The end of Monoculture and what that means for agencies

Flying over Kuala Lumpur, one can see huge expanse of palm trees, beautifully arranged in rows and columns. Fly over Thailand and you would see similar geometry playing out with rubber trees.
The human sense of geometry imposed on nature, seen from the human invented vantage of flight. It’s wondrous and beautiful and awe inspiring.

What you saw was monoculture in its full glory. Monoculture is beautiful for the bird’s eye, but it is destroying the biodiversity of this globe. We might wake up to a world tomorrow, skidding to a halt, when the rubber plants in Thailand are infected with deadly fungus. Say bye bye to tyres, grips, stethoscopes and condoms. It’s the end of the world as we know it.

Monocultures make us vulnerable.

A similar monoculture had been taking root in the 20th century. The memetic monoculture of TV and mass media.

We had shared cultural references – shaktimaan, ramayan, chandrakanta, hamara bajaj… it was easier for brands to be built with ‘campaigns’; one iconic campaign and you are sorted for the decade. agency leaders were celebrities and being in an agency felt great. After all, advertisers were the architects of the monoculture. One culture to rule them all, and advertisers were molding that ring. We wielded great power and we rue loosing hold of it.

21st century is different though. Internet is the fungus that has killed the monoculture of mass media. These days I am hooked to The Bugle podcast by Andy Zaltzman & Post Malone’s song, Sunflower. And no one knows of my addiction to these content pieces – not even my family! I am consuming that content mostly by myself. Unlike the 20st century where content was sparse and people welcomed content, we live in a world where we shield ourselves against the onslaught of it. I don’t want your forwards and in return i won’t send you links to podcasts and videos i like. 🙂

From mono culture to culture of one! The world has been turned upside down.

What does it mean for agencies? Isn’t it obvious? advertising was the powerful ring to rule them all. Now that ring is destroyed. You might create campaign that is creatively 100 times better than Fevicol’s legendary campaigns or Nike’s just do it campaign. But unless those efforts are now backed with content – retail – experience strategies, you are bound to sink.

The point is not that advertising is dead. But rather that it’s relevance is dwarfed now. It will always exist, but no longer in the spotlight, but it will grow in the shadows.

It will remain an important tool in attempting to create shared cultural references. But it’s ability to do so is being challenged with end of monoculture.

Strength in Diversity

Marketing gurus like Mark Ritson & Les Binet are ardent advocate of the notion that advertising, especially TV advertising, is crucial in creating that shared cultural reference, the brand. I don’t dispute their claim. But I wish they wouldn’t discount the opinions of people who feel that software will eat the world, beginning with advertising world.

Mark Ritson’s argument is simplistic – look at the number of people spending time on TV! Look at people talking about ads during superbowl! TOM Matters!

Yes it does. No one’s discounting it. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have seen growth in ad spends.

What is being questioned is the primacy of mass media and TV in particular. And that is an excellent question!

With proliferation of medias, strategies, approaches… the diversity is strengthening the capitalist culture. The new culture might require more brands, perhaps fewer platforms and a billion segments of consumers who consume things in millions of different ways.

That is an opportunity to advertising agencies, not a threat.

A brand now needs to do more – engage in culture more, meet more needs, be more proactive, delight more often…
Why fight and complain about it?

It’s great that the ‘big idea’ is dying and marketers have to do more, improve faster to retain customers. this is natural in the paradigm of growth through fast feedback.

By fighting it, all we are doing is showing our ignorance, our inability to adapt. we need to Pivot.

Here’s how – Pivot.

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