As I'm writing this, my old mum and dad are visiting from Ireland. They're very excited about my new job and as always keen to hear more. But somehow my explanation ... "it's a new agency model designed to respond to the massive changes in technology that have created countless new channels and a more powerful consumer" ... didn't seem to capture their imagination.
They're sweet, caring people, but like the vast majority of consumers, they don't really care about the subtleties of our business. They simply don't differentiate between above the line or below the line, a website, a piece of direct marketing, or a TV spot. As far as they are concerned, it's all "advertising". And, therefore, it all says something about a brand, whether we like it or not.
It's a simple theory, and one my parents, Draftfcb and I all agree on.
Take the Raid 'Cockroach Killer' (1) work from our South Africa office. It's a big idea for one of our biggest clients, SC Johnson, but it's a DM piece the size of a postage stamp. They simply mailed out a set of tiny, cockroach-sized eviction notices to be served to any unwelcome house guests. It was intrusive, fun and got the point across in an unconventional way. It also picked up a gold Lion at Cannes.
The 'Anti-Drink-Driving' (2) work from the Portuguese office ignored the usual TV-led shock tactics to make their point in a more unexpected way. They placed fake cardboard taxi signs on the tops of cars outside nightclubs in Lisbon. The signs gave revellers the number of the nearest taxi company, and reminded them of the dangers of drink-driving at the exact moment they were about to get into their car. Impactful and brilliantly targeted, I'm sure it was more effective than a TV spot would have been.
Similarly, the DOW Chemical campaign from our Chicago office challenged conventions, this time in the business-to-business market. The work is elegant and engaging, and approached a business audience as sensitive human beings, not work- obsessed robots. It took a beautifully simple idea, The Human Element (4), and used it to turn a faceless chemical company into a caring, contemporary organisation, tackling some of the bigger issues facing society today. Using traditional media, print, TV and DM, it redirected people online in order to build a much deeper relationship. How deep? Well, by ignoring conventional B2B wisdom, it achieved a remarkable 81 per cent increase in unprompted awareness.
But technology has not only changed the ways we can reach audiences, it has also fundamentally changed the way they behave when we do reach them.
Take the Lost Souls (3) work created by our London office. It is a "brand experience" that doesn't mention the brand at all. Targeting a younger, "gaming" audience, "Lost Souls" is an incredibly complex, online universe. A world shrouded in mystery and populated with characters who have "sold their souls" for some unknown reason. It's a cross between The Da Vinci Code and the online virtual world Second Life, and draws players deeper into this alternative world. In time, it becomes clear these people have sold their souls for the "reassuringly expensive" taste of Stella Artois. But by this point, the audience are in full gaming mode. They have accepted the conceit and are happy to play along, so long as the interactions are smart and rewarding.
This is a new kind of consumer, one who actually enjoys the challenge of discovering hidden brand messages. For them, the more complex the consumer journey, the better.
And what started as a tentative step into online marketing by Stella Artois unleashed the full power of digital communications. An initial target of 20,000 gamers grew into a digital community of 600,000 enthusiasts, spending millions of hours interacting with the Stella brand. I'm sure the client found it reassuringly effective.
What struck me most about Draftfcb's output is that throughout the network there are numerous examples of how we need to communicate differently to reach a rapidly changing consumer.
The New Zealand office had the challenge of launching a TV show called Weeds (5) to young adults. It is a drama series about drugs, sex, parents and the pressures of growing up today, but how could they reach this communications-savvy audience in a way that wasn't patronising and easily dismissed. The result was not an "advertising" campaign, but a combination of stunts, blogs, PR and editorial.
It started when a huge bag of "weed" was stolen from a poster-site advertising the show. A viral film of the actual "theft" was circulated online and picked up by the news media. What followed was media frenzy as newspapers, websites and blogs debated the authenticity of the stunt. This in turn generated more intrigue, and so it went on. It had enormous "talkability" and reached the target audience in a way they were not only comfortable with, but were also able to participate in. I'm sure my parents would have approved, not of the drugs bit, but of the approach.
But this new approach to communications isn't just for kids or geeks. There are millions of fortysomething gamers and hundreds of millions of people go online every minute of everyday. We need to be thinking about audiences in this context.
The Saab (6) work from the London office did just that. They realised that Saab's target spent a disproportionate amount of time online, and while they skewed a little older, they were not prepared to grow old gracefully. They wanted the excitement of their youth, with the luxuries they had worked so hard for. The new Saab 9.3 Sportswagon was aimed at them. A direct mail campaign titled "The race against time" challenged them to make the most of their lives. And then challenged them to go online and try to win one of the new cars. An online game thoroughly tested their intelligence and driving skills. It may have looked sophisticated and had a very expensive prize, but this was still an online game just like Stella Artois' "Lost Souls".
Don't get me wrong - conventional channels still have a role to play. And I'm a sucker for smart print work with great craft skills, like the Little Boys Sausages (8) ads, from the New Zealand office. But these also challenge the conventions of their category; beautifully executed they have a refreshingly nasty sense of humour. They turn the smarmy FMCG cliches on their head, and feel much more relevant and contemporary for that.
And of course bravely executed TV can still break through the clutter. The Honda (7) work from our Australia office uses a strong executional device to do just that. A guy running through the streets peeling off layer after layer of clothing effortlessly lets us know that this is a car designed for the more complex world we all live in.
But fundamentally, I believe that the old notion that TV advertising is at the top of the pile doing all the brand work, and below the line is a long way below, doing the measurable stuff, is antiquated and detached from the reality of the world we now operate in.
The days when Coke could teach the whole world to sing are gone. And there are now many more relevant and effective ways for brands to get their message across. Even my online shopping, channel surfing, septuagenarian mum intuitively understands this.
The big question is why do so many in our industry still find it such a difficult concept?