Catching up with consumers

Only a truly open and collaborative creative process can result in good engagement communications.

Creating engagement is an ongoing challenge. It never stands still. What constitutes engagement this year probably won't hold up as well in 2012. For all aspects of popular culture, times are always changing, and advertising is no exception.

Looking at our essay a year ago, it's interesting to see what has changed.

Is "Distraction Culture" - the availability of information, culture and entertainment, immediately and simultaneously - still relevant? How has the landscape of engagement altered over the course of the year? Is creating engagement harder than before, or easier?

Well, Distraction Culture will only get more pertinent as time goes on. It is part of the cultural landscape, governing to a large extent how people interact with each other.

As for the media landscape, the more media continues to fragment, the more technology evolves and consumers divide their time between devices, apps, social networks and channels that capture their attention, the more challenging it will be to create engagement. That's pretty plain.

What has definitely changed since last year is that agencies are catching up with that fabled group of people who continue to lead the way in communications: consumers.

Big engagement ideas such as "Decode Jay Z with Bing" are demonstrating the potential of joined-up, ingenious thinking that blurs the lines between media channels.

Clients are also asking for agencies to find new ways of working to deliver brand participation. Andy Fennell, the chief marketing officer at Diageo, says: "We need agencies that can see the totality of our engagement with the consumer, whether that is blogger outreach, social networking conversations, long-form content or more traditional advertising. Almost always, we need agencies collaborating with each other around what we end up showing to the consumer."

But there are still plenty of TV-advertised sales promotion ideas that seem to be masquerading as engagement campaigns.

Joe Tripodi, the chief marketing and commercial officer of Coca-Cola, says: "My sense is that there is more opportunity for innovation in consumer engagement. If someone comes into my office and says 'here's a 30-second television commercial that's going to solve all of our business problems', I show them the door because I know that it's a lot of rubbish."

To truly be an engagement in communications terms, something completely media agnostic, we believe the end product should actually mirror the process by which it was created.

That is, the whole thought process must be completely integrated and not siloed in any way. How can anyone hope to plan and execute a campaign consisting of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of elements across multiple media channels if the team doing the thinking isn't open, collaborative and working in a joined-up, real-time way?

Paul Polman, the chief executive of Unilever, says: "We are reallocating budgets to enable us to make content in an always-on world."

This is where a lot of agencies need to change their processes and perhaps even their structures - whatever helps them think in an "always-on" way. Even the term "campaign" is controversial. Brand communications now are much more akin to an ongoing narrative that is constantly evolving, with consumers each having a part in determining the direction of the story.

And, of course, all activities must be done on the terms of the consumer, allowing them to become as involved or as engaged as they want to. It should almost go without saying. Remember, when it comes to engagement, the consumer is always in control.

So, with such complicated campaigns consisting of so many elements - and with the consumer always in control - how can agencies hope to tame and unlock the potential of engagement thinking?

Even the structure of client marketing departments gets in the way. Responsibilities are carved up so that no-one has the overview except the marketing director. This means there are few on the client side who can join things up. So it's down to the agencies to help make it all work.

As with so many aspects of advertising, the answer can be found by boiling things down to the simplest possible form, so the all-important detail has a basic framework to fit into and thrive. Our framework is called "Tempt, Engage and Build". Everything we do adheres to it.

Tempt, because first you have to hook consumers' attention and inspire them to want to spend time with your brand. Engage, to give people the means (once you have their attention) to engage with your communications; this is when engagement really comes into its own. Lastly, people need to be able to build on their engagement, whether it's by sharing something or telling a friend, family member or colleague about their experience.

We consider this to be an open-source model and, as such, it helps us work together with other agencies. It provides a common framework and language that all can understand, irrespective of their discipline.

We plan all our engagement thinking to fit into this model, sketching out the "story" in advance in as much detail as possible, but still leaving enough room for the campaign narrative to become "organic" (ie. to accommodate unexpected developments in the ongoing conversation as more and more consumers become involved).

Sometimes, these campaign plans are in so much detail that they stretch from one side of a room to another.

Involved in the thinking process are specialists of all sorts of background and experience, all working together, openly and collaboratively. Not defending work, but welcoming change. Being expansive, not reductive.

And working quickly, reacting to and planning for interesting angles that consumers themselves can bring. Not a department in sight, but rather one single, energetic, enthusiastic team. No egos in the room, either. They only get in the way.

Like Harry S Truman once said: "It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit."

Jeremy Garner is the creative director and Mark Brown the former chief strategy officer at Weapon7 .


  • Agencies' thought processes and structures need to mirror the 'always-on' behaviour of consumers.
  • With engagement, the consumer is always in control.
  • Use a simple framework to structure the campaign narrative - we use 'Tempt, Engage and Build'.
  • Mix people of different backgrounds and expertise in an ego-free, energetic, enthusiastic atmosphere.

From Campaign's What next in engagement supplement Novemeber 2011


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