Identity Crisis

It is a confusing time for marketers.

Every player in the creative industry is morphing into something new, claiming to offer a different set of capabilities to clients:

• The billboard owner is now proudly calling himself the branding solutions partner.

• The traditional agency now offers cyber marketing campaign planning.

• The hordes of CEOs and creative directors are breaking away from their international networks to set up small shops, preaching the gospel of ‘being small is agile’.

• The big agency is establishing a small boutique design studio, which will handle the logos, annual reports and corporate profiles.

• The media house is now engaging proprietary measuring tools to evaluate click-through effectiveness.

• The motion graphics production studio is now directing the branding of the entire TV network.

• The digital agency now wants to do TV campaigns, in the name of online virals.

• The annual report company now offers CSR implementation and reporting consultancy services.

• The graphic design studio now offers strategic brand planning when for the past ten years, was producing nothing more than logos and brochures.

Let’s not forget the two young fresh graduates who start a new design outfit, and almost by default, call themselves ‘brand consultants’; and we haven’t included the photocopying and instant print shop which has started offering logo design services “because one needs branding!”

It seems only right to say that the above list does consist of a group of people who do know what they are doing. However, the remaining ones are those who want to jump into the bandwagon when things are hot – some by hiring and luring new partners, others by simply reinventing their sales pitch without making any fundamental changes to the way they have been operating. Adopting buzzwords like ‘brand entertainment’ or user-generated web 3.0 into proposals does not make a new agency.

I can understand the vented frustrations of the marketers about their agencies not being able to deliver upon promises.

However, in the first place, why are there gullible marketers who would believe the agency which proposes that they could push their brand up to the top spot on Google simply by building a website “similar” to Facebook?

We are facing a culture that is embedded in a massive array of connections, conversations, and technology. No one can be exactly sure which combination of technologies and platforms can provide the best solution. All creative industry players are offering their solutions to navigate through the confusion, first by tapping on what they have been doing best, then expanding into something which they see as the way to go in the future.

Successful reinvention is never a guarantee. Droga5, Anomaly and Naked Communications are often seen as the torchbearers in the reinvention game.

An observation is that, in most cases, open collaboration is almost a must. Taking a cue from the IT open source community, specialists are scattered everywhere. An integrated marketing campaign may involve a broad spectrum of channels including print, advertising, TV, digital, web and mobile, event and retail environment and experience design.

Whoever who comes along proclaiming that he has the biggest team with the best people in-house to do the task is most likely a false prophet.

Sometimes, by working with a network of close collaborators, a two-man team can do wonders that even a team of two hundred cannot deliver. Just recently, DixonBaxi, a UK based studio of two, led a loose collaboration of 150 people across the world to overhaul and rebrand UK’s Channel 5. (Addiitonal Flickr link)

But placing a TV channel’s fate in the hands of two men? Now that requires a lot of faith.

First published in Advertising+Marketing Magazine, Dec 2008 issue.