Oftentimes when people ask me what I do for a living and I tell them I work in advertising, they ask, "Don’t you wish you got to be an ad man in the golden era, like on Mad Men?" I usually smile and respond with "What makes you think the golden era was 40 years ago? We are living in the golden era right now—the most exciting and unpredictable time in marketing history." We are witnessing a complete social transformation. The entire industry has been flipped on its head.
So what’s changed? In the '60s, agencies controlled a brand’s message and how it was broadcast to an extremely broad target audience on a small number of platforms. Today, consumers are in control; scattered across a variety of social networks, niche online communities are very selective about what they want to consume and the mediums through which they want to consume it. It is a common industry consensus that bombarding or spamming consumers with intrusive advertising and brand messages simply no longer works, not to mention it’s incredibly expensive. So why do so many brands and agencies keep making the same mistakes?
Well, it’s mostly an organizational problem. In the post-digital age, everyone’s roles are blurred and traditional agency conventions are being challenged to keep pace with ever-changing client demands. We can no longer continue to apply old methodologies to an evolving new-media landscape. We need to get acclimated with operating in a state of chaos. The old-school bureaucracy of the suit briefing the planner, the planner briefing creative, and the creative team going away and cooking up some ideas is dead. "Agency of record" relationships are becoming increasingly rare and clients are opting to work with a variety of specialists in the areas of digital, social, mobile, and PR. As a result, agencies have had to change the way they do business, rethink the services that they offer, hire different types of people, and modify how internal teams are structured.
Those that are truly devoted to forging ahead have accepted that to compete, it is no longer adequate to just have the best creative talent; rather, you need to have the best multi-disciplinary teams. At Tribal DDB, every member of our team is creative and we believe a good idea can come from anywhere. Everyone’s a little bit of a strategist, account manager, new businessperson—yet each of us has our own specialized role based on an area of expertise. We work together, not in silos. This has positioned us well to embrace an unpredictable, albeit exciting future.
Rethinking how we work has naturally impacted the future direction of our business and the type of creative executions we craft for our clients. Increasingly, our solutions are geared around the creation and distribution of content through social, mobile, and other emerging mediums, rather than ads. We have recently made documentaries, branded content, and a feature-length film, to name a few. And we’ve been having a lot of fun doing it.
We view our approach as brand journalism: a focus on the creation of authentic content and proactive participation in the social media arena—where we help our clients be nimble, conversational, and opportunistic. We do this by uncovering the core stories at the heart of a brand, creating multiple supporting narratives, and then seeding these narratives to their intended audiences where they are most likely to encounter them. It’s an ongoing process of content creation, aggregation, distribution, and publishing.
As an agency it is our goal to make 2012 the year of great content. Content that breaks through the clutter, has context, provides information, entertainment, or utility. Content that is authentic and real and will help our clients change the conversation, because brands that get talked about are brands that get bought.
So how are we going to continue to do this? We’re going to stick to our principles. Twelve years ago, Tribal DDB was founded on the idea that to be successful for our clients, we need to leverage the talents of our Tribe to build Tribes for our clients’ brands. We believe that in order to do that, we need to focus on their consumers as people and create content and experiences for them that appeal to their emotional interests and needs. The technology of our industry must always be used in service of an idea and to form a greater connection—not with more screens, but with the person on the other side of those screens.
In 2012, agencies and clients will continue to have to work more collaboratively to better understand who their customers really are, their interests, issues, and passions and engage them through the best content possible. We truly are in a golden era, a period of unlimited creative opportunity. So make it good because consumers no longer tune you in; they decide whether or not to tune you out.
—Author Matt Nelson is the director of social media strategy for Tribal DDB.