Milan Semelak
Nov 9, 2016

What on earth has happened to our ideas?

Marketing has lost something crucial, and agencies need to find the thread, writes Oliver Group's Milan Semelak.

Milan Semelak
Milan Semelak

Amid its obsession with “the next big thing” marketing has lost something crucial. We’ve neglected the whole reason our industry exists: to produce bold, provocative, business-transforming concepts. I’m talking about ideas that create powerful brands. Ideas that businesses can be built around. Ideas that give purpose. I’m talking about ‘Just Do It’, ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’, ‘Think different’.

Right now, many agencies promise the world but don’t deliver on it. They proudly push out thousands of posts, Vine and Snapchat moments. But all this amounts to is material that doesn’t stick. Content agencies, YouTuber agencies, even virtual reality agencies—we rebrand to whatever’s trendy or making money. This fickleness hasn’t just reduced our understanding of real business problems, it’s led to brands lacking in identity and concept.

Without one strong idea that resonates outside of the boardroom, we’ve turned to hundreds of small, 'fast-food' ideas designed to blindly entertain. And while they do deliver on the entertainment front, they don't build brands. Brands and agencies alike should always be in the business of looking ahead. The technological frenzy we’re in has only just begun. The future holds more channels, more ways to interact and more dimensions to the way we consume everything.

So how do we update “the big idea” to suit the modern age? In a word, collaboration. The benefits of creative companies working closely with a range of client departments are clear. Collaboration is a breeding ground for ideas. A wholly collaborative approach creates just the kind of space that encourages fresh thinking. It creates a natural arena for brands to move around. And this freedom to think can lead to new propositions and products – precisely what brands need to evolve.

What’s crucial here though, is to create a framework for various teams across companies to work to. Take Samsung, although it slipped up with the Galaxy Note 7, it recalled the product with impressive efficiency. Samsung has always exuded stability and reliability. And for a company so broad in reach and distribution to retain these principles, even in crisis, is laudable. Samsung’s reputation might have taken a blow, but it will recover quickly. One, central idea remains at the heart of its organisation and every piece of comms leads right back to this same framework.

On the flip side, without an internal framework brands can lose direction. Especially when it comes to looking for a quick win. BarBQ Plaza in Malaysia reduced its staff to tears for an all too emotional ad that, rather than celebrating Thai Mother’s Day—which was the whole idea, instead manipulated guilt. Misguided thinking can slip through the net if a brands’ focus isn’t in the right place. However, brands founded on a single, unified vision will deliver standout campaigns time and time again.

A solid framework, acting as the thread that runs through everything, is essential. It should serve as a rallying cry: enabling CEOs to inspire their troops, seize new territory and thus reach new consumers.

So, why do agencies struggle with this? Because they don’t have enough exposure to the inside of businesses to understand what they need. They simply wait for commands. Agencies operate horizontally, serving small parts of the business, not the organisation and the brand as a whole. They find themselves putting the constituent parts of the marketing mix—digital, public relations, ATL etc.—into silos.

As such, their ideas are horizontal, they have a limited field of vision: unable to see one floor up or one floor down. A powerful way to solve this issue, and produce iconic brand thoughts, is to build agencies inside. This means vertical ways of working can be introduced, allowing teams to move across various company layers smoothly.

Once this has been established, you can create ideas seamlessly and from all different levels. Strategy directors (or any boardroom creative) are able to implement ideas heard within the confines of a C-suite meeting. They can go directly to the segment director with the idea to alter a product. What the campaign will look like is clear from the start because one, vertical idea is driving the whole process.

How do you generate ideas like these? Build your agency as a part of your organisation, bring creativity in vertically, not to serve one department, but to serve the brand and the business as a whole. If the brand doesn't have one singular thought, a concept where it all leads back to, then it will simply get lost.

Milan Semelak is group chief disruption officer with Oliver Group

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