McLuhan on Print (Or why definition is death, and what it should mean for agencies)

“In this passage [Ivins] not only notes the ingraining of lineal, sequential habits, but, even more important, points out the visual homogenizing of experience of print culture, and the relegation of auditory and other sensuous complexity to the background. […] The technology and social effects of typography incline us to abstain from noting interplay and, as it were, “formal” causality, both in our inner and external lives. Print exists by virtue of the static separation of functions and fosters a mentality that gradually resists any but a separative and compartmentalizing or specialist outlook.”

– Marshall McLuhan

 

 

Replace the word “print” with either ‘structured’ or ‘definition’ and then read that back. What do you get?

 

Either

 

“In this passage [Ivins] not only notes the ingraining of lineal, sequential habits, but, even more important, points out the visual homogenizing of experience of structured culture, and the relegation of auditory and other sensuous complexity to the background. […] The technology and social effects of structure incline us to abstain from noting interplay and, as it were, “formal” causality, both in our inner and external lives. Structure exists by virtue of the static separation of functions and fosters a mentality that gradually resists any but a separative and compartmentalizing or specialist outlook.”

– Marshall McLuhan

 

Or

 

“In this passage [Ivins] not only notes the ingraining of lineal, sequential habits, but, even more important, points out the visual homogenizing of experience of ‘definition’ culture, and the relegation of auditory and other sensuous complexity to the background. […] The technology and social effects of ‘definitions’ incline us to abstain from noting interplay and, as it were, “formal” causality, both in our inner and external lives. ‘Definition’ exists by virtue of the static separation of functions and fosters a mentality that gradually resists any but a separative and compartmentalizing or specialist outlook.”

– Marshall McLuhan

 

 

So the structure imposed by language in our minds is important for cognition and for the processing of data, and for directing our actions. It should, however, be an aid to thinking, not a cage for it.

We too often tend to get caught up in the definitions and structures of things, and end up saying “we can’t” do that.

I was having a discussion on my role as a strategist, and the role of agencies in the lives of brands and of the firms that own/are them on twitter yesterday.

As “advertising strategists” go; in four years in advertising I’ve “planned” about 20 campaigns – ATL/BTL/Digital/etc, and many smaller brand initiatives — most of them have gone on to be very effective for their brands, and also generated large amounts of buzz and goodwill. But that isn’t anywhere near the most interesting bits of work I’ve done.

The interesting stuff is working deeper with your clients, understanding their business and helping them evolve, not just communicating that evolution. (As a media theorist one of the natural approaches to “understanding” would be “transmutability” — the ability of something to transform/evolve (lead into gold, perhaps?) and understand the pivots that can make it happen. Think of it as an accelerating and deliberate form of evolution.)

To that effect, I’ve worked on developing cognitive models for one client, done work on design and service anthropology with two others, worked on ritual and narrative development for another, and looked at mythic structures that another could tap into in the development of new products and services.

When I pointed this out, I was asked, “but why would anyone consider talking to an agency to do any of this?” And the answer is really simple. What is the role of a strategist in any environment — what are the “structures” that a strategist should choose to confine himself (or herself) within? The approach I follow with clients delivers an ad campaign when that’s what’s needed — but continuously looks to create larger platforms for business and process restructuring / re-engineering and cultural alignment (pardon me for the buzzword overkill, here and elsewhere in this post) 

I honestly think that the only one stopping agencies, or any other form of firm from creating value of all sorts is itself, and what it defines itself as. If we choose to be the last leg in the process of creation (communicating the product), we can’t complain about being just that and nothing more.

The other day a friend called me up saying her boss told her (verbatim) “you pay too much attention to stuff like the brand, let’s make some money on the production of a tv script or an event.” And she was wondering how to respond to that feedback. Really? It’s 2011. Living off the margins is * so * 1990. So is living on old definitions.

Digital agencies, platform agencies, BTL agencies all perform services that are needed, otherwise no one would be paying any of them any money — but is that what you’re interested in being for the rest of your life? Defining (confining?) yourself to a particular form/mode of delivery (medium) can be a dangerously specific thing.

Theodore Levitt of Harvard Business School wrote a paper in 1960 called ‘Marketing Myopia’. Which at its core warns of exactly this — structure, definition, short-sightedness — as the death knell of even the most “innovative” businesses in the best “growth” industries at any given time. It’s sad that 50 years later, we still need to cite that essay (on a side note, forget your HBR and McKinsey Quarterly subscriptions and any of the blogs on either until you get these basics right.)

 

 

I studied aerospace engineering for a bit, and simultaneously attended classes with the schools of electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, information systems management, computer science, French, German, Icelandic myth, psychology, sociology, political science, great power relations, Western European politics, the politics of South and South-East Asia, the challenges posed to civil society by terrorism, the role of technology in development, and many, many more, before I settled on Critical and Media Theory, which as a body of study leaned towards valuing what I do — approach over form. (A joke that occasionally went around was that I was keen on following in the illustrious footsteps of one George P. Burdell. :-) )

And that’s the important thing you need to have as a strategist today — versatility and a conception of approach and flow. You need to ask the right questions to find the right answers. And if your questions are limited by what you think you’re capable of doing, you’ll forever be confined to it.

