Welcome To (New Economy) Optimism.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau’s latest study, “The Rise of the 21st Century Brand Economy”, was released yesterday at their Annual Leadership Meeting.

The takeaway? We’ve felt it for awhile— disruption is everywhere, and every single condition and dynamic that traditional marketing companies had been able to count on to protect their dominance over the past several decades has been upended.

Our Chief Creative Officer, Colleen DeCourcy was asked to address IAB attendees on “How to Build a 21st Century Brand” and provide the agency perspective in response to this research. Last year we published what could be considered Part I of this response, “How To Catch Lightning in a Bottle”—making the case that the END hasn’t changed in advertising. Lightning in a bottle is still the end goal. We just have to take the friction out of getting to it. Part 2 revisits that premise and takes it a step further.

We’ve summarized her talk, “Welcome to Optimism: Brand Building in a Post-Advertising World” in the post below.

Change is here.

We’ve never felt it more than we feel it today.

Disruptive innovation is one of the most misunderstood concepts in modern business. It’s rooted in just one thing: more people having access to tools that used to be available only to people with lots of money or skill. The printing press put the monks out of business, the camera put portrait painters out of business, iPhones took cameras out of business and Instagram took Kodak out of business.

Progress is direct access to the means of getting to an end. A shortening of the distance from A to B. Each step, friction taken out of the process.

This one thing is the biggest thing we need to remind ourselves of every day.

Chance The Rapper didn’t need a record label. In fact, records didn’t need a record STORE, and music didn’t need records.

Chance was just “taking the friction out of the process.”

Hollywood looked at digital disruption and cried “DEFEND US! This will kill creativity.”

But it didn’t.

Serialized content had a creative renaissance. The OTT content industry’s removal of friction and use of data actually intensified Hollywood’s creative output. It’s also quite possible that a weakened studio system will bring an end to the power dynamic that is at the root of sexual harassment.

It’s hard to let go of something that has worked, that you like and that you’ve built a massive amount of infrastructure around.

Big box retail is another example.

Not unlike Hollywood or, well, big advertising infrastructure. All victims of the same logic.

Bigger buildings for more people with more departments and more workflow to handle the global scale of a rush of product that creates endless exponential growth for the stock market. Turns out it that was wrong.

More delivery, less friction.

That’s the challenge we ALL have in front of us in the 21st century.

L2 Gartner

As Scott Galloway says, “A lot of Creative Directors will be spending more time with their families this year.”

So, to recap the situation:

Changes at the top. It’s almost a completely different shape of market. We moved from a market of things to a market of systems.

L2 Gartner
The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB)

Changes at the bottom. Size is no longer your friend. It’s hampering reinvention to match the shape of the market.

Competition is coming from everywhere.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB)

This unprecedented access to the Means of Production created The New Economy.

And we wonder why Silicon Valley has a quizzical look on its face when we go to them with our fee proposals.

What business structures itself in a way that requires a fee just to start thinking about an idea?

Us. We do.

Look, great advertising can still drastically change the fortunes of a brand, New Economy or old.

But, there’s no role for mediocre work anymore.

We are not required for straight up “front of mind”, anymore. Where advertising hasn’t gone data-driven and frictionless, the job has gotten harder.

The upside however, can be huge.

After 35 years, and 8 offices opened, Wieden+Kennedy still only employs about 1,400 people. Most high schools are bigger than us.

We’re not easy, because we’re passionate about what we do. But we’re transparent and we’re small and we’re getting more nimble every day.

For small, right now, I am very, very grateful.

Because, as people who now work hand in glove with New Economy marketers, we know there are more drastic changes on the horizon. The legacy of the last wave of disruption is services and offerings that have resulted in some pretty bad things. Problems that go beyond spurious views and fake news. There’s a lot of cleaning up to do.

What we have learned is that to build anything on top of what we have now is a fool’s errand. A lot of the current infrastructure of marketing amounts to friction. If Direct to Consumer (D2C) companies have taught us anything, it is this:

Any move that isn’t in the direction of nimbleness, emotional intelligence, transparency and collaboration, is building in the wrong direction.

There is no way to un-see this once you’ve seen it. Fear is the enemy of innovation.

I try to practice non-attachment. We all should.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB)

It appears that brand building for a 100 year horizon may be a luxury brief.

