The triad of Consultancies, FB and Google will neuter creative agencies globally, unless…

The triad of Consultancies, FB and Google will neuter creative agencies globally, unless…

First: The digital disruption.

Globally, Facebook and Google now dominate advertising dollars, not WPP or Publicis or other agency companies. (For comparison about the market muscle – Combined market cap of FB and G was $812Bn as of June 2016. How did WPP, Omnicom, IPG, Publicis stack up? The four combined were at $70 Bn. And the less said about the growth, the better.) So there’s that.

And now consultancies are entering the fray to steal the lunch from agencies. And agencies have largely been too busy in denial to notice their impending irrelevance and gutting of their margins.

Second: The value of ideas.

Adweek recently wrote about the trend of Global consultancy goliaths buying up small agencies to make inroads into the branding industry. And similarly, creative agencies have also been trying to make inroads into consultancy businesses.

Who is more likely to succeed? Which industry will prevail, which will shake-up?

To me the answer is obvious. Why? Here’s why –

  1. Relative Value: Consultancy’s service is typically valued at higher valuations than creative agencies. In another world, where creative agencies didn’t get too complacent early on and put more emphasis on effectiveness beyond awards, perhaps, creatives would have earned more, grew bigger by creatively solving newer and varied problems and given bigger business growth for brands. But we don’t live in that world. Consultancies are good at convincing with numbers how they affect businesses positively.
    P.S. – There should be a research done in success rate of consultancies versus agencies in actually delivering growth.
  2. Positioning: Consulting is positioned as a house of experts. Consultancies typically house ‘domain experts’ that the CXO knows he can access. So, it is not a big stretch to imagine that consultancies house creative experts too. It is a stretch to imagine the chaotic agency to house a supply chain expert though.
    So even if a CXO trusts a creative mind’s judgement in his/her field, I doubt he/she would extend the assumption of competency to other matters of business growth.  As against a typical consultant – no matter how dumb/ smart he/she might be, the CXO trusts him/her to create access to competent people for most business needs.
  3. Ear of CXOs – Both agencies and consultants get to interact and influence CXOs. But, agencies only cater to propaganda need, while consultancies can affect change in almost all facets of a business – supply chain, production, legal etc. So consultancies have a better view of the business and what it needs, and hence better opportunity to offer more services.
  4. Plurality of ‘closed thinking’ projects – Pardon the generalization, but while consultants are masters of ‘closed’ thinking, creatives are masters of ‘open’ thinking. I estimate that there are more ‘closed thinking’ services that a company typically needs help with, than ‘open thinking’ services.
  5. When you can’t innovate, advertise!: Growth in 21st century is about innovations – consolidative tech innovations (FB and G consolidating the ad and comm tech market) or fragmenting tech innovations (innovations in CPG that is creating new breed of many niche players – online or offline.) There is no substitute for actual, real innovation to grow in 21st century.
    While agencies are known for their ‘big ideas’, they are not known for path-breaking ideas that inform a business model or product development. Most of the time, the idea comes from within the company for it to be truly adopted with conviction. And to execute these ideas, they go to the consultancies for help, not to advertisers.
    Can advertising agencies create new business ideas? sure they can. But the evidence is lacking as of now.
    Advertising agencies instead are now becoming home to companies that fail to innovate and then want the advertising to push the ship stuck in the muck.

There have been attempts by agencies to get into consultancy shoes – most recently by R/GA. I wish them best of luck. I really hope someone cracks it and in the process, ‘pivots’ to a higher value service. But so far the trend has not been encouraging.

Here’s an idea for a better future for the industry – start putting your money where your ideas are.