I’m still relatively young, and shameless in presuming my role to be all of this, and just not planning ads. The audacity tends to work for me more often than not, and I do back it up and deliver on what I’m promising every time. The only one stopping you — the only one that can get in your way — is yourself, and the cage you choose for yourself.

#SaturdayMorningMusings

 

9 Digital Marketing Mistakes I Won’t Make Next Year – Advertising Age – DigitalNext

Original here: 9 Digital Marketing Mistakes I Won’t Make Next Year – Advertising Age – DigitalNext.

  1. I will not get seduced by any new digital marketing toy just because some industry pundit thinks it’s the coolest thing to hit the street. Nor will I believe every promise made by every new marketing technology company.
  2. I will not abandon common sense in digital marketing and be blinded by digital agencies’ promises that their “new” campaigns will go viral and get millions of people engaged. I will continue to listen to my gut and if it sounds too good to be true, that’s a red flag warning I will heed.
  3. I will not abandon newspaper, magazines, radio and other forms of traditional media if it is the right vehicle. No matter how sexy digital media may seem because of the perceived lower cost, I will continue to create integrated programs that weave together the best of both the traditional and digital worlds.
  4. I will not give up my attachment to e-mail marketing. Sorry folks — but e-mail marketing done well drives real business results. If your e-mail campaign did not work, either you had a bad list or an inadequate call-to-action or maybe your agency did not know what they were doing.
  5. I will not be fooled into thinking that the ad market is going to rebound in 2010. Nope. The ad market will continue to be buffeted by the tides of an evolving economic landscape and by consumers’ ever fickle attraction to new tech toys like mobile devices. These trends will continue to dampen ad revenue for publishers for some time to come.
  6. I will not blindly follow Google as they chow down every tech industry from telecom to digital publishing in their relentless march toward digital dominance. In the process, they stifle competition and kill real innovation by companies who deserve to succeed.
  7. I will not diminish my slavish devotion to data-driven marketing no matter what new platforms come out that can behaviorally target any audience any way I wish. I know, I know — the BT folks can slice and dice an audience so many ways that it makes a marketer salivate. But unless I can see, touch and feel the data, I will pass for now.
  8. I will not start following every Tom, Dick and Jane to gain more Twitter followers. OK, so I only have about 185 folks following me but at least I know they read what I tweet. Quality, not quantity, is what drives social media.
  9. And my final un-resolution: I will not try appear to be “30-something” (with a suitable amount of hair product) just because I love digital marketing. I know that the median age of people in digital marketing tends to be 27, but my depth in this space has yielded real-world, hard-won recognition. What you see (gray hair and all) is what you get.

The second coming of Gossage

stumbled across this article online, called “The second coming on Gossage”. The text is auf Deutsch, as it were, so I’ll just translate the relevant part, which is:

Jedenfalls: Wenn Sie diese Zeilen hier lesen, werden wir schon jurieren. “Cyber” nennt sich meine Abteilung und es ist, das muss ich schon sagen, die spannendste Kategorie im ganzen Bewerb. Nirgendwo sonst ist noch derart viel Neuland zu entdecken und nirgendwo sonst kommt man näher an die Menschen, denen man näher kommen will.Ich muss viel an Howard Gossage denken. Daran, wie er Werbung betrieben hat: Eine Kampagnenidee auf ein leeres Blatt schreiben, daraus eine Anzeige machen und auf die Reaktionen des Publikums warten. Aus diesen Reaktionen neue Anzeigen machen und wieder auf Reaktionen warten. So entsteht eine Kampagne, deren Verlauf vorher nicht absehbar ist. Die Kampagnen entstehen im Gehen, sozusagen. (Unter der nicht unwichtigen Vorsaussetzung allerdings, dass das Ziel klar definiert ist, bevor die Reise losgeht.)

Which, to paraphrase, really talks about why the web is so exciting as a medium for ideas. Even with people and creativity trawling through it, there’s immense potential in generating new narratives and fantastic brand conversations. He goes on to reminisce that Gossage’s campaign idea of communicate-feedback-optimize-communicate-feedback-tweak-communicate; i.e. testing your “offer” or “communication”, figuring out what works, what doesn’t, then rapidly altering the “offer” or “communication” – is really what it’s all about now.It’s sad that most campaigns in the digital space that I’ve seen in India don’t do this yet, don’t even attempt it. Active engagement and versatility is the key to a great campaign online. And this needs to first change at a servicing level. You aren’t selling a “website” or a “creative” or a “campaign” to the client; you’re selling his product or brand for him. Your communication needs to open up suitable narratives, which can only be done if you have a conviction for, and understanding of, the digital space itself.I do client service and rudimentary planning across brands that flit in and out of media depending on the message; but I’ll venture over the next few weeks to lay out observations and ideas on how to service and plan for  digital or multimedia accounts, because there seems to be a general dereliction with regards to thinking ideas through in this space, at first a managerial level; and consequently at a creative level. You can’t sell a great idea if you don’t understand it yourself, after all.