Co.Create

The End Of Advertising As We Know It—And What To Do Now

AKQA’s Rei Inamoto argues that the thing we call advertising is over and offers four guidelines for moving into the next era, when 365-day connection, people-focused stories, and business invention will be key.

"How are we supposed to judge a creative idea versus a product idea?"

This was a question that surfaced during one of the many long judging sessions last week in the South of France where I got to preside over the Mobile category, one of the 16 categories at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

It caused quite a stir in the jury room. Some strongly argued that creative ideas and product ideas should not be in the same category, while others countered that real users don’t necessarily differentiate the two. Whether it’s a campaign or a product, brands are vying for people’s time. Another juror posed a slightly more existential question: Why would we assume campaign ideas are creative and product ideas are not?

This question about campaigns versus products was raised simply and partially out of confusion. However, it was also out of underlying—and perhaps unacknowledged—fear and insecurity. Do brands now have to compete against not only other brands but also companies outside of their immediate industry? And do agencies have to compete not only against other agencies but also companies that make products and services?

Yes and Yes.

Kodak filed for bankruptcy while Instagram was bought by Facebook for $1 billion. Airbnb is now filling more nights than Hilton Hotels. Nike+ Kinect Training [created by AKQA] is now "as good as a real trainer, costs less than a one hour’s lesson, and it’s 24/7 at home," as Chris Anderson put it.

The reality is this: Business ideas from the least expected players and angles will disrupt your brand faster than advertising can save it.

A couple of years after the world’s biggest advertising award show ditched the word advertising, we’ve reached an inflection point: Advertising as we know it has come to an end.

Now what?

Here are a few principles that can guide the shift from the Old World Order to the New World Order.

1. From Integrated To Connected

"Integrated" has been the holy grail of advertising for a long time. It also has been the most coveted category at Cannes.

However, the lack of excitement was rather noticeable in the Integrated category this year. Even for its Grand Prix winner—while I completely acknowledge how massively viral it was and totally respect the work—integration was relatively simplistic and seemed like an afterthought.

By far the most talked about brand marketing activity of the last 12 months was Red Bull Stratos (which wasn’t entered into Cannes Lions—lucky for many winners this year, because it would have absolutely cleaned up at the festival).

It had no TV or print or outdoor media—the usual suspects of the Old World. It wouldn’t have qualified for the Integrated category. Yet Red Bull demonstrated what the brand stands for, reached the world over, and gained awareness more brilliantly than any other integrated campaigns as of late. It did so by masterfully leveraging connections it had made with the audience. And of course, it had the most audacious idea to go with it: Having balls of steel is a real edge.

In addition, connected means something beyond the surface. With more and more devices, products, and services becoming perpetually connected, brands can connect the dots in an intelligent way in order to serve the needs of the user. The aforementioned Nike+ Kinect is as much about turning your living room into a gym as about connecting you to Nike’s service ecology wherever and whoever you are. Whether through your Fuelband on the go, Nike+ Kinect at home, or even future Nike+ products, Nike can seamlessly connect your activities.

In the new world, it’s about how well connected you are with the audience and how well you connect the audience themselves.

2. From Brand Story To People Story

Beginning with the Bible many centuries ago, brands oftentimes came up with stories to distribute, to "build a brand." However, In the age of radical transparency and hyperinformed users, people are now more aware of inauthenticity than we have ever been.

A common trait underneath some of the strongest work, such as "The Real Beauty Sketches" for Dove, "Find Your Greatness" for Nike, and "Paralympics 2012" is that they are not necessarily "brand stories." They are reflections of "people stories."

Also another trend that is emerging is the rise of "purpose-driven" work—whether for a corporate brand or a charity organization. "Why wait until it’s too late?" for Dela, a funeral-insurance company in Amsterdam, "Immortal Fans" for Sport Club Recife in Brazil, as well as many other cases were not only reflecting real stories from people but also had a purpose larger than just selling something.

If you choose to tell stories as a brand, don’t make it about you. Make it about the real people. Use the power of your brand and reach to reflect the truth.

3. From 360 To 365

Many of us in this industry have been trained to think up Big Ideas that can be "360"—360 degrees of communication.

In the old world, 360 worked relatively well for a long time. In the world gone digital, however, the effectiveness of most media outlets has become so small and people’s attention span so short that trying to surround the user with 360 degrees of communication can be a wasteful exercise.

The scale of an idea should no longer be measured by the size of the surface or the number of media channels it can cover. It should instead be measured by its longevity, ambition, and the impact it could have on society.

"TXTBKS" is possibly the smallest in size yet the biggest in scale and potential. Smart Communications, a telecommunications company in the Philippines decided to repurpose old SIM cards by saving textbook data onto them and distributing them to children in need of education. This shockingly simple idea is what I call a 365 idea—one that can create 365 days of connection between a brand and people—even through a single device in people’s pockets.

4. From Media Disruption To Business Invention

The business of advertising has for many years relied on media disruption as its business model.

The formula has been to find an insight, come up with a story, a theme, or the Big Idea as we so lovingly call it, and multiply that by media channels. Grossly oversimplified, of course, but many have followed this model to create media disruption, believing that they would build brands or solve problems.

Truth be told, though, it may have been more about hiding the problem than solving it.

For instance, a retailer may opt to run a campaign to build awareness or even a sales promotion. The real problem is the high cost of their business itself and the structure around it. Enter Everlane, a digital luxury clothing design manufacturing company that drastically reduces its product costs by completely cutting out the middlemen. Instead of hiding the problem, they invented a business that solves it.

Another example is "Awake by Amazon," a concept by one of AKQA’s Future Lions winners this year. It’s a digital service idea that benefits the user, the brand, and contributes to society.

Creativity and innovation are about finding unexpected solutions to obvious problems or finding obvious solutions to unexpected problems. We should use our creativity to provide better businesses and solutions rather than constantly trying to disrupt what people are doing.

Campaigns or products, if they are not worthy of people’s time, will end up polluting the world—literally and metaphorically. As we forge ahead into the post-digital, all-mobile era, 360 degrees of integrated campaigns to tell brand stories via media disruption may no longer be as effective—and quite frankly, as necessary—as we thought.

Brands should aim to solve real problems by providing connected services over 365 days and by inventing new businesses that benefit people, not just the brand.

Rei Inamoto is chief creative officer at AKQA.
Read his previous thoughts on the evolution of marketing here:

"Madison Avenue’s Identity Crisis (And Why Silicon Valley Still Needs To Learn From The Ad Industry)"
"Why Ad Agencies Should Act More Like Tech Startups"

[Static Footage Courtesy of RecRoom | Flickr users Steve Snodgrass, Angie Muldowney, Thomas Leth-Olsen, Dominic Cleal]

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