FAQs – Open Source Ad Agency business model demystified

FAQs – Open Source Ad Agency business model demystified
In an earlier article, I proposed a new business model for advertising agencies. As I see it, it is a logical next step for the industry to remain relevant and to thrive. Unless it evolves like this, expect marginalisation of creative industry.
I have been speaking with a few industry leaders. There were some interesting themes of concerns and ideas emerging from these conversations. The biggest is about ‘human creativity’ that most think is a trump card that no one can wrestle away from them. There is a grain of truth in that assertion. However, look at the numbers – it doesn’t take creativity for google and facebook and consultancies to steal creative agency’s lunch. Agency margins have never been this low – which means, the kind of creativity we so dearly hold, has never been valued so lowly. Digital ecosystem has fundamentally shifted the value of our kind of creativity and we seem to persist in denial. Most of my creative and intelligent classmates are not in agency business (from a school that was historically setup to train future agency leaders), but in media, brand management and digital businesses. That should tell you something.
Anyways, here’s some of the broad themes of concerns about my idea of ‘open source ad agencies’ shared by senior leaders in the industry. Weigh in to make the idea better.
Essentially, there were six themes of concerns for the idea –
1. Becoming ROI oriented (SMEs want quick results)
2. Possibility of becoming fragmented unprofitable business
3. Will it upset existing corporate clients?
4. Existing client architecture – many small businesses within larger ones
5. Should the tools be really foolproof.
6. Reputation at stake
Cost of opportunity: Firstly, I will look at these decisions from a broader perspective: if this idea is even remotely possible and say a competitor creates this, would we be able to bounce back to compete in the ‘winner-takes-all’ game of online services in the future?
This idea will need a little longer horizon to payoff and a fair bit of disruption (but not necessarily with existing clients).
1. Businesses want ROI from advertising. Should we fight it or embrace it?
I understand the concern. This is actually true about not only small businesses but also larger corporates. I see companies already looking at big data to cut down on every conceivable inefficient costs even in high growth developing economies like India and Sri Lanka.
This is inevitable. We have to be prepared for it. The digital systems, when used appropriately, helps make better sense of data. One of the minor points in the article was about opening and curating all of agency’s historical campaigns effectiveness data across the globe. Now that would be a herculean task to make that data consistent and usable by a bot, but it is possible. But once we have that data at one place and an algorithm to parse through it and add to the body of knowledge about what works – we will have the single most valuable tool in advertising – an oracle that can guide real time about effectiveness.
The tool and the data remains agency proprietary. Only the results are visible to paying customers. This is where the premium will be charged in the future.
How would the agency like to become the only creative agency that can give effectiveness predictions with decent enough (and improving) confidence levels?
2. Fragmented unprofitable business
That is a real threat. It will be a low margin high volume growth. And as such, in a way it is a second business for the agency. (Perhaps a sub-brand of the agency)
To really evaluate it, we will need to know the cost of its implementation and possible market sizes we can realistically win. I can do that, but that will be a longer exercise. There will be big cost and efforts to create the system, but the fruits of the system, however marginal, will continue for a sufficiently long time.
Also, the way I envision it, this system doesn’t cut down manpower that is currently employed for corporate clients. But the new system that is largely consumer facing, will need smaller human support who will manage bots. So costs would be dramatically less and hence help profit margins.
3. Will it upset existing clients?
I have envisioned it to be an ‘addition’ to existing business, not a disruption to existing structure. So in a way, this new additional service can delight existing clients with the new intelligence that we will have from the community and user, without them being concerned about their data leaking into the Open OS.
I have made a distinction in my article – when decisions are made by committees/ hierarchies, they require people on the other side to work with. So the existing system with all its checks and balances will exist for such clients.
The additional online interface is for clients who usually make decisions individually (personal brands, SMEs). These two segments, who will pay less, will never have the kind of servicing, planning, creative support that the corporate clients have.
So that takes care of the expectations.
The biggest concern is the safety of their data. Again, corporate client data need not go through the open digital system, it can exist off the grid like it does now. What goes in the big data pile that will inform the effectiveness bot, is case studies and older data perhaps. There could be ‘opt-in’ mechanism with clients to ascertain what client data remains forever secret, what comes out eventually.
4. Existing client architecture – Treating smaller brands from big corporates as separate SMEs
That is an important point that I overlooked in my article. I see this as an opportunity to add value to their businesses. This model creates a sliding scale of services. what this allows is, no business, howsoever small, needs to leave the agency or become unprofitable for us just because it is a prestigious client – there will be space for all sizes of businesses without it straining profitability.
5. About creativity and promise of foolproof tools
This is the interesting part. Nowhere in the consumer journey is the creativity itself automated. The community might help them brainstorm or find a smaller shop/ freelancer who could help the client. Or at max, the client will be redirected to agency office if the scope of work is large enough. The creative output is always through a human. So we can continue charging premium for access to agency rockstars.
What the broader algorithms are helping clients with is – strategy, research, competitive mapping, analytics and critically – a confident direction.
The way I see it is, we will need to do two things: set the right expectations and make our existing tools smarter.
First, smarter tools. I fully appreciate the concern about tools being misused. As they sit now, agency briefs or strategic frameworks, are static guidelines. So it leaves even basic question open to interpretations.
In my experience, we often face the problem of receiving ‘bad briefs’ or incomplete briefs from clients. Then it becomes a guess game – what the client might really need/ want?
But let’s look at what BCG does for its interactive cases. Its a guided online journey to solve a business case. It has a simple interface that forces consumer to seek for the right data and right perspective to inform the strategic challenge.
Something like this could help set the expectation and help learn the tools first.
Then, the user will be guided through a smart algorithm (automated strategy framework) that will ensure that the right business problem is identified.
Often, that is half the creative work – identifying the right single-minded problem to solve.
And the process will help people in doing that.
Next comes the human interface – the actual creative interpretations and campaigns.
There are two possible options for clients – either to pay premium and access agency  rockstars. Or find cheaper freelancers (Possibly agency certified? another revenue stream?) who they can find on our community and who can help them. Similar to uber’s rating for its drivers, or amazon’s ratings for its suppliers, we can have ratings for our freelancers. This mechanism has worked so far in most industries – even 99designs.com which is in similar space, but fundamentally different.
6. Reputation
Perhaps, to begin with it could be a controlled roll out or with another brand.

