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The agency needs to be hacked

March 12, 2008
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1. “The problem advertising agencies have got at the moment is that they keep getting asked to do things advertising agencies can’t do.”

2. “I’m fed up with agencies coming in every few months to say the world is changing. I get that it’s changing… (but) other than the speech that things are changing, I haven’t seen much evidence of it in how agencies have been spending my money.”
Stephen Norman, Global Marketing Director, Fiat.

As Stephen Norman said, the world is changing. As marketers, we look around and see the internet, cell phones, the internet on cell phones, and we realize we’re on the brink of something. We’re not sure what.

We think, rather obviously, that Web 2.0 has something to do with it. YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, Second Life, Twitter,, Linkedin, etc, etc, etc, are somehow part of the change. But we know that’s not it. There’s also Tivo, 400 channels, podcasts, the slow death of the daily newspaper – people watching Heroes on their cell phone, etc, etc, etc.

As we try to keep up with all this stuff, a thought occurs to us that learning it is only part of the battle. Because using it isn’t easy. It’s easier to say “Who cares if people flock to Facebook using Flock?”

For the longest time, we’ve been in the talk to business. The whole idea of a brief, a ‘single most important point’ a USP is derived from the notion that we’re talking to people. And we have something simple to tell them. It’s carefully thought out to be the thing they want to hear, but it isn’t designed to get them to talk back. The response it’s designed to get is purchase.

Thus, ads tell. Instruct. With some obviously famous examples, they create emotion and involvement. They compel. And it’s been done like that for almost a century, because it works. People watch the Super Bowl for the ads. Ads still invoke imagery, emotion, humor, intrigue, and perspective – all for the purpose of getting noticed.

Even in a cluttered marketplace, ads break out: “Evolution” is an example. Chances are you know the ad simply from that one word.

Based on a nice insight, the concept of the evolution of beauty went viral. It was a nice idea, and a well-executed spot that was too long for TV, but perfect for YouTube. It went viral, but it’s still Dove talking to people. (True, they set up boards, and groups to talk, facilitating dialogue.)

Is taking a good idea viral the ‘newness’ that’s required? Most likely, no. But that’s arguable. Web 2.0 helped Dove get out there. It started a valid conversation that the people at Dove were smart enough to help continue.

Web 2.0 is about conversations. That’s new. And scary, because ad agencies aren’t set up to listen. But should we be? Could we be? Would a client trust a copywriter to start engaging customer? I know some copywriters you would want far away from clients, let alone customers.

But lets get back to the conversation: Is it even valid to assume that a conversation convince person Y that product feature X is perfect for their needs? Where does the single most important point fit into a conversation?

All this preamble has been to tell you about something that was released a while ago on a blog called Whistle Through Your Comb. The author of the blog has written a sort of Marketing Manifesto on hacking. The term ‘hackers’ implies bad people who want to steal our money. But it really means changing a system from outside. His argument is essentially this: The image creation industry (advertising) is almost 50 years old. It’s less trusted (true). It’s harder to find an audience (true). It’s becoming increasingly irrelevant (true with a few exceptions). Clients are looking to us to change (true). We’re not sure into what (true).

He says, be a hacker. Hack the system. Maybe this is a think different kind of moment in advertising. Maybe it’s one of those transcending convergence moments – like when TV’s came into everyone’s houses. Because as we all get used to high-speed access (and the social, streaming possibilities it brings) the internet, so ubiquitous in our lives, will soon become ubiquitous in our relationships to people and, yes brands. Yesterday I went to a conference on going Digital where the presenter said bring more people into the room at the beginning regardless of the project.

That’s a hack.

Is there room for image in a realtionship? Or, as more people get more into brands, will marketing require substance? What will that look like?

Here it is. The Hacking of an Agency. It’s geeky in parts, head nodding in others.

Update: This excellent post by Iain about Admen 2.0 that really is on the same lines.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 20, 2008 2:00 am

    Very nice. Thanks for the sharesies.

    And you might think I’d agree, since I started AdHack.

    And you’d be right.

  2. March 25, 2008 2:34 pm

    Interesting page., guy


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