The second most misused word in our industry, after strategy, has to be campaign. When I started in the biz, it meant the planned and coordinated totality of a selling idea and an executional approach for a brand. Campaigns rarely lasted less than a year. Some lasted 20 years or more.
Things are sure different now. It can be rather challenging to work in a segment of the business where one banner ad executed in four sizes is considered a campaign. Or where all of the messages and media of a finite period, regardless of their look, feel, or message, are called a campaign.
Google says those 25 results you punch into AdSense are a campaign. Heck, I've heard one ad on the front page of Yahoo for one day called a campaign.
That loose usage of the term "campaign" contributes to the creativity ghetto that is digital marketing. Too often, we spend millions delivering messages devoid of creative ideas. That may be what selling can be about, but not marketing.
We're here to create value by imbuing brands with enduring meaning. That's an impossible challenge for a handful of SEM results or one banner "concept" executed in four different sizes. And don't even get me started on what digital people think a concept is.
Campaigns begin with a central idea. Just Do It. The Ultimate Driving Machine. Keep Walking. Not Save 20% today. Or Download a White Paper. Offers are critical, but to actually do marketing you have to begin with a thought that helps consumers file away pleasing brand information.
The definition of "campaign" used to be quite narrow. It often combined a selling idea with a litany of "executional mandatories" like font and colors and ad style. Good campaigns these days are alot more freeform.
Digital surely has helped drive the need for this sort of executional freedom. We are barraged with more and more messages everyday; if you want to reinforce an idea, you need to constantly surprise and delight consumers with the ways that you deliver that message. Can't do that when all the ads look and sound the same.
Digital agencies tend to suck at delivering real campaign ideas. Yes, there are exceptions. But in general. I think there are three reasons for this:
· Most digital people grew up in digital, where campaign ideas were at best secondary considerations.
· Lots of digital people don't know what campaigns are.
· We ache for constant change in everything. There's always another shiny object we want to serve up.
As a result, we don't make brand progress. We're great at selling stuff. But the reason why so many big brands continue to "short" digital media relative to its share of total consumer media time is that our "campaigns" aren't campaigns.
Campaign ideas have always been the bread and butter of traditional agencies. But as they help their brands do more in interactive, many struggle with injecting enough executional freedom under the idea. Not all, but many. Everything comes out lockstep. I think there are three reasons for this:
· It's the way it has been done for ages. And with plenty of success.
· Traditional agencies tend to prefer tightly defined ideas because you make more money on them.
Creative development costs a great deal more than making "pool outs" of the same bloody thing.
· Some traditional agencies approach advertising with the view that their way is the best way and therefore no deviation from their approach is appropriate.
The challenge there is that the nature of branding has changed. Consumers now give as much as they get in terms of brand definition. And to the extent that some traditional agencies are closed to consumer participation, they are doing a disservice to the very brands they are purporting to protect.
So which kind of agency is going to change the way it thinks first? One requires a change in reasoning. The other a change in feeling.
Jim Nichols is a Partner and Chief Strategist at Catalyst S+F. He can be reached at email@example.com
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