Setting the right expectation should help a lot. At the start of consumer journey it should be clear that what they will get is an Agency process, not Agency creative. 

The consumer journey could make it very clear owing to its subjective nature, Ogilvy is only responsible for its creative output by its people, not the algorithmic output of a plan/ brief.
1. For free – access to free algorithms, certain datasets and case studies to all. cannot expect creative output or a definite solution, only a direction.
2. Personal brand wizard – wizard will interactively guide in creating a brief with client data. that they can then share with people in the community for ideas. None of which is a creative output or a definite solutions, again only a direction.
3. Small business boosters – Online collaborative tools (like slack, skype, etc) used to provide services with planners/ creatives depending on Scope Of Work (SOW). These could be a single team of 20-30 people (spread globally in 4-5 key agency offices) for the entire globe. They can help create creative solutions with quick turnaround. We will have to take responsibility of their success/ failure.
4. Full service  – Corporate clients will see Agency as the most contemporary and innovative agency in the world! Who can deny that if we make this real.  Besides, the first three options will create a substantial bank of possible new business leads.
Having said that, I understand, this is not the complete picture and we will have to dig a lot deeper to understand the massive implications of this move.
But can this be our new purpose? To make effective branding possible for everyone in the world.

End of the bluff

In this video, P&G’s ‘chief brand officer’ talks about P&G’s efforts in ‘draining the swamp’ (as trump would have said) of digital fraud, unverified stats, dubious practices by publishers and agencies.

This is great, because this comes from one of the biggest advertisers in the world. And it is a positive step – one that is towards transparency and common sense that does not entertain exceptionalism every time some one conjures up a shiny new .com.

How would that affect agencies?

I want to be cheerful and hopeful that the greater scrutiny and transparency will force agencies to grow a spine and start asking for the rightful fee it deserves.
But I shouldn’t be too hopeful. Internecine competition takes up way too much time and efforts of an agency with awards, new biz pitches etc. Agencies typically are way too dependent on a few key clients for survival. Fear of losing them and prospect of winning new ones, keeps them forever running on the hamster wheel of survival.
So this is what is going to happen: simple erosion of margins. Agencies will start working at even smaller margins. Which means, even crappier talent will get hired at cheaper costs. Which means, bye bye to competent people.

How would it affect facebook/ snapchat/ etc.

Its amazing how such large companies like facebook can so shamelessly deceit people about their performances. This is a product of the ‘fake it till you make it‘ mentality of the morally vacuous people who see business as a game of bluff.
These digital-advertising-revenue-based companies will definitely be shaken up. Largely, because they are still in the phase where they have to prove their business models. Their valuations are still in need of correction. Their valuations are still based on the assumption of the great payoff that awaits for winner in a ‘winner takes all’ game. They need all the confidence of investors until the ‘winner takes all’ game is over/ or they learn to become profitable.

Hi5 for reasonable people who vote with their money. 🙂

 

“Relatability”

“Relatability”

The context

So recently we shared two creative options for a campaign. I wish we hadn’t. But we did.

Imagine the product is a soap targeted to housewives. The product is better because it smells of pleasant cuttle fish, instead of the generic smell of sardines that all the competitor soaps have. (For the sake of argument, imagine a world where being clean, has so far, always meant smelling of sardines. So in this world, people do not take a bath if they have to engage in social functions.)

