Integrative Ideas and Social Brands

Insights from the WARC Social Strategy Prize

In the 15 or so years since digital technologies fundamentally changed the nature of media and commerce, and thus advertising (a function thereof), what’s remarkable is how little variance in the discussion there has actually been.

Agencies and individuals allied to traditional business models initially ignored the impact, then began to embrace it primarily through token hires and lip-service, and then began to embrace the countervailing notion that actually the web had indeed been a fad.

The AdContrarian has made a global name for himself this way, anchoring his dismissal of digital in scathing and very funny attacks on banners and other silliness. He knows a key way to be interesting and get attention, which is to be contrarian — to loudly attack things people generally believe to be true [such as the the idea that digital technologies have fundamentally changed the nature of media, as I opined in the first line].

Agencies and individuals with a business model that is allied to digital production and thinking continue to flog the ‘death of advertising’ narrative and push a techno-utopianism where brands engage with such relevance and utility as to build ongoing, elective relationships with customers and prospects.

Spending money on media becomes an archaic, almost embarrassing idea in a world of shared content. Brands become content producers, bizarrely just as media companies themselves face incredible business challenges due to the excess of content and scarcity of attention. Mass marketing in broadcast media is an historic accident in the age of hyper targeted personalization.

Oh and it’s all mobile now. Or Social Local Mobile, actually.

And Big Data.


This endless [and pointless] argument, has done the industry a great disservice. It is naively binary, when the world is not.

Having sat on both sides of this fence, I’ve seen both at the company and individual level what this has done.

People on either side fundamentally distrust each other, which has greatly hampered the inter- and intra- agency collaboration required to make the solutions we need today.

It has moved us further away from the integrative marketing communications planning we need. Indeed, this is why integration and agency collaboration are the two biggest problems clients have with us.

It is not, and never has been, either / or but rather what, when and how much.

The biggest challenge for our clients today is what, out of an ever increasing number of options, to consider and leverage to achieve their business goals —and how to create holistic solutions that cater for increasingly diverse media/technology audiences. Some of whom watch a lot of television. Some of whom do not.

Perhaps it’s not that surprising. It is, after all, famously hard to get anyone to understand something, when their income depends on not understanding it.

Agencies are fighting for a slice of a shrinking pie, as large clients seek to actively depress the amount of money they spend on “non-advertising expenditures” [i.e. agency fees]. Thus, it is unlikely agencies with seperate P&Ls are really set up to collaborate, despite the consolidated holding company promises, which, in light of the failed Publicom merger, ring increasingly hollow.

Despite the programmatic promises of the massive media buyers [and charming straw man attacks], very few people outside the ad tech and media ecosystem care about, or notice, banners. As has been pointed out, about a 1/3 of the impressions served are fraudulent anyway. Infinite inventory means ever decreasing CPMs, despite the bundling of subprime impressions via DSPs.

Publishers are trying to wean themselves off their click addiction and develop their native offerings. Search remains the key online advertising driver in dollar terms, especially on mobile.

It is social that has becomes the primary battleground for agency ideas, precisely because it cuts across all disciplines and, unlike search, allows room for actual ideas.

Advertising, media, PR, digital, CRM, activation, and any other agency which is characterized by discipline has laid claim to social — it is uniquely horizontal. Social is how content flows, how customers communicate with brands and each other, how ideas spread. When a company does something badly, or well, social is where we reach out to them, and to each other.

Social ROI debates rage on but suddenly every brand seems to be creating content, looking to in-bound marketing models online, as though it were some kind of panacea.

I suspect this is simply because the apparatus of the advertising industry has always been set up to create pieces of ‘content’, although I think there is an important distinction here. Content needs to be something a consumer would choose to consume. Advertising is something a brand wants to say about itself. They occasionally overlap, but very rarely: The Red Bull Stratos Space jump did not espouse a unique selling proposition of its eponymous beverage.

Regardless, social without content is a lot of empty likes and follows, hollow network connections that decay without continual pings to maintain the linked nodes.

But this is not to say that television advertising, or billboards, or even radio are somehow no longer present or important. That’s salesmanship, not strategy.

