Integration Essays