So the first film was a humorous take on a working woman’s dilemma of using that soap before going to the clothes retail outlet where she works. She hasn’t taken a bath in a long time and really is in pains to do so. But then the sardine smell will scare away the customers. But then she gets to know about the new cuttle fish soap and the world is alright again. (please read these scripts with a huge dollop and then a pinch of salt. I am exaggerating for benefit of no one but my kicks. Oh yes, and to not let out the brand or the category.)

The other film was a generic category film – housewives working at home scratching their backs and in need of a bath. They go get a bath with the new soap. Mother-in-law approves of the bathed daughter-in-law who surprisingly doesn’t smell as bad. End of story.

When we narrated the two scripts – clients laughed at the right time for the first film. The second film elicited familiar nods – ticked all the check boxes.

The first was potentially memorable – simple, apt yet disruptive setting; clear role of brand and need incidence. More importantly, there was a strong emotional payoff – removal of a real social anxiety. Strategically it was very sound. The client however, was concerned that in their culture, women don’t work at retail garment shops. And they don’t wear saris as much here.

And that brings us to the order of the day.

Suspension of Disbelief and Relatability

In Barjatiya films, we relate to the mansion owning, ferrari driving ‘good boy’ who follows “Indian traditions” and agonizes over minor cultural infractions. We relate to Prem, Rahul and all the other misunderstood millionaires, even though we have never stepped into mansions and ferraris. We don’t own billion dollar businesses. Yet, we not only relate to their heartaches, but we wish we could have the problems they are having.

If you could choose the problems you have to face in life, which one would you chose?

  1. Your biggest concerns are eviction, loss of livelihood, hunger, respect etc when you are poor, frail and low on self confidence.
  2. Your biggest concern is earning a ‘yes’ from the girl you love when she can see already that you are wealthy, stable, handsome and from a royal lineage.

Obviously, you will choose no.2. People who watch movies, want the problems that the hero in the film is having. When watching the film, they are playing the role of the hero in their minds. For once, life doesn’t seem as hopeless. For once, they would win a battle. For once, they will get what they want.

Here, relatability is not a problem. People, from their innermost core of being, want to relate to the heroes. There is a ‘suspension of disbelief’ because people want to believe in the story, want to live vicariously the rich life that is forever out of reach for them in real life.

So the question is, if humans have the capacity to entertain a sufficiently large gap in reality with their ‘suspension of disbelief’, what kinds of instances will break that suspension, which ones will succeed in maintaining the mirage?

The Decision

With the first script, was the setting really alien? It was not. Women do work in shops here, this is no Saudi Arabia. If you stroll through a market here, you can see at-least 30% of the shops being run by women. Secondly, though most women wear skirts, the traditional dress is the sari here too. Even if they don’t (for the sake of argument), any person (man or woman) can relate to peculiarities of choosing a shirt/ skirt/ pant/ saree to buy. The dilemmas and role of fashion is almost universal. The fabric, form and designs may differ, but the drive to appear desirable is universal.

Secondly, reality does not inspire actions – utopia (what reality can be) does.

People want to relate to people they think they can be, not people who are like themselves. That is why ads will always depict lifestyles one or two steps removed from that of the real TG. That is why, the first film also could have worked better – because for women who often work on fields and in hard labour, work in air-conditioned showrooms is aspirational. The younger ones do leave villages to work happily in fashion showrooms, don’t they?

Instead, the second script was chosen eventually by the client – because they felt it was more relatable. Death by committee. Committee goes with the safest choice -the MIL and DIL interaction, done to death by a million categories in almost all countries. The easiest way to get lost in clutter.

The way to break the clutter is to stay true to the emotional need but change the context enough to be new yet within the limits of the suspension of disbelief. But not many clients can suspend their disbelief in power of human emotions, their empathy. They resort to hackneyed concepts of “SEC” divisions and other catch phrases that mean absolutely nothing to save themselves from taking a decision to change.

The importance of knowing the unsaid objective

The importance of knowing the unsaid objective

The situation – Death by committee

So imagine an impulse purchase soap brand. (Because all brands are soap brands for the purpose of this blog.) Client wanted to do an ad because ‘it has not been advertised for a while now.’ We push. We ask, how exactly will advertising help the brand now? Some confusing slides that perhaps were rehashed from another presentation find their way into our inboxes. We ask what it means – contradictory briefs in one brief. So they try to rationalise. We don’t get a satisfactory answer. We do our own thinking. Figure out that there is a bigger potential for growth if we target certain occasions. So we need to increase occasion based TOM for brand. Client agrees – exactly what they meant apparently. So we give them beautiful ideas to solve the problem.

