Disintegration, Integration and Gratification
April 16, 2008
Designing for sustainability is a huge desire when considering ROI models for a project. As a client solution from an agency, digital media demands a mindset that seeks productions that persist through reuse: in short, digital should always be aggregating value. Digital should never have a half life. Digital is not for campaigns.
We’re living in a time where beta and ‘release early’ is a mantra, waiting for an audience to pick up on your communications is a requisite, and creating a ‘buzz’ about what you do is consider ham-fisted. Digital, being the youngest of offerings from communication agencies, is picking up bad habits from the elder modes of media, namely broadcast formats of print and TV.
It aways make me chuckle/snarl when a new website is marketed with other marketing. This is missing the point of being digital.
I want to discuss how digital is badly treated when consider an ‘execution’. Digital is business interface that needs caressing and attention – because as a medium, it’s going to change the fundamentals of how you maintain a service orient business (products are part of a service – in case you needed reminding).
Polemics of creative productions, driven by a business case (e.g. something has fucked up | market has changed | you’ve got a new invention you want to sell), clash horribly with expectations of virtue. This is true for all commissions, but for digital, the application of code requires fullfillment not appreciation. Working with a broad range of T-shaped creatives at Imagination, many who are very fuzzy, reveals a huge amount of possibilities and closures about how people should work together.
Now, every agency I’ve spoken with, regardless of their forward thinking team dynamics, billing philosophy or Raison d’être, all rely on people roles to coordinate, organise and deliver the client solutions as a job.
Account handlers, Planners, Creative Directors, Human Resources, Traffic, all have a similar practice where ever you go. Media law, recruitment law, pension schemes and personal assistants all rein in the affordance of the individuals freedom to perform. The context of production is the architecture of society not the business model of the agency owner/stakeholders/banker.
As digital storms through the traditional billings of broadcast media (TV, print and performance – well, anything that doesn’t base itself on audience dialogue), the agency’s role is to convert business requirements to something quite fabulous with a hook to sell, promote or defer the competition collapses around the moment when the teams realise that the story of the construct requires huge amount of faith, believability and patience of an audience.
Brand-as-a-narrative has served Market Communications for hundreds of years, today, we see/hear/look at platforms for the facilitation of conversation – the emperors new banter – with only a thread of brand DNA to hide the hook’s modesty.
Building us towards freeconomics, friend following and DRM free productions, is a belief that there is an audience that is intentionally rebelling against the Market Communications from your clients. The slogan “You don’t own your brand, the audience does” has been dragged through the blogosphere to the point where it realises that it’s being pushed by consultants eager to recount stable reads such as Naked Conversations, Cluetrain and Here Comes Everybody as billable insights. We’ve all done it, haven’t we?
Solutions to business problems, by sucking on the business cases, has been the stock process for devising, designing and executing since someone thought about thinking about solutions. Arguably, the mutha of all invention is bare necessities, and I say arguably, because the agency model, networked or a team of 2, will always be at odds with a guarantee of success. That’s why you must embrace failure.
Indexing with ROI for KPIs are all indicators of reasoning within myths. The belief that x will happen is y and z interact, belongs to the clinical abstraction of calculus, a language non-compatible with myth, but as said, within myth. (Planners – take note)
And here lays the problems with any notion of integration – that is – blending the channels of 360 marketing with that of transmedia narratives. The belief that participation is desirable is at odds with commuication being logical. You don’t ever get what you expect – comprismise is latent in every reception, awoken only by distraction. Choice has begun to chew at the hand that invited consumers to be free.
If we look at the success of software, where scalabity, features and transparency have lowered the access points to diverse interpretation of engagement, the learning curve of use has been inversed by the audience who, when confronted with personal affordances of simple applications (think twitter, friendfeed, yahoo pipes), the question mechanic that always appears is “What is this for?” not “When do I need this?”.
And the answer is always defered by the retort, “you get out of it what you put into it.”
I think I’ve written about roles in system design before, UML using the term Actor, to define the types of users within a system, human or not. What we are seeing today is technology being rolled out freely, inducing individual’s performances confiscating demographic averages whilst establishing Social Graphs (plural) upon reputation and attention not perception of desire.
This freedom of role undermines the need for defining what the experience of your client’s communication solution business solutions is. Rolling in branded utility motifs may save you from having to induce accents of need in presentations, but the role that an agency plays in the progressive design of effectiveness becomes reduced to translator of what the client thinks might happen within a market.
Agencies are bookies if they are left to define client requirements without a framework of the social ecosystem that is defined by freedoms of engagement induced by open-use software. An agency that isn’t gambling on an outcome is playing safe to the point that they wont impregnate the audience with seeds of joy.
This is very different to thinking about how an agency has a ‘digital’ division – normally, they would ‘use’ the digital channel to get at the ‘difficult’ consumer – them the ones not watching the TV. Hmmm, brilliant.