Certain audiences, especially those over the age of 50, who now have most of the money left in the USA, continue to consume vast swathes of real time broadcast television. Billboards are more important than ever, I would suggest, since they cannot be blocked or time-shifted. Anyone who has spent any time outside of NYC knows how important radio is in the USA because everyone drives everywhere to everything.

Rather, understand that all media should be considered as part of one inter-operating system.

Components can act upon each other in approaching real time. Eventually all elements will be digital. The definitions we cling to, such as television versus online video, make sense only in light of business model balkanization, and only for the medium term. One third of millenials only watch ‘television’ online, where Netflix predicts that, eventually, there will be no advertisements.

Introducing a pervasive effect, not element, into this system is now the job of advertising. It is not about what you make, but what effect what you do has on the system.

All of which brings me to the WARC Social Strategy Awards, which they kindly asked me to comment on. Because, what stood out to me, across the winning entries, was that ‘social’ was an understanding of how the world is now. Social is the backbone to truly integrative ideas, where each component has a role and feeds the others, making a unified whole, which drives business results.

The Doritos Mariachi band took the Grand Prix.

This was a strong content play: a Mariachi cover band that could appeal to a broad spread of audiences, that went on tour. Television drove awareness of the idea, and the tour itself became a content generation engine, distributed at appropriate apertures — moments and platforms. They understood that there is no conversation without content — talking about products endlessly is from an older age. Every element and department must work together seamlessly. Content that performs well in social should be amplified. They measured the total reach achieved — television levels at a fraction of the cost, and could demonstrate the impact on sales.

Evian won a gold and special award for long term idea with its Baby&Me.

Watched more than 135M times on social networks — 20M in the first 48 hours — the ad spun off an app that let you create your own BabyMe. While 9million of the views were bought, the rest were organic.

Pandering to the need of the Selfie generation to put themselves into the picture — literally — it garnered millions of shares on Facebook and Twitter. This content source then informed the traditional media campaign, outdoor advertising and photo booths, t-shirts and product packaging. The campaign “facilitated profitable growth, in terms of sales volume, in new markets, with similar success in mature markets”. It would have been nice to see some numbers here but even so, glad they mentioned the business results.

Mercedes A-Class #YouDrive campaign was a collaboration between 4 agencies. It won a gold and the channel thinking prize.
[Side note: more agencies should enter awards collaboratively to reflect how the world is now].

The idea demonstrated an understanding of media as one system: social interaction drove the broadcast spot in real time. Active interaction drives consideration — not the other way around.

As Yves Behar has said, participation is the new loyalty.

Engagement here is a function of cross platform — [yes, transmedia ]— storytelling.

Behavior is more impactful that messaging.

Launched via video on Twitter, Youtube and Facebook, Youdrive allowed consumers to direct the narrative using their preferred hashtag to drive how the story ended. Over the course of the campaign the #YouDrive hashtag was used 103 million times. It had an immediate impact on brand perception and business leads. Searches for the car rose, visits to the websites did likewise, e-brochures were ordered, test drives were requested.

They understood that people aren’t naturally interested in brand content — they gave them a reason to be interested. The interaction of broadcast and interactive engagement is what made the campaign work.

All communication ideas should be developed this way. Nurturing, growing, testing, engaging and then leveraging ideas that emerge from the rich protean substrate of social. Planted in the relatively stable environments of traditional media, where the passive can enjoy the engagement of the active. Born online, broadened in broadcast.

Social strategy is not really about hashtags or Facebook — it’s about finding ways to interest people in your ideas. Interest them enough to interact in some way. Interest them enough to allow your brand to flow through their streams. Social strategy is about understanding the mediascape as it flows now rather than how it used to be delineated. All media are inherently social in some regards — they are conduits for ideas between people.

What has changed is that brands now need to behave socially, being entertaining, responsive, addressing unspoken needs and customer concerns. Being good for life is no longer simply a product proposition. Being social as a brand doesn’t come naturally, they are used to being heard and not spoken to, which suggests a robust ongoing role for their agencies.

If they can find ways to be social amongst themselves.

[Originally published over on WARC, and extracted on the WARC blog.]

Faris Yakob is the co-founder of Genius Steals, a strategy, innovation and ideas practice and the co-author the book Digital State. He served as the chairman of the Integrated Jury at the Clio Awards and created the NEW category for the London International Awards.

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