But the brand has made a problem solution commercial in another country. Someone somewhere in the client hierarchy likes that work. He wants to do something like that. But we argue that the category is impulse, problem solution will narrow its relevance down. But client persists. So we do a second round of even better and potentially very memorable problem solution ads.

But someone somewhere in the client world has woken up. Says how can we do problem solution. Says we need to just ‘tweak’ the scripts. Just focus on the solution. Not the problem. #facepalm

The reading of the situation

For any given project, no matter how effectively you suggest a strategy that is sound and reasonable, the solution will be shaped by the power dynamics at the marketer’s office. (BU wants this, boss wants that, APAC/ Global head wants something else, research team wants to save its ass by pasting these things etc).

The truth is – Power dynamics define what the brand says, not the strategy.

So, if you can ‘align’ the ‘story’ of the idea with the power-that-be’s perspective, the chance of it actually happening is higher. Hence, must always get the big guy in the conversation at the earliest stage. What exactly does the CEO/marketing director want with this campaign? What is his interest? What is his angle. Not knowing this can lead to futile waste of time, efforts and most importantly, will affect creative team’s morale when they think that the creative idea is at fault, but the reality is about the unsaid objective that they never knew of.

A junior marketing executive, no matter how ambitious and bright, will seldom have the perspective of the APAC head/ country head. From close to the ground, there are many problems that a brand faces and that the executive wants us to solve. But a 30,000 ft perspective of the leader is more illuminating – his perspective will be about existential threats to the brand  and the long term interest of the brand. This is the perspective we need to know before we begin work.

Beyond the perspective, there is power play too. There are local heads, national heads, global heads – too many heads to deal with one thing. The multiple power centers in the client company might have competing interests. They might want different things from the campaign? Now these machinations are beyond our control and view. But, it helps if we know these unsaid objectives. What is the leadership’s perspective? what do they stand to gain/ lose?  If it doesn’t concern them immediately, great! But if it does, what are their concerns?

If the agency doesn’t know the many invisible hands at play, they are rendered dumb, groping in the dark for some validation, wasting time and efforts on pitches they were never going to win, doing hard work for campaigns that will never see the light of day.

Must know what the multiple interests are, who are the players. Must know the bird’s eye’s perspective of the business as well as the perspective from the ground. Once we know these things, simple common sense will do.

The Advertising Agencies of future will be Open Sourced

The Advertising Agencies of future will be Open Sourced

The alternative ‘new normal’

Sir Martin Sorrell, perhaps the most powerful person in the advertising industry after Google and Facebook, recently said that the “new normal” for the global advertising industry is that of “low growth.” I think that is not necessarily true—if we examine the underlying assumptions about the source of growth for the industry.

The advertising industry currently works on a pre-digital era assumption: Individuals and small businesses cannot be a sustainable source of business. Most agencies work almost exclusively for big corporate brands (apart from the token CSR/ NGO work that can help them win creative awards at Cannes). This strategy worked for the industry in the 20th century, since much growth was yet to come from globalising markets, increasing consumptive lifestyles, proliferating capitalist economies, etc. So agencies didn’t need other sources to grow.

But now, as the world stands (almost) completely globalised, consumptive lifestyles have maxed out and capitalist economies are struggling from one bailout to next, the advertising industry is finding that growing with only big-spending corporate brands is much more difficult than it used to be. Creative agencies are being squeezed by competitive pressures and demanding clients, who prefer to work on project basis rather than on retainer basis. Agency business was never as uncertain as it is now.

But what if advertising agencies actually embrace this uncertainty? What if we expand our horizons to embrace a wider set of branding efforts?

An open approach would be key to this.

In this article, I’ll discuss why “open source” is the answer for higher growth (and how we’ve so far gotten it wrong). And then I will articulate exactly what it means for agencies to go “open source,” and what will that entail.

The advertising business’ long tail

Let’s begin by examining two potential sources of growth for the advertising industry.

First, consider that 95% of enterprises across the world are small or medium enterprises (SMEs). If advertising is about helping businesses grow, then why don’t we help this 95% do that?

Yes, this would require a fundamental shift in the business model of advertising agencies, but would it not be worth it? Let’s look at the possible worth we can tap into.

There is no existing body of theoretical or practical work that explores the potential of open values in advertising. But I have a few ideas.

SMEs contribution to GDP varies from 16% in low income countries to 51% in high-income countries. Let us assume they spend 10% of their revenues in marketing, out of which, say, 2% goes in creative/ strategy services. That is the 2% not coming to organised advertising industry right now. That is the 2% spent on work by either amateurs, freelancers, or in-house part-timers—often inefficiently, unprofessionally, and with hit-and-miss results.