Digital is not a channel, it’s the business interface that can be amended, grown, shrunk, adapted, designed to be adaptive and fundamentally, in the possession of the customer. Emotion is the only channel left in the world of 360 planning, digital is the gateway – either via production, distribution or design.
Twitter is wonderful for all kinds of social discourse, but under the hood, the genius is in the API model. Talk though Twitter any way you want – use a phone, a desktop client or the web.
Imagining buy anything you want through any form of transaction you want. Not just trade (“I’ll give you three horses for that cow.”) but trade through proxy – where currency is not of issue, but affordance of you’re gesture is valued because it’s reusable by the vendor.
Stay with me, there’s a money shot here, somewhere.
Compare Google, a wealth of functions backed up with some outlandish brute force technology, with the late ‘n’ great Jackson Pollock, a wealth of gestures with a brutal temper.
The value in discourse between an individual and a system is retrieval: recalling what options have been preferable may induce you to think along the lines of AI, or training a system, but what really is becoming, for an agency model, is stimulation of creativity for a client so that it’s a recursive feedback loop. This is in fact intercourse for reproductive, relational, and recreational needs.
Ok, let me come at this at another angle.
You know when you look at a image, that you find appealing, you can say, “It hangs together”. The aesthetics is being converted to a value only you appreciate. Ignoring all the talk from peers and critics, it’s your experience that underwrites the value of the image.
Converting that to currency, or better, to business, is where an agency can get to grips with media integration and client gratification.
The joy of a fine production, is unfortunately in the ego of the producer. An audience does not give a monkeys moment to the joy of the producer. If you ever read about Da Vinci’s Last Supper, you see that the artist will always have the last laugh at the cost of the commissioner and the audience. (Da Vinci knew the painting would collapse if he used Tempera.)
Agencies need to work for the audience, not the client.
There, I’ve said it.
This is not to be confused with how a TV broadcaster seems to pander to an audiences desire for programmes, in the process, shafting the advertising industry, forcing them in to 30sec spots/branded evenings / programmes or events.
An agency must develop relationship working processes with the non-client business market, by doing so, gratification comes from reflecting the ego of the audience whilst delivering work that is loved, respected and enjoyed – an agency that gives to an audience, receives attention from a client.
Now, this may start sounding like Agencies need to be rock/pop/hip-hop stars ‘n’ bands. It’s intentional. The problem is, bands are volatile (Spinal Tap). Agency’s tend to have a turn over of staff (The Fall). Client’s objectives change with the Chairman’s wife taste in soft furnishings…
But that’s all good. Because the audiences kind of interested in who is messing with the band’s soft furnishings or if there is a pillow fight kicking off somewhere.
Agencies, on the whole, are not public facing entities, they’re private clubs for clients ‘steaked’ out in cool venues in hip cities. Night clubs for the day time, refreshments and air conditioning on tap, possibly some designer furniture to ease the pain of spending money on myth making.
Now, before that thought of your agency becoming Radiohead (and buy – you want that I know), let’s have a think about your band members, who’s on drums, bass, lead, rhythm… woah! STOP.
Radiohead are a buch of guys who can play. Just play. They are T-Shaped and they are fuzzy. One prefers drums, the another bass. But they swap when they can sense an oppotunity to try something – so to invent. (Go back up and see the fuzzy link if you’re confused..)
Hands up who would like to see the Head of Client Services to the banner adverts tomorrow?
Hands up who wants to do the book keeping?
Hmm.. see. Tricky.
Multidisciplinary teams are visioned as agency roles – planner, account, designer, producer yadda yadda.. making these roles fuzzy (a designer who can do 3D, motion and loves paper stock) is one thing, but find me a designer who is willing to do / try / be interested in co-ordinating travel logistics and (actually – I’d book that person), I’ll be impressed. Find me 10 and I’ll set up a specialist agency tomorrow…
My point is, diversity of teams can help integration if there is a keeness to trade time with other roles, not faking it, but genuinely migrate skills and interests so that the organisation is well, more like an organism. It’s a way of learning. Like jamming in a band.
Now, client side employees already work like this, it’s how the business gains a richer understanding of it’s abilities = staff are encouraged to take a path through the company – it’s good way to retain value as an employer. Agency side, account handlers may move to planning, planners may move into design, sometimes. This is all good. But an audience will only see the benifit when the organisation begins to create with them in this manner. If you become diverse, you will become more open. If you don’t then you’ve misunderstood why you’re in a creative environment.
An audience wants to relate to people, not roles (Britney, Madonna, Vanilla Ice, George Bush) – people who demonstrate a love in being a part of something that evolves. Something substainable so that they can invest their time | attention | money into.
Just as you may read Campaign or Advertising Age, the movers and shakers that move from agency to agency – this is you investing time into your industry. You are building an industry out of attention, not work.
Gratification scales too, it’s a system that you can keep adding to; sometimes bit’s fall off, but it scales. Integration is something that requires no attention when it works – the desire for intergration is the warning call of systems failing to scale.
