Hack advertising, please.

eliminate this 'fingers crossed' approach

Let’s talk a little about actual disruption in marketing.

Not long ago, Snapchat had a completely unique feature, a sustainable business model and huge growth. Then Instagram borrowed their core functionality, offered it to their huge audience, and are now seeing a far higher engagement from users.

Oh, and just in case you hadn't caught on -Pokemon Go isn’t cool anymore.

The fact is, consumers change their behavour and the platforms almost every day, but agencies aren’t giving clients the flexibility they need to succeed. Advertising means ‘to turn toward’, to divert attention, but it’s just not working anymore. Consumers are actively seeking to avoid advertising, and they can, with the number of people using ad blocking software growing by 41% in the last year.

So given that consumers - rather than brands - are controlling the conversation, how can we divert their attention? And how can we remove some of the chaos from this fast-changing digital landscape?

In our view, brands are paying huge retainers to get badly formatted strategy decks that can take months to produce and often go nowhere. To invest large sums in vanilla messaging designed for media unit is to miss a trick. All that content, generated and consumed in a very traditional way, results in a homogenous digital culture that self-perpetuates through lack of imagination and a reluctance to push boundaries. In a nutshell: You start with a traditional process, you end up with a traditional ad, and no one cares.

But still you hear people insisting that ‘content is king’. Yes, creating content is a crucial part of marketing, but content is everywhere. In just one minute, 347,222 tweets are sent, 6,944,444 snapchat videos are watched and 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube. Which of this content will cut through?

To eliminate this “fingers crossed” approach, we should be using the space to try new things, to conduct radical experiments and stop relying on “magic content” that will secure a few “likes”.

The fault, we believe, is in the process.

Lengthy pitching processes often result in good ideas, but they can be outdated before they’re put in to action. The “big reveal” of a finished project, the “ta-daa” moment where we finally discover if all that planning and hard graft was worthwhile, has become a relic of a bygone age. Moving quickly allows you to move at the speed of culture.

Our own approach – which we call Triage – involves going from brief to prototyped concept (or even several prototypes) within the space of a week, testing that creative with audiences, learning what resonates and what doesn’t, concentrating on the things that work and killing the rest off, quickly. 

We’re lucky to be able to do that – but it’s an approach that we believe everyone should be adopting. We’ve found that being brave, shrugging off preciousness and learning from audiences (rather than making assumptions about them) is a key element of success. It de-risks it. And because we involve the consumer as part of the process, they’re keen to engage with it.

At a time when Ogilvy London have closed Ogilvy Labs, the question is more relevant than ever: Can the traditional agencies unravel years of process and ways of working to be innovative for modern marketing communications? A world where product and marketing are the same thing? As Nicole Yershon says, “Innovation [in advertising] is never going to be easy because you’re trying to affect change that’s changing the business model and making people see there’s an issue with how things currently are.”

Traditionally, the most successful brands are following the 70/20/10 rule, which allows 20% in emerging platforms and 10% in completely untested waters, but we estimate that most companies are way off those figures. Opportunities are being missed to use this space to test and learn with new technology, new platforms and new audiences, rather than half-heartedly attempt to entertain them.

So, what’s the key to staying flexible? Don’t be rigid. Ditch the old, time-honoured tradition of brief, proposal and pitch and adopt a brand new model that allows you to start building on day one, play with the results and test with consumers.

The world has changed, but the way in that agencies service clients hasn’t. It’s now time to hack advertising - for everyone's sake.