Second, note the rise of “personal brands.” To help them grow in their careers, people want to build brands for themselves. At present, this expanding pool of potential customers can only look at self-help books, blogs, and other “gurus” for help. They don’t have access to professional services that can help them grow their personal brands.

Combine these two long tails and you’ll see the potential source of growth for global advertising agencies. The potential is huge, but no one has yet attempted to create an integrated offering for the three broad segments of customers: individuals, small enterprises, large corporate brands.

Change is difficult and scary for everyone, especially (it seems) for advertising leadership. Advertising professionals spend a lot of time bemoaning the death of the agency of record, shrinking margins, and frequent pitches. One gets the sense that everyone sees what the problem is and wishes to turn back time—return to the good old days.

But such nostalgia is a form of denial. And it doesn’t bode well when many in the industry fall back on nostalgia to make sense of their present.

In order to adapt the advertising industry to new challenges and new opportunities, we need to embrace a new idea. It’s not a new idea—just a rather a poorly understood one. The idea is called “openness.”

Misunderstanding ‘open’

‘Open’ marketplaces

We’ve seen several attempts to create an “open” marketplace of creative ideas. For example, places like Adhack hoped to be a “marketplace for ad creatives.”

It no longer exists.

The “marketplace metaphor” gives the impression that “open” simply means “a venue for frictionless exchange.” But that’s actually problematic in the case of advertising, because it treats ideas and creative people as commodities. When one exchanges a physical item for a certain sum of money, the exchange is complete—expectations met. Exchanging ideas, however, is more complicated.

An advertising client does not simply want any idea; she wants an idea that she thinks will help her business grow. Many variables are at play here: a client’s expectations, the client-agency relationship, an understanding of current market dynamics, shared creative sensibilities, an understanding of consumer’s emotional needs, cultural mores, etc. The final expression of an idea is almost always a result of a series of discussions, where the objective gets sharpened and creative work undergoes various iterations as it courses through several feedback loops. It’s nothing like a single transaction.

This mode of working is inevitable in creative businesses; any creative work eventually requires this kind engagement with feedback loops. A “marketplace” of either ideas or people can unfortunately never quite capture this kind of interaction, which is necessary for creative businesses. Advertising must embrace a different, broader, and more effective sense of openness.

Crowdsourcing talent

Some companies have adapted crowdsourcing (which is not an open source approach) to varying degrees of success.

For example, 99designs.com solicits designs from hundreds of designers for a client. Unfortunately, this model is exploitative in the sense that a designer is not paid for her time; she’s only paid if her design is selected. In this way, the system is only useful for budding artists who are testing their skills, building their confidence and portfolios. It cannot sustainably scale to win bigger businesses or attract established creative talent.

Curated and crowdsourced ideas

A third example of crowdsourcing advertising agencies is Victor and Spoils (V&S). V&S is essentially a “normal” advertising agency with a “plug-in” for crowdsourced ideas. They open up some client projects to a set of strategists, creative directors spread across the world who have registered with them.

This idea has obvious limitations for sharing strategically important projects, speed of delivery, feedback mechanisms, and more. As such, V&S cannot sustainably scale because not many clients typically have the kind of patience that is required for the crowdsourcing process. Neither do they have the willingness to experiment. They want effective solutions quickly; they don’t care if those solutions come from within the agency or from consumers.

A better approach to ‘open advertising’

Small businesses know that advertising can help grow their businesses but are unsure about its effectiveness. They don’t have enough money for “experiments.” Before committing money for an ad campaign, they need some amount of assurance that their campaign will indeed deliver business results.

This assurance is possible now with big data analytics. Look at how Google shares some data about user behavior and campaign effectiveness. What if that was available for integrated campaigns—TV, print, digital, outdoor, everything. If a global advertising agency puts together data about the campaigns it has conducted across the globe over the last few decades, big data analysis can provide confidence level “thumb rules” that clients can use to make decisions real time. That is an important development waiting to happen. However, even this is only a part, even if an important part, of the bigger “open” possibility.

Surprisingly, there is no existing body of theoretical or practical work that explores the potential of open values in advertising. But I have a few ideas—and in the spirit of openness, I will explain them in the second part of this series.

 

Open source advertising agency

Open source:

‘Open’ = universally accessible and open to contributions.

‘Source’ = the proprietary logic that solves a problem uniquely.

