The main reason for this shift, I believe, is driven by the key demographics of the 18-25 year olds living their lives online. Now, advertisers have no choice except to go where their customers are. Hitwise Australia research from a year ago (Feb 2008) says in Australia there are more than 1.2 million users in the 18-24 year-old bracket who class themselves as active online users. Brands who’ve only dabbled in corporate websites are suddenly realising that they have to bring the brand to the customer rather than expect the customer is going to come to them.
The best of all digital brand strategies involve a big idea, and the closer it is to a brand “truth” the more successful it is. I find the US does an integrated strategy really well, here in Australia, there’s a tendency “tack on” digital as an afterthought to a TVC. Take the Clio 2008 award winning Tide To Go or the HBO Voyeur campaign. Both of them have digital at the heart of the interaction (whether sharing stories or viewing stories) and both of them were developed by big idea, integrated ad agencies.
It amazes me when clients have 7 different agencies and silo all their brand activities into what they see as different channels. One previous client had one agency for TV and print, one for electronic Direct Mail, one for digital strategy, one for digital execution, one for search, one for promotions and one for media. The client thought they could tell all the 7 agencies what to do separately and it was complete and unmitigated chaos when it came to putting a promotion online and send out a corresponding eDM newsletter. It involved four of the seven agencies and the client – 5 parties all making their own change requests. No surprises, without centralised change control, mistakes were made, it took 5 times longer to do anything and there was a lot of double, triple and quadruple handling of files. The cost to the client was insane too, with all the different agencies billing for their slice of the production line.
I find the most successful campaigns or brand strategies has the idea owners (usually the strategic, brand or above the line agency) run the idea through the relevant channels. That’s not to say that they need to do everything, more that they need to be hands on where the the rubber hits the road, the point at which the creative concept (the big idea) becomes a tactical execution. It’s in the clients interest to give this responsibility to the lead agency, and hold them accountable for the execution. So many times, the way the “big idea” is executed becomes about cutting corners because of “saving money”, or its “death by a thousand cuts” the slow, slicing and removing of functionality because of a lack of understanding how it is an essential part of the bigger, strategic picture.
Quite often the brand agency knows more about protecting the integrity of the brand than the client does. So why is it that clients insist on micromanaging every single specialist they engage? My guess is the more agencies you’ve engaged directly, you’re either over controlling or nervous. Last year, search was the flavour of the month, and clients were engaging search agencies who then carved out fees for themselves doing search audits and making arbitary information architecture recommendations, without any consideration of either the overall brand strategy or user experience. I always take it back to the overarching brand strategy – what are the big picture goals you’re trying to achieve for the brand? When there’s lots of agencies being pitted against each other by a client wanting to get lots of ideas, its the brand that suffers in the jockeying for position, rather than benefiting from the agencies working together for the greater good of the brand
So in difficult times, what’s the best way of getting lots of different agencies to work together and play nice? How do you work with others when your client forces you to work with other agencies? Please share your thoughts and experiences.