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Creative departments and social media clash in 2009

December 30, 2008

As 2008 closes, and a new year dawns, I’ve been making predictions.

My prediction is a clash in marketing. Here’s why:.

In my opinion, the creative departments of Advertising Agencies don’t like social media. I personally think that social media people will come to the table and meet creative people a lot more in 2009, and the result will be clashes. To understand why, look at the roles the two have in telling people about a product/service:

Creative people (and their agencies) have been the keepers of the brand as the Agency of Record (AOR). They’ve spent the last 50 years massaging and perfecting the voice of the brands they represent. Therefore, it’s not something they are willing to give up easily. And really, it’s not something they should give up easily.

Social media people, though, are hot. They are getting results in Digg, on Twitter, and getting jobs to manage communities. Do a search for social media strategist and you’ll find many listings for jobs. In a bad economy, social media peeps aren’t expendible. They appear to be in demand. Meaning, they are often considered the Smartest People in the room. And why not? They read blogs, hear about new ideas and theories from their Twitter community, and generally know what needs to be known to get any brand into the conversation.

So here’s the emerging clash. People who have been charged with the voice of the brand (creative people and their agencies) hear from people who are hot that they have to give up that voice.

Exhibit #1

In this post by Jon Burg, the number one thing to think about when starting a Twitter account is this:

1. Make your account as personable and useful as possible.

In the bullets, he writes this: “Consider putting a picture of a human face in place of/next to your brand logo. People know how to talk to people. Nobody talks to a soda bottle.”

So, here’s the dilemna: advertising agencies have spent years putting a voice to a soda bottle. Not in real terms, in that the soda bottle talkes to you, but in terms of the soda bottle saying something to people. It’s cool. Refreshing. And the tone is one of leadership, with a proud heritage (or whatever, but the tone is crafted to be unique to the brand).

It’s not a tone that a person can manufacture on Twitter. A person isn’t a brand. So if Charlie speaks on behalf of Soda, he will widdle away at the brand’s voice. So all of that investment in the Power of your Brand can be undermined when the tone of the person on Twitter differs from the tone of the brand. And ironically, the more successful the social media results, the more it could chip away at the brand.

Now, some of you will say that the days of Brand and normal advertising are numbered. That could be right, I don’t know (nor am I saying that Jon’s overall point is wrong — I would never say that, his name pops up as a link in Zemanta!).

Still, I beleive in the power of crafting a brand from the ground up. When it’s time to make a purchase, that’s when the power of the brand is measured. If the brand percolates up to the top of mind, then the marketing of that brand has been done well. If the brand can use social media to capture customers, then it will do well to stay top of mind. And a good way to stay top of mind is through consistency.

Put if to you this way: people won’t have conversations with complete strangers. So if they don’t know your brand or product, chances are good they won’t talk to it.

My hope is this: creative people learn a little more about what social media can do for the brand. And social media people learn a little more about what the brand, and awareness advertising can do for social media. Both are examples of a brand having a conversation with people. The smart money is on making them connect, so the overall message connects to the people who may buy the product or service. That’s what we plan to do.

It’s gonna be a fun year.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. December 30, 2008 1:02 pm

    I agree that a throwdown is probably in the works in many places between creatives and social media practitioners. But I think that’s mostly a good thing.

    Dynamic tension between disciplines has always been a part of marketing and advertising. It can lead to deadlock, or it can lead to great work. We’re just throwing a new discipline into the mix.

  2. December 30, 2008 1:11 pm

    Our agency has a creative director in one of the offices that did a really famous television spot. The kind of spot that when you say it, everyone goes, oh, yeah.

    He wants to use social media like it’s the 30 seconds between content.

    I get a little cred for being a copywriter (he is too), but I know he thinks this social media thing is for hacks. Will be interesting to see how that plays out.

  3. December 31, 2008 5:31 pm

    thanks for sharing and commenting. Love your post. Ironically enough, I work for a “full service” agency, not a creative shop. But you’re spot on – this is an issue that we as an industry are facing. Though I’m not quite convinced that creative shops are much better at developing a sound socially unique strategy or activation than agencies.

  4. January 5, 2009 6:13 am

    Brilliant. Hits the nail right on the head. The only thing you missed is the monkey wrench that is the Creative/AOR types who decided somewhere in late 2007 or early 2008 that THEY were social media gurus too (“Me too! Me too!”)… What happens at a smaller level when these types learn the hard way that their way of “crafting a tone that is unique to the brand” doesn’t work in social media? It sounds like potential to really create a bad name for social media when trusted advisers cast about for excuses as to why their program registered in the high five-figure dollar amount and yet resulted in just 137 consumer touch points (49 of which were internal)…. It can’t be MY fault… It’s just that social media doesn’t work. Right?

  5. January 5, 2009 10:59 am

    @jon burg: Full service will be important in 2009. Especially defining it.

    @Paul Dyer: as one of those creative people (still copywriter) turned social media dudes, I can tell you that I get a little cred in the agency. But yes, social media is in its show-me year.