Even for New Economy companies, a direct model is not a guarantee of long term success.

Loyalty is hard to find. Many of these D2C companies have gone through their own white-knuckle days.

The Glossiers and the Outdoor Voices, the Warby Parkers, All-birds and Everlanes are not just internet companies that figured out supply chain and targeting.

They are ideas.

They also live offline. They create content. They make meaningful gestures. They capture their audience. The biggest difference is they do it without massive infrastructure.

The implications for marketers are seismic. You used to invest in advertising and brand-building to raise awareness and drive sales in physical stores.

Now you don’t.

Amazon combined with the growing threat of start-ups like the ones I’ve just named, are scaring the shit out of a lot of companies.

Given the long line-up of disruptions hitting the agency model, we are already fully shit-less. We have no more shits to lose.

So, we’re going for it.

Rising to the expectations of New Economy clients put bruises on every shin in our agency and then some.

We have moved forward, forging relationships with “direct” and digital brands, companies that are setting the pace for business going forward:

Airbnb, Lyft, Instagram, Spotify, Facebook, OK Cupid.

At the same time we are working with companies who are doing the hard work of evolving for the new realities of business, and marketing, and winning.

The marketing mix for both seems clearer than it has been in a long time:

This is the New Economy core stack.

It rounds out the move from mass target audience reach to individual precision on a mass scale.

It puts direct-to-consumer brands into shared culture where memories live and values are appreciated.

Here, data is a form of empathy. It’s how we find truth in a non-monolithic culture.

There is still a zeitgeist. In fact, more than it was ever before, 21st century marketing is about humanity. People are more interested and willing to play with brands than they ever have been. They also expect more from brands than they ever did.

The brands that are audience-centric — human centric —that are focused on creating value for people, that combine tech with human insight and empathy, that ask and answer: WHAT DO REAL PEOPLE WANT? That look at people as more than consumers. They are the ones we will mark in history as the 21st Century Brands.

The Optimism lives there.

Great 21st Century Marketers will mercilessly hone the direct, targeted, programmatic and supply chain managed.

But they will also use “the work” to do something bigger. Work that creates conversation and lives in the real world not the ad world.

Brands that are ideas have so much more permission to engage.

Everything and anything a brand can do to work with consumers in their world. There really are no limits. Media doesn’t dictate the terms. Culture does.

Stories are Everywhere.

People thought Instagram was for the Kardashians and Snapchat was for friends.

The launch of Instagram Stories by W+K Amsterdam changed us (and our work process) irrevocably.

The one big learning? You gotta be willing to break your process.

Created in Instagram, shot on phones, these are not the kinds of ads W+K used to make. But, they came from the same kind of thinking. It proved to us that our creativity was still relevant and could live anywhere…and it was fun. The offices outside of Amsterdam were jealous.


So, let’s talk about Lyft. It matters how you get there.

A Silicon Valley D2C company doesn’t really need an agency…until it has a competitor.

One of the first things WKNY did for our favorite ride-share company was create a connection to their most important constituency — their drivers.

Companies like Lyft and Airbnb don’t own their biggest assets: the regular people who bring their passion, their resources and their commitment to the table. These people want to work with ethical partners.

The creation of a community that works in concert with the brand gives the whole endeavor a larger purpose in society. That matters.

At the same time as we move to a market of automated and frictionless transactions, we hasten our search for some confirmation of our own humanity.

Something we can carry forward into a scary and quickly arriving, automated, post-work world.

Think of how absolutely earth-shattering that last thought is. A post-work world. The Fourth Industrial revolution is upon us. Work, a thing we know and frame our existence with, will change in this century for most of us.

Wondering why you see so much social consciousness creeping into advertising? The data is telling marketers that the world is looking for confirmation of “who we are.”

In better and worse times, and ways, advertising has played that role in our lives.

With automation taking people out of the work-force and a massive explosion of personal identity politics underway, I’ve got to think the world might need brands right now.

This is what Brands of the 21st Century look like.

How they’re built and how they reach us isn’t the only factor in success. It’s not either/or, it’s yes, and…

Supporting culture with creativity and purpose and action.

Brands wrapped in and carried by the voices of people.

This is what Brands can do.

I will never believe that this isn’t our job.

Welcome to the 21st Century.

Welcome to Everything.

Welcome to Optimism.