The past couple of years have seen a strong view about the business of advertising gain momentum. There are conversations about ‘Acts, not Ads’, global leaders of advertising companies are going to great lengths talking about how brands need to engage not communicate, converse not advertise. I could go on, but you get the picture.
In short, the advertising industry seems to be in a hurry to pronounce its own death. And while there is merit in some of the arguments, the conclusion seems to be based on a desperately incomplete picture of reality. Technology has transformed the practice of marketing and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future. Having said that, technology itself is of little consequence.It’s the possibilities and utilities that technology creates, which matter. A marketer today, has at her disposal free tools that her predecessors would have considered rocket-science worth millions of dollars.
From search-query data to re-targeting opportunities, from social media monitoring to real-time responsiveness of the social networks, there are tremendous opportunities all around. But it boils down to two things that technology has allowed marketers to do better than ever before. Firstly, there are more ways to understand people’s lives, mindsets and behavior in real-time.Secondly, there are more ways to reach out, communicate, converse and engage with them.
So where does advertising feature in this? Well, as a paid intrusion into people’s lives where you force them to see/ hear your story, the days of advertising are indeed numbered. And while it’s not going to die anytime soon, it will certainly not be the piece that gets the maximum emphasis, effort, attention or budgets of a respectable marketer. You could argue ‘when’ that’s going to happen (there are plenty of predictions around, feel free to make yours), but there’s little argument on ‘if’.
I’d like you to zoom out for a moment and take a broader view of what advertising is. A means by which, brands string together a narrative that engages and entertains people. The skill of great advertising is best seen when it enables brands to tell stories that people like, relate-to and hopefully fall in love with. Stories that help brands become a part of popular culture and become a part of people’s everyday conversations.
In a touch-point environment that’s as fragmented as today’s (and promises to get more complex and fragmented tomorrow), a great brand story with a well-thought-out narrative may be more crucial than ever before. What changes though, is that it’s no longer just a 45 second story told on television, or a 3-minute read on a newspaper. It’s not a story that’s finite or even complete. It needs to be told in parts, at different points of time, in different environments, both on and offline, simultaneously and sequentially. It needs to allow its audiences to sometimes co-author it in parts, evolve over a period of time and take a life of its own. A big ask really for a storyteller. At the same time, an indication of how important great storytellers will be to a great marketing strategy.
Brands will need the narratives that weave their actions, experiences, content, communities and conversations into one cohesive and compelling picture.
And that’s where the argument comes a full-circle. In the entire spectrum of disciplines that form the world of marketing today, it’s the advertising industry that makes a living out of telling stories. Agreed that the approach to storytelling is changing and getting far more complex. Agreed that the skill-sets to deal with the new reality need a major overhaul.
Stories need to become narratives and the storytelling would be an art where the story may never end. But let’s also agree that the one industry that has a head-start in developing these storytelling abilities is your creative shop, the old fashioned advertising agency. It almost certainly would look and operate very differently vs. the ad agency of today.
The evolution is from being ‘creators of communication’ to ‘conversation architects’.
But we’re most certainly talking succession and not annihilation, just like the French monarch in 1422 . So you’re right if you say advertising is dead.
Long live advertising.
(The author is CMO, Lowe Lintas and Partners India, and a 15-time winner at the Asian Marketing Effectiveness Awards. This article first appeared on www.campaignasia.com.)