  6. David Grome permalink
    January 6, 2009 10:03 am

    Nice post. I agree with the conclusion, but I think we can go further than just what “social media” can do for the brand. Here’s something to think about:

    “Are you building a business? Or are you building a brand? […] What’s good for the business is not necessarily good for the brand. And vice versa.” Al Ries

    “I will put my brand in the service of the country right now…This is the time to spend the years of positive brand equity we’ve built up.” Mat Zucker

    Together, these two thoughts represent the potential of social media in my mind. It’s beyond being a source of “media.” I believe labeling it as “media” inaccurately portrays what really goes on in the mediums we think of in relationship to the popular buzz-term. It’s simple “social.” And social provides a much broader definition of what to expect from these spaces.

    I think it’s apparent that we’re in a post-media age, where media is no longer the mainstream source of news and information. Examine coverage of the economy and politics and you’ll find the kind of “national self-pity” described by Zucker in his AdAge article (1/5/09). It’s in the comments section of the NY Times, and the array of blogs and Twitter feeds where you’ll find gems of positive stories or deeper digs into topical issues. Those are the social areas – the virtual water cooler – that isn’t really media. It’s simply social.

    So I ask, as the longevity and power of brands continue to increasingly become tied to its purpose within society, what can the ‘social’ do for society?

  7. January 6, 2009 10:45 am

    It’s interesting you ask that. I pondered the idea of Twitter Pro in 2009, and someone from China commented on the post and pointed out that in China, $25 a year is a lot of money. He went on to explain that Twitter and Flickr are opening up places like india and china.

    So, to not answer your question, social is doing a lot for society.

    I think we’re not in a post-media age. I think there are still a lot of people who read local papers, watch local news, and listen to local radio in their cars. Some of us early adopters are almost totally post media. I watch TV, listen to the radio, and read news on my computer, but I’m not the norm.

    Thanks for the comment, BTW. You should expand on this in a post 🙂

  8. January 21, 2009 1:46 am

    Excellent post.

    Many expert public relations strategists have been challenged by this same perception for generations: that the advertising agency is the lead communicator and that the discipline of dialogue was of lesser value “have 5% of the budget!”.

    Now finally those with the skills to engage in two-way and often real time dialogue: whether it is strategic prs (not push-oriented publicists), social media commentators, expert DM practitioners and those with customer service backgrounds need to be brought into the fold with the respect they deserve.

    In this era of media fragmentation, all communications disciplines are vital to address the needs of the increasingly savvy or cynical digital connoscenti.

    The rules have changed irrevocably, so does the notion of a single comms lead.

  9. January 21, 2009 10:01 am

    I sat in a brainstorming yesterday with the client. We had me, a social media dude, a young PR person, and a senior creative team from the advertising side. All ideas were encouraged. We’re a little bit lucky that at our agency, we have all these people under one roof (well, 7 roofs, but one logo).

    So you’re right: in 2009, if you have an idea, people are more likely to listen regardless of your discipline.

  10. January 22, 2009 11:12 am

    Hey Matt- just found this.
    Excellent post.

    Here’s a thought though: right now, many agencies seem to be relegating social media to their PR arms.

    I’ve been surprised that most of the social media people Ogilvy puts forth are actually affiliated with its PR agency, which seems to share little more than a name with the ad agency.

    But it’s beyond agencies: clients too will give social media to their PR agencies and the difference is that the PR firms are aggressively pushing their SM capabilities while the ad agencies are, as you note, sticking their heads in the sand and hoping it will go away.

    As a frequent commenter on my blog, you are well aware that the evolution of media is a big theme of mine, and that I think we’re in a post-advertising era, where consumers don’t really hear any of the “brands talking at me” messaging any more.

    If there is any head-butting (and there will be) with creative departments, it’s because they don’t get that social media doesn’t mean making the TV spot into a Facebook app or that social media isn’t anything like what they’re used to doing: it’s more like writing a letter, less like writing a screenplay.

  11. January 22, 2009 11:13 am

    PS: Not sure if it’s your blog or my screen, but I can’t tell you how great it is to be able to write comments on a WordPress blog in a visible type size. Most of them seem to be set at 8 point type or something and I wind up writing the comment in Word and doing a cut’n’paste

  12. January 22, 2009 2:01 pm

    Alan, thanks for taking a look. you’re exactly right that people seem to be asking PR pros to handle social media. I’m attending a client ‘brainstorming’ in a couple of weeks for a brand that we do the traditional marketing for. They’re looking for ideas for entering social media, and the client said: whatever idea is picked will be executed by the PR firm.

    It’s decided, already.

    This will be an interesting year to see how it pans out. And I like your last line: “it’s more like writing a letter, less like writing a screenplay”. I like to say soc media is more like talking with, and less like talking to. For 50 years, an ad agency like mine has been in the talking to business.

    BTW, I have no idea why the messages are so small. Maybe it’s this WordPress Theme. I’ll change it.


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