There’s a clever guy named Neil Boorman. He’s got a blog wherein he is chronicling his evolution into what he clearly hopes will be the amelioration of a good many wrongs in his life through brandlessness. Merely forswearing branded goods is not enough however, for Mr. Boorman intends to burn any branded items currently in his possession.
Neil seems quite earnest and genuine in his endeavor. He’s even admitted to the glaring internal inconsistency that lies at the heart of a project to create a brand around eschewing brands. When I suggested in the comments on his blog that perhaps the entire endeavor should be considered folly in light of such inconsistencies, he seemed rather non-plussed. My status as a member of a marketing firm seemed to further aggravate the discourse. He does seem to wish to provoke marketers, so maybe I’m just the kind of cat upon which he wishes to heap polemic.
Anyway, I’ve suggested to him that he need not be offended as I am trying to address what I believe to be one of his core assumptions and not his character, motives or aspirations. Hopefully he’ll take me at face value, although I’m a marketer and all, so I’m probably planning some terrifically cynical subliminal psy-op as we speak. I thought I’d spare him the horror of a pretentiously long comment on his blog and just take my end of the debate over here. This gets pretty theory-heavy, but I want to address what I believe to be a (unwitting?) core assumption of his experiment.
I don’t exactly know how it all spun out of control, but I’m fairly certain I have a Blogger and Friendster and MySpace and GameSpot and YouTube and Flickr and Technorati and del.icio.us account. In all likelihood, my username clogs the registry of another handful of community apps gathering dust. Pat Robertson, forgive me if you’re reading this, but in an effort to establish human connections online I’ve been intimate with dozens of web 2.0 communities, and the names of most I cannot even remember.
Please don’t judge me, because I cherished every one of those applications, if only for a few minutes in the parking lot behind the wi-fi cafe.
There’s a lot of discussion around innovation in marketing these days. Joseph Jaffe is legitimately trying to find out who is doing innovative things in the various communication disciplines of marketing. I can’t wait to hear his analysis of the feedback he receives.
Max Kalehoff makes a very interesting point that the ad industry is usually behind when it comes to innovation. Most of the innovative ideas are coming from companies like Google, Yahoo! and Apple. He argues that it is because these companies put dollars and emphasis behind R & D along with some other interesting point. There are quite a few comments on his post worth reviewing.
My take is that agencies in general (interactive, traditional and otherwise) tend to sell what they know the client will buy (with some exceptions of course). Agencies take the fastest path to cash or the path of least resistance. Many clients want assurance that their agency can deliver results, and they generally want evidence of it. Most clients will not want to fund experimentation for initiatives or tactics that don’t have any kind of track record. I have experienced that again and again. It’s a very hard sell, and you need an incredible amount of trust and a great relationship with your client to get them to move into new space that requires significant capital with no guarantee of success.
Doing the R & D on your own dime is not very likely either. Because agencies serve their clients, and because the industry is so competitive, most agencies can’t charge enough to build the necessary cash reserve to fund non-billable experimentation.
So what’s the answer? Part of me thinks that agencies have to play a little further upstream than they are used to. They need to get back to working with clients on strategy instead of just delivering on tactics. If you can position yourself as a resource for innovation, creativity and strategy, you may be able to influence the client to go down a road not yet traveled and do something truly innovative. Often, this space is internalized, goes to the consultants or niche companies like IDEO.
If you have examples of agencies playing in this space and having success, please share. There has been plenty written about Agency.com and their poor execution of a forward-thinking approach to a client pitch, including my colleague Carrie’s post a week ago. So what else have you seen?
As the noise increases, this kind of rather presumptuous “guerrilla action” just seems to grow more pervasive. Sure, it’s clever, but I fail to see how ‘clever’ is necessarily tantamount to ‘effective.’ Perhaps I’m just a curmudgeon, but I must say, “Please do not surreptitiously affix things to my vehicle, domicile, or other effects.”
Then again, I just got a parking ticket for having parked on the wrong side of the street on the first odd Wednesday of the month, so perhaps I’m a little raw about the prospect of having bits of paper appear on my vehicle.