integration or cross-channel planning, for example, require an innate framework and context before inferences and insights can be gleaned and applied to ongoing hypotheses.
In other words, it takes one to know one!
The Problem With Integration
In this particular case, it may help to explain what’s currently broken with the advertising business, and offer up solutions to help mend some of the chinks in the armor.
Last week I touched on one of the contributing factors to the current “commercial” doom and gloom, namely the financially obsessed operating ethos, and how this impacts negatively on the idea business. To be sure, this was in no way aimed at interactive agencies; rather it was more of a holistic observation of the “slave to Wall Street” phenomenon, intertwined with some probing into how ideas are created and therefore, how they should be monetized.
This week I want to talk about integration and why in its current iteration, it will almost always fail (miserably).
To set the tone, I want to highlight an announcement that ran on Ad Age’s cover page about two months ago. It cited Coca-Cola’s decision to “tap into Berlin insights,” a decision which shocked many in the community, as Ogilvy was strongly favored to get this piece of business.
The choice to go with Berlin Cameron/Red Cell echoed and reinforced one of my beliefs: FOR INTEGRATION TO WORK PROPERLY, THE PROCESSES OF IDEA GENERATION AND MEDIA ALLOCATION NEED TO BE BOTH OBJECTIVE AND/OR SEPARATED.
Coke’s move sends out a strong signal that in an integrated world, the Keepers of the Brand may no longer be the Madison Avenue inner circle. Make no mistake, this won’t slow down or stop the traditionalists from selling integration, but as many clients have found out the hard way (or worse still, never found out), when it comes to walking the walk, these guys are all talk.
How many times have you sat around the Round Conference Table, together with Sir Direct Marketing, Sir Traditional, Sir Interactive, Sir PR, Sir Event Marketing, Sir Point-of-Sale and Sir Guerilla Marketing, only to find that Merlin is no where to be found! The direction and leadership is usurped by the Above the Line folk, who know how to integrate design, look and feel, but when it comes to playing into each other’s strengths or passing on Excalibur to a new champion, let’s just put it this way: There better be no fire-breathing dragons banging down the door.
How many times have you seen the brand bullies setting the agenda, steering the subject matter and monopolizing the conversation? How many times have you seen a major brainstorming session take place at the PR-guys?
Making Integration Work
The art to integration requires and involves complete and comprehensive objectivity. It begins with a problem and offers up a solution that uses a sequence of interlinked touch points, bound together with the DNA of idea and insight chromosomes to achieve its end.
A campaign idea knows no one media form or format; it does not require a broadcast voice in order to realize its potential; it does not have to be mass in order to be class. Again, I’ll ask the question, how many successful integrated campaigns do you recall with mass media on the periphery, as opposed to the core?
Integration is actually more like the Justice League of America than the Knights of the Round Table. Each superhero has his or her own specialization, special powers and, of course, weaknesses. Operating individually their effectiveness is limited, but combined are pretty damn tough to beat. This is so true of the media mix today, where each medium has a defined role to play amid a symphony of communications.
In their defense, many of the agencies are genuinely attempting to unlock the secret of cross-channel planning and to use this as a point of differentiation, particularly in new business pitches. Unfortunately for them, they have three things going against them. First, they are too subjective and therefore their promises are empty (read my lips, no new taxes). Second, everyone else is doing it too. And third, agencies’ track records in this department speak for themselves (despite bringing in business analysts and reviewing daily sales analyses, at the end of the day they still just produce ads).
The Agency of the Future
I believe a new breed of “agency” will emerge and take over from where the stumbling Goliaths of Madison Avenue stuttered, stammered and stumbled. The Agency of the Future will have become known for one of/or two core competencies: Generation (ideas) and Integration (execution).
The Agency of the Future will take over the mantle of Brand Guardian – responsible for the process of generating ideas, solutions and paths to consumers’ hearts and minds. These “Generators” will not have to be preoccupied with how the idea works in a 30-second versus a 15-second spot, a spread versus a page, or even a banner versus an intromerical.
They will not be tied to any one form of media; nor will they be compensated based on the amount of money ultimately invested. Their success will not be judged on a creative reel or at Cannes, but rather in terms of the ability to translate their ideas into communications and programs that build the business and the brand.
The “Integrators” on the other hand, will be facilitators – responsible for democratizing the process of coming up with breakthrough brainstorms.
The Integrators will also be those responsible for democratizing marketing communication, by making the kinds of decisions advertising agencies just aren’t able to recommend. Is advertising even the answer? Should the budget be spent on training in-store salespeople to become more customer-focused, or on award-winning creative?
The Agency of the Future will live up to its billing as true Cross-Channel Planner, by maintaining constant focus on consumers and what it takes to connect with them in this traffic jam of brand clutter.
Perhaps this sounds like a fairy-tale, not dissimilar to the Lore of King Arthur and Prince Valiant. I assure you it’s not. In fact, there are several players in this new space that suggest that big things are happening (or about to happen). You can always ask Coke executives for some insights into their decision. They’ll tell you what most clients are slowly demanding from their agency partners: solutions, not ads.
The balance of power is shifting and the faster it happens, the healthier our business will net out.
The King is Dead, Long Live the King