As advertising disintegrates into marketing which is in turn poisoned and/or digested by culture, we will see the job dissatisfaction of producing for what seems like an ungrateful audience evolve into the stasis of performance – a mode of practitioning that works neither from script nor from rehearsal, improv nor applause, but necessity of creation.
Whilst we live through this open-use software induced transition of production, look around at how your colleagues interact with each other, how the communication of daily agency life is centric to, and it really should be this order, else you’re nuts: the work, the client relationships, the team.
We’re facing a transition towards : the audience, the client relationship, the work.
What happened to loving the team? Who said they were keepers? Teams need to wander from shop to shop. The role of agency is to be part of the audience, not part of the client’s team. It’s access to the audience that you will be charging for, not the productions.
So you see, the team, the people around you, need to be polyworkers, not just for their sanity, but for the relationship with the audience to become rich and meaningful.
As client-side has more and more taken over the business of market insight, looking and crunching the numbers, reviewing ‘segmentation’, the role of agency is to perform to these numbers – but in the persuit of client love the agency model has begun to drift away from the audience – and the work in hand.
Does this help the role of ‘commercial’ communications? Does this help bring “Brand and Consumer Together?” Does this help the audience?
The work is relationships with an audience; making stuff for them is just the easy way to do this.
And so on to the punch line.
The business models of supply and demand are influenced by the same mechanisms the agency uses to convey, construct and cash in on.
Digitalness is meddling with the notion that product is the transactional inducer for profit.
Microsoft don’t make product, they assemble code. As does Google, as does Proctor and Gamble as does any corporation, SME and individual. As this becomes more and more loosely coupled, we’ll see the shibboleth materialise as a currency devoid of form. Data is without form. Data is open for connectivity.
We’ve watched the collapse of the publishing businesses with no great surprises other than the likes of Radiohead, Prince, Madonna and those guys teaming up with Bacardi, invent what is for sale. Exposure. Ambient Exposure. Voyeurism. It’s a game of two halves.
Rock stars acting like an agency for brands to connect with consumers.
They’re just doing their thing without the brand sponsor making minute by minute demands. Owning an artist is a frightening business – ask Sony BMG about George Michael – so brand sponsorship is handled, not with radioactive gloves, but an understanding that the messy business of making creativity is best left to those who love their art.
But the product is not important in any of this. Data supporting the business model, more precisely, the ingredients of data, are the valuable assets within this equation.
CRM is a toe curling concept – not that it is about harvesting email addresses (with permission) but that the concept of data is so poor. Of course a marketing department wants to know as much about you as possible, but CRM will always give a poor approximation – no one hands over habitual data without cringing. Even Nectar card holders.
But, ask the audience(s) if they would like free goods in exchange for their social graph data, and the game becomes interesting. At present you see Facebook, crunching your social graph data as you use it’s people management applications – sucking out all the little nuances about you life as it’s defined by context of your ‘friends’. Imagine a manufacturer doing this. Can you imagine a product developer migrating their business from product to data?
Any organisation, with trust, that has the richest data and uses it to create new, disposable, fragile markets will dominate the consumer/producer lifestyle. Choice within choice becomes infinitely possible when audience participation of product (the transaction receipt – not the economic shibboleth) is the conversation.
Digital is about grooming data – sifting, expanding, performing and refining, the relationships between things in abstractions that defy the premise of spoken/written languages. Invention is within the patterns of existing human activity, the market is the catalyst induced by the audiences request for bespoke productions.
It’s an investment in ego. The participants ego. The sponsor must be modest to be loved.
This leaves the (digital) agency in a curious position – are they to be production centric or performers – their attantion spent on creating or extracting value from audience engagement?
When publishing was backed by advertsing, strict controls were placed to prevent distribution of exclusivity. When the publisher model is replaced by a brand, the business of piracy is the finest way to spread the message.
Excitement must be fluid. Mess is Lore.
If anything, it confirms the notion of integration within the agency context as not a skill based concern, but as a audience based concern – how does an agency operate like a ‘new media’ platform?
Look at Mahalo as a model of this. Pure Splogging mind you, but beautifully riding the Google engines.
Look at the Human Genome Project. Every breath you take, we’ll be watching you.
Look at Top Up Travel Cards. It’s a loan system for the city plus you hand over your travel data – for free!
Agency, will be creative for the remit of a sponsor. Agency, will be loved by an audience. Agency, will be staffed by those who insist on the last word on creativity. Agency will be the gratification of disintegration.
Integration is the speed bump of social realism in the transition from producers to artists.
Ask a Rockstar. Or better, just play with them.
When “Grand Theft Auto IV” launches April 29, it’s expected to gross a record-breaking $400 million worldwide in its first week. That’s good news for the game biz, but daunting for execs in other sectors of the media industry.
Last summer, “Pirates of the Caribbean 3” broke all box office records, with a $404 million worldwide haul in its first six days, roughly the same amount expected for “GTA IV.”
Hot Coffee Mod for GrandTheftAuto: San Andreas
Video of the Mod in action