Don't just write a campaign; get down and dirty in the digital muck
A view from Omar Oakes

Don't just write a campaign; get down and dirty in the digital muck

Campaigns are still crucial but they are only part of the story, which is now a whole lot messier, thanks to digital.

Have you seen The Guardian’s new brand film, "Hope is power"? If not, you should, because it’s a great piece of work that is beautifully filmed while effectively conveying a simple message of how journalism can empower and bring optimism. 

I hope MullenLowe's Laurence Green has seen it. Last week, he warned that ad agencies have "grown out of, and sometimes even ditched, the campaign habit". Here, we have a "proper" brand campaign whose message is going out on various marketing channels and, we expect, will frame The Guardian's marketing for a significant period of time going forward. 

Green's concern comes from agencies increasingly finding themselves doing "projects" for brands rather than as retained "agencies of record", while awards juries are apparently more turned on by the new rather than the familiar.

I agreed with everything Green said about why campaigns can be efficient as well as effective, but this seems only part of the story.

The other part explains why very few agency start-ups talk about being a "creative agency" or a "digital agency" or a "CRM agency" or a "shopper marketing agency" or any other kind of business that is defined by a discipline.

The campaign, or the central creative idea that drives a brand’s marketing through advertising, is only part of what has become a much messier marketing landscape. It’s messy and unpredictable because digital media is about doing things as much as consuming things. We don’t just watch or listen; we are now also clicking, swiping, liking, commenting, voting, following… marketers need to be more aware of how people behave rather than just how they think in this new world.

I wonder how many brands are geared up to consider how their brand is viewed in a 360-degree way like this, even if money were no object. How can marketers ensure their brand is present in as many ways as possible when it comes to people's everyday interactions, whether that be with a customer-service chatbot, how a user navigates its website or how shoppers interact with an app? 

So The Guardian can commission as many beautiful film-led campaigns as it likes – its brand will also be defined by the user experience of its website (where the home page is immediately obscured by a big yellow box urging you to donate and a landscape banner ad). Or its app, where new users are immediately confronted with a list of privacy choices (thanks, GDPR).

Still, theguardian.com has a far better user experience than most of its national rivals and, frankly, is a dream compared with local newspaper websites (just look at the responses to my recent tweet to see what people think about those). But what am I getting in terms of hope or power when I can't even see the top story headline without first being asked to hand over money?

This helps to explain why you now hear integrated agencies talk so much about "experience". Thinking of digital or above-the-line as distinct functions misses the opportunity to think about a brand’s role in the widest possible context of a person’s life. Brands now rise or fall based on the pitter-patter of micro-moments as well as the thud of big landmark events.

Brands that do it well are the ones that focus on the micro as well as the macro. And it's even better when the brand feels consistent and relevantly expressed in each channel.

So, by all means get "back" into the campaign habit – just because marketing channels are more diverse doesn’t mean there shouldn't be an overarching creative idea driven by consumer insight and rooted in culture. I can’t imagine a world in which campaigns won’t be needed to drive fame and banners to prompt clicks – but our messier, increasingly digital culture means that these campaigns must fit in a connected system.