What we do isn’t art or science, it’s showbusiness. We choose one brand over another not because we need to, but because we want to – because it’s memorable and famous. Our decisions are irrational, unpredictable and emotional because that is how we’re wired.
Successful businesses understand how to harness these mercurial forces via creativity and the craft of storytelling. Squeezed by tech firms on one side and consultancies on the other, we need to remember that’s the unique value of what we do as an industry. Own our showmanship and commit to what we do best: aspire to be more Disney than Deloitte.
The show must go on
Invoking the spirit of Walt isn’t an appeal to a bygone era of advertising, it’s a rallying cry for transformation.
As Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull put it: "Technology inspires creativity, and creativity challenges technology." Disney broke new ground with digital animation and interactive experiences; forging partnerships with Star Wars and Marvel in pursuit of more engaging content and commercial growth.
Brands are nothing without original ideas and stories, but huge opportunities lie in the exploring new ways to reach audiences, and new commercial models.
A shift in creative roles
Disney realised early on that people would put a huge value on it creating worlds they can explore, touch and feel, from screen to web and computer games to theme parks. Disney’s architects aren’t auteurs with a singular vision, but executive producers like JJ Abrams – creative entrepreneurs who thrive on collaboration rather than control. Adept at casting and combining great talent to realise a shared creative vision, they exploit the scale of the studio model while creating the space for nimble creative cultures to thrive.
The new economics of showbiz
As media channels fragment and proliferate, the demand for content is outstripping supply. This creates the opportunity to rethink how we invest in brand-building. Take The Story Lab – an agency that keeps the audience at heart and works creatively with clients’ media budgets to create entertainment IP that they own. Why make an ad when you can make your own TV show? Why sponsor a series when you can have your own, and distribute it globally? It doesn’t stop there, either. If the content is good enough it will be distributed and licensed internationally with a nice financial kick back to those who were smart enough to invest in this way in the first place.
This may seem heretical, but while it is true that creativity is the cornerstone of everything we do, great ideas alone are not enough. To realise their potential, we need to be inventive about how we apply intelligence and investment. As brands such as Lego, Amazon and Red Bull have learned, when outstanding creativity is combined with an understanding of audience, channels and the investment skills to develop innovative commercial models, the true value of showbusiness can be unlocked.
Embracing showmanship and storytelling is about more than execution. Stories express a mission, a moral. Stories have energy, agency and power. A good story paints a picture of the future that draws people to it. Ultimately the strength of the brand is really nothing more than the quality of the story businesses are able to tell about their future. We need to be proud of industry’s role as expert storytellers, because ultimately, in an oversupplied world where attention is people’s scarcest resource, there’s no business without showbusiness.
Jason Gonsalves is CEO at Mcgarrybowen London