Understanding a basic perspective on open source is critical. When people talk about “open source” and its relevance to the advertising industry, they might think only about using open source material to create advertising. Or they might talk about projects where users and a brand team co-create something. Some may use the term to describe collaborative cultures, and others might use the term to talk about crowd-sourced plugins to traditional business models.

All of these ideas are united by the smallness of their perspectives.

I’m talking about applying “open source” in a way that could fundamentally inform the advertising business model. So what is it, in this context?

The ‘Source code’ for advertising agencies is the unique method of approaching a business problem that guides them in finding, what they believe to be, the most effective and creative solution. As contexts and type of business problem changes, so do the methods.  Typically, this ‘source code’ is a logical set of questions or framework that guides application of common sense to the work of solving business problems. They do so by enhancing clarity regarding strategic choices that the marketer has but might be blind to. Identifying the right branding opportunity/ problem is half the battle in effective communications.

These tools are very useful because it is quite easy to stray away from basic common sense when confronted with too much data. These tools also help in building conviction towards taking the right direction, when the easier (but possibly ineffective) direction seems more attractive.

These are some of the ‘source codes’: Ogilvy has its “Big Ideal“, “Fusion” and “Do brief.” Publicis has “Lead the change.” DDB had its “Springboards.” Saatchi & Saatchi has its “Lovemarks.” And so on.

And I believe this very decision-making process can be subjected to open source thinking.

Open strategy, open creativity

For example, suppose a firm wants to become an open advertising agency. It designs its own “interface” for creative problem-solving, such that people would be encouraged to use, adapt, and improve upon its planning and creative tools. Next, it will externalizes the wisdom its employees and its campaigns have acquired through the years, making it available to people who can learn from it and use it to inform their decisions.

For this to work, our firm will have to be cognizant of various requirements, and hence different consumer journeys for three broad bucket of clients. Again, these are:

  1. Individuals seeking help with personal branding at a flat fee.
  2. SMEs who need help in growing business with limited budgets and where individuals/ small group of stakeholders take decisions.
  3. Corporate owned consumer/ enterprise brands with high media spends, where decisions are made by committee/ hierarchies.

To be able to cater to these three different segment at the same time, the agency will require a new business model, new practices, and new expectations of revenue growth. To get a glimpse of that interface, we can learn from pricing strategies of online services and adapt them to the advertising business (see Figure 1).

offerings

For example, our firm could curate and code tools that make its interface easier to use (not merely accessible)—to all, for free (think of the difference between Google’s search interface now and a Yahoo! search and directory from 1996).

For individual users looking to either build a personal brand or test new business ideas, our firm could provide algorithm-based assistance in formulating strategy (programs that take in key data points to choose the right tools/ perspective). Thereafter the focused “brief” at hand can help the person in finding the right ideas with the help of fellow idea seekers and creators in an open forum (look at the interface of Coursera classrooms, for example).

Say a small restauranteur seeks help making her business grow. She can either access free tools and figure out strategy for herself, or pay a flat fee and access the community of people who might help her. Perhaps she can even find a budding creative artist in the community who could help her in designing art works informed with the “brief” she formulated with the help of an algorithm earlier.

If she is ambitious and is seeking rapid growth—and doesn’t mind paying the fees for access to our agency’s team—then she can do that too.

With millions of people using its free tools, the firm stands to create the “default” language and logic of branding strategy for the industry. The first mover in the “open advertising” game stands to set the rules of that game for 21st Century.

Changing the model

Shifting to open models would help the advertising industry shift:

  • From servicing a few hundred clients at max a year, to catering to potentially a million clients a year.
  • From being critically dependent on a few large clients for survival, to a hedged bet with the long tail.
  • From an enterprise-oriented orientation to more nimble orientation (something adaptable to serve anybody, from an individual to a fortune 100 company).
  • From intimidating jargon to simplified tools that most people can use (simple and obvious always trumps complicated and laborious in advertising—may it be in ads, pitches or everyday work).
  • From resource allocation per brand, to additional resources for Skype services and transition teams who would facilitate the transition of a project from online open source to inside the agency (and therefore confidential).

But it would not change:

  • The creativity that human insight and human-articulated vision can provide.
  • The business dynamic with corporate brands (apart from improvements in universal availability of data and tools).

First-mover advantage

The first firm to attempt this kind of open approach would see the following benefits.

New repository of consumer insights. The agency will have access to big data stores and metadata about users’ businesses, their preferences, and their possible growth trajectories. These data will be useful in building agency intelligence, its effectiveness, and its new business efforts.

