So these are the title slides I used for the Battle Of Big Thinking thing I did on Wednesday. Being as I was drawn against Jim Carroll, who is tremendously smart (and as I discovered, tremendously nice) I'd originally intended to go defensive and do a sort of 'my schtick greatest hits'. But a couple of days before the thing I thought screw that and decided to experiment a bit. So I spent ages downloading stuff from YouTube and built a 15 minute video to talk over. (So at least I knew I wouldn't go over my 15 minute time limit). I've put the links to YouTube etc in here because I think embedding them all will be a bit messy. I edited some of them for the presentation but they're all worth a look.
I threw some of these lovely Japanese ads up as background while I talked, or as intermissions to give me time to think. They're completely charming.
Here's some 70s BBC featuring the marvelous Magnus Pyke, personifying the typical planning stereotype. (He arrives a couple of minutes in). My first point was that this planning stereotype - Tall. English. Academic. White. Male. Lunatic - is starting to disappear (though you wouldn't have known it from who was represented on stage) New planning cultures are starting to emerge, both growing out of distinct cultures (North American planning is not like British planning) and out of different thought-styles. This is one of the joys of planning, I can look at almost any planner and think - I could never do what you do, and what you do is brilliant. One sign of that massive diversity is the way we're all trying to find new descriptions to replace 'planning' which is obviously a terrible name, but everyone seems to have a different idea about what it should be.
Here's the Ronin trailer, which very effectively explains what Ronin are. The only difference is that planners are willingly abandoning their feudal overlords and striking out on their own. Mostly because they can. Their is massive demand for planning, in all sorts of businesses, within communications and beyond, and more and more of us are building the work-lifes we want to live. It won't be long before groups of creative, strategic and executional Ronin become effective competitors to established agencies.
It only occured to me recently that the genius of the original brief we got from Honda ('we want to pass VW in sales and reduce media spend every year') has a natural corollary. That eventually we'll get to a media spend of zero. And that as that becomes more and more possible more and more businesses are going to find it a tremendously attractive prospect. Things like this Ronaldinho viral demonstrate the reach etc you can get for 'free' but I suspect this is just the beginning. It's easy to imagine a business taking it's $30million media budget; taking half of it and investing it in content, retail, customer service and product improvements - and reaching just as many customers and potential customers as they had before - and giving the other half back to the business. Wouldn't you like to be the marketing director who did that? Except what then would you be directing? Maybe aiming for a media budget of zero also means getting rid of the marketing function - or at least distributing it around the business. That would be interesting. (Of course not every brand is the kind that can do this, but as the competitive advantage in having this ability/relationship grows, more of the weak and the rubbish will go to the wall. So that'll be good then.)
This is an interview with Brian Eno about his 77 Million Paintings project, which is genius. And it illustrates a possible solution to the tension between simplicity and complexity in brands and communications and stuff. As I've argued before, communications need to be complex if they're to be effective, they need to have emotional depth, nuance, blah blah blah if people are going to engage in them. But it's clear that large organisations can't cope with complexity in the management of brands, that's one of the main reasons that dumb reductive tools like brand onions and propositions remain, not because they help to make great work but because they make it easier for organisations. Anyway, there's no point fighting that, that's just how organisations are, and it's why One Word Equity makes so much sense.
So we need to find a way to give the organisation some simple rules to follow and to allow the brand and communications to be nuanced and complex. And maybe the answer lies in generative art and complexity and fractals. Things which I don't really understand, but I do know that you can get fascinating, compelling, unpredictable complexity from the interaction of a few simple rules and very slight changes to initial starting conditions. Surely that's a model we should be pursuing.
Then we had a bit of this and I did a minute on consumer generated content. Not a very convincing minute, but did point out that in a world where brands have to surrender control to win influence then planners should be reasonably well-placed, because that's what we learn to do professionally. It kind of led into...
If you've been visiting the Joga Chain periodically you'll realise that it keeps being tweaked, they keep improving it, adapting it, adding bits on to respond to how it's being used. It's permanently in beta in that it's never finished, it's always changing. This is something brands are going to have to get used to and it'll impact everything from budgeting to remuneration to who's in charge.
I suspect many planners will end up more like brand gardeners than master strategists. There may be occasional moments of grand strategy but the more meaningful interventions will be in shaping and pruning the day to day activity; bending a retail piece this way, nudging a product design that way. This is the only way to respond to a world where brands have to respond to, and embrace, the winds of chance and the interventions of their customers.
(Or something. Looking back on this presentation, I realised that the way I did it is rather like the way I think brand communications should be. I'm not that obsessed with a clear, singular point - it's not about a proposition or something. It's more of a bundle of ideas and associations, that aren't neccesarily that 'digital' but which might add up to an interesting territory. It's like the tennis ball thing (the little films of tennis balls being caught, or being thrown at the back of someone's head) - they seem to stick in people's heads and say something about the way we think about communications without making some specific, 'digital' point. Or, as Ivan points out, as soon as I've finished no-one can remember what I said.)
Anyway, then came the big finish. Which I'm sure was entirely the reason I won - you can't lose if you end with huge pictures of your audience/voters set to 'We Are The Champions By Queen'. Useful new business tip there.
And that was it.