Adnalysis: Why I’ve left advertising strategy
by Bogosi Motshegwa (@Thinkerneur) I’ve not left advertising (no-one ever does; those who claim to just don’t know their comeback date yet) — I’ve left agency strategy. There are two issues at play: ad agencies are dead (they just don’t know it yet); and strategists or planners are under threat.
If agencies are dead, the biggest casualty isn’t creative departments but, rather, strategic planning, which is being dealt a huge blow (creative ideas will always be around as ideas are currency, whether or not they’re based on sound strategic thinking).
Process has begun
I’ve deliberately used “dead”. But aren’t ad revenues still a thing and aren’t thousands of people still employed? Yes, the advertising matrix is too huge to dismantle at once but the process has begun. Those in denial will definitely be out of business, and those who concede will plan accordingly to set themselves up for a lucrative future.
Ad agencies are in trouble. I hope they know and are aware of this. Agencies that continue to be driven by creative departments aren’t going to last because creativity is an expensive commodity. If your agency isn’t driven by strategy and data, you’re selling dreams, and clients in today’s world can no longer afford to invest in dreams.
Ad agencies aren’t organised optimally to deliver on clients’ best interests as they’re still governed by agency interests, one of those being creative awards.
A huge blow
Strategy is being dealt a huge blow because it’s undervalued unfortunately. Planning in advertising agencies is so grossly underused, it’s sad. Most ad agencies talk about the value of strategy but there isn’t anything being done to at least invest in its so-called value and longevity.
Strategists and strategies in advertising are primarily used to rationalise creative ideas, whether pre or post — extremely reducing the role of strategy. The implication is that strategies are used as launch pads for creative ideas as opposed to strategy being the linchpin for brand and business growth and therefore, the real and only valued aspect of the marketing or brand-building process is the creative output, and not the thinking that leads to that output. This is why creatives are deliberately encouraged to produce big ideas and concepts before the strategy is even complete, leaving no room for original strategic thinking, and then inevitably having to post-rationalise the strategic thinking to fit the creative work #SadFace
It’s nobody’s fault, although I’d like to blame someone or, better yet, someone to take responsibility and be accountable. For the longest time, creative heads in ad agencies have been leading the conversation — not that they shouldn’t or can’t but, when a dentist is leading a healthcare convention or forum, the whole conversation may end up being centred on oral care, whereas it should be about health care and wellness overall.
Creatives leading the conversation
Chief creative officers (CCOs), executive creative directors (ECDs) and creative directors (CDs) are leading the conversation, and they are leading with the creative, and not the bigger-picture, lens. I might be making assumptions but, if we’re honest, where does a CCO’s real interest lie? Show me one ECD or CD who isn’t interested in winning awards.
Winning awards and creating work that they can brag about in their portfolios is important to them because how else do they showcase their creativity, worth or value? If how creativity is measured based on how many awards won, where do you think their priority lies?
It’s rare to find creative work that’s driven by long-term strategic thinking, based on sound thinking, that’s meant to have impact and add real value to not just the awards cabinet but real people and clients’ bottom lines. Clients are now looking for solutions and not creative ideas; they want to play a meaningful role because they are in it for the long haul. No brand is ever created with the intention of dying but, if brands continue to be built with no strategic intent behind them, they’ll suffer the same fate as Toys R Us and the like.
What to do?
Strategy is evolving; it’s just that ad agencies are slow to reconfigure the planning departments to match client needs. We must move away from strategic platforms that lead or feed into a creative platform. That’s old strategic planning. Strategy must lead business conversations. I admit, it will take time for agencies to think beyond strategic platforms, and more solutions.
I believe that strategy shouldn’t live in untouched folders but in everything a brand does, both practically and tangibly. It should be at the forefront of any brand marketing conversation, which includes creative executions.
By focusing on strategic platforms that lead to creative platforms only, strategy as a result becomes hugely underplayed, and honestly, disrespected. This is unfortunate because strategists are who clients should be in close contact with; strategists need to be at the forefront and drive brand growth conversation. Brands must be built beyond briefs. A strategist’s role is to find opportunities for clients and brands. Brand-building and -growth shouldn’t be confined to official briefs in the system; strategists should be encouraged to find opportunities premised on strategic intent.
The future of a brand doesn’t lie in a TVC but in how it connects to people, solves problems, and has a real impact on both people and the environment, especially the client’s bottom line. Brands and companies need to be prepared for the future and agencies need to start helping clients become future-ready and ask and answer pertinent questions such as: What does our future consumer look like? What will the company look like in 20–30 years? We need more human and data-led strategic solutions; planning inside agencies doesn’t allow for this — roles get reduced to sitting behind a computer and Googling stuff, and also being told what and how to think.
Other reasons I’ve left
It hasn’t been good for my health. It’s been draining. Soul-draining. Nothing is worth losing yourself for. This is actually a life lesson. Don’t compromise yourself for anything that or anyone who doesn’t add value to your life or happiness.
No-one is as important as a creative, which is ludicrous because, if you remove any department from the ad-agency model and value chain, there won’t be any creative work to produce, anyway. Only one department is encouraged to be creative and, as a result, the only thing open is the office plan. Some brands and companies have shown that ideas may come from anyone and anywhere, and therefore they encourage thinking. The irony in advertising is that you aren’t actually encouraged to think creatively. Those who know, know.
Bogosi Motshegwa (@Thinkerneur) truly believes that advertising can really change the world. He believes that brands, marketers and ad agencies can do even better branding building and advertising. He shares his thoughts on the industry and sometimes has unconventional views. A former committee member of AMASA, an Advisory Council member, a guest speaker and lecturer at Vega, Rosebank College and Red & Yellow, he also does speaker management at TEDxJohannesburg. He is currently a freelance strategist and has founded Thinkerneur, a brand consultancy firm, and is also the co-founder of Melanoid Éclat (for finding black entrepreneurs). He contributes the monthly column, “Adnalysis”, which analyses adland from a strategist’s point of view, to MarkLives.com.
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