Mindshare leadership. The agency will set the language and logic of business growth for a million business leaders of tomorrow.

Virtuous cycle of new business growth. Small businesses and startups would grow with the agency and might stay on as they grow big. Communities of thousands of enthusiasts and free tools users will help establish agency brand credentials. Word of mouth generated by the agency’s tools will position it favorably among business leaders.

Attracting good talent. The community would become a channel for budding talent to get noticed. The transparency in helping businesses grow will excite creative talent and attract the best creative talent to the industry again. The widened pool of visible talent and the plurality of projects will help the agency find, train, and mentor the right talent.

Increased marketing literacy among clients and agency personnel. To be frank, many of us in marketing and advertising industry could do with a basic marketing course. Even in 2017, many among us are unsure about digital marketing. Many advertisers could increase efficiency and improve quality of their efforts if they knew about concepts such as “insights,” “emotional needs,” and “strategic choices” in creative ideas and so on. By “opening up” the culture of advertising thinking, we will help increase marketing literacy and consequently increase confidence in marketing efforts. After all, if clients understand marketing better, they will be more confident about spending money on it.

I am eager to work on this idea and bring it to reality. If anyone finds it interesting, please get in touch. We might be able to do something together. 🙂

How not to be a lazy hack

I can’t think of a decent idea, so how about just using a celeb to sell the brand instead of an idea that can actually do the job better?”

That’s just one way of being a fucking lazy hack. Don’t be that person. A lazy hack writes an unoriginal idea that doesn’t exactly solve the problem at hand, but does tick the boxes in some convoluted fashion. Why be “creative” like that, when you can be creative in creating awe inspiring, award winning commercials?

Here are some handy tips to not be a Fucking Lazy Hack (FLH) of a creative person.

    1. Shifting form Open to closed mode.
      Being ‘creative’ does not mean being unreasonable. There is a time for open exploration of ideas, and then there is a time for hard look at the situation at hand and review of the work done. The latter requires an ability to listen and to argue rationally. You can’t grow professionally as a creative person unless you are able to get in and out of these two modes – open mode for ideation, closed mode for decisions.
      (More about open and closed mode in John Cleese’s video below. Excellent ideas from a genius. Must watch.)

    2. Let it go.
      As a planner, it is quite frustrating at times. A week ago, we would have agreed on feedback, on directional changes. When it is time for final review (Often too late), the idea remains unchanged apart from a few minor changes. The subpar ideas would incorporate the feedback just enough to silence the concerns – “See, the logo is bigger now”, “See the product shot is 5 second longer”. But the product or brand is still no more intrinsic to the story being told. Or there is no story to begin with, just grandiose poetry that would get an ‘F’ in a creative writing class, but that the writer refuses to let go from a million dollar campaign that has the potential to affect thousands of livelihoods – from managers to retailer.When someone points out that the copy is weak, the reply will be – “Imagine Morgan Freeman/ Amitabh Bacchhan saying it”. I say, don’t. If an idea depends on a celebrity to work, it is a bad idea.

      Your idea was beautiful, maybe. But it is time for you to grow up and accept feedback. The idea is worthless if it doesn’t solve the business problem. Too often, writers cling on to bad ideas that do service to no one. Bad ideas do not win awards, they don’t work for client, they don’t look good on portfolios. Even if a client agrees to a bad idea (perhaps, because he can’t think any better or can’t articulate his concerns, but has time pressure), he will try to make it work for him. Client interference becomes more frequent and your idea is now a bastard child of confusion and desperation. Let it go, before it gets bastardized.

    3. Persist towards originality

      All you have to do is think of an honest need, an honest yearning that is being answered by the product/ brand at hand. Think a little harder. As John Cleese narrates in this video, he came up with more original ideas than his group-mate because he stuck to pondering over the problem longer – Unlike others, he didn’t take the first creative solution that popped in his head. He persevered until he was happy with an idea that was original enough.

4. Don’t let the work-pressure define your ideas
You have too much on your plate.
You have tight deadlines.
So you agree, not to reason, but to different people – servicing, planner, client etc.
Don’t.
Listen only to reason. And reason with others, reasonably. That will save a lot of your time and effort. That saved time and effort can help you create better ideas. If you let whims and fancies of others (or even your own) guide your work, you will become no more than a mouse cursor on the app that is your agency that people use to create their ideas. Don’t lose your ‘agency’. Fight if you must for sufficient time and space for good work. Why should you be turned into a hack by work-pressure? Fight the right fights.