Charles Wigley
Jun 24, 2015

Strategy: It's all macro or micro now

Perhaps brands need to think more like Churchill

Charles Wigley
Charles Wigley

It has been said by a number of historians (including advertising's Dave Trott) that Winston Churchill only had one fundamental strategy for winning the second world war: Get the Americans involved.

He believed (rightly) that only by doing this could Hitler be overcome. The odds looked very poor otherwise. Of course a mass of other issues needed to be thought through every day. But he had teams of experts focussed on the ongoing tactics of how the war was being fought on different fronts.

Getting the US into the war remained his overriding goal, the big, make-or-break play (which may also explain the degree of murkiness about how much the British knew about the impending attack on Pearl Harbour but failed to pass on).

As the master strategist, Churchill prioritised the big moves. The rest was also critically important, but he had a lot of people focussed on the multiple other issues to be dealt with.

And it's this split—between macro and micro strategy—that I think you can now see emerging in our business too. When I started in advertising in the '80s we talked a game laden with warlike terminology (and hence the name of this publication, 'Campaign') but I don't think we were really the big-picture strategists we liked to think of ourselves as.

In truth we operated in the middle ground. The units we dealt in—advertising campaigns—ultimately dictated that we did so. Not big enough to capture the totality of a brand's ambition, not small enough to have an intimate conversation.

I don't remember anyone discussing a brand's higher purpose, and when it came to detail an ad campaign was just too blunt an instrument. The nearest we came to detailed strategy was direct mail. And that was rather looked down upon ('envelope stuffing').

Fast-forward 30 years and you have to ask whether the traditional stand-alone campaign is dead? We now talk in macro and micro. Rather like fashion retailing, the middle ground has been hollowed out. Successful brands are clear about their purpose, their big picture—and they are never off. They make the big plays and thousands of ongoing micro plays.

And the skills we need to effect them are polarising too. Macro brand strategy to micro social posting strategy. Google Earth to Streetview. Getting the Americans involved to sorting out the Home Guard.

It's all the big or the small now—the middle ground of traditional campaigns just doesn't feel that relevant anymore.

Charles Wigley is Asia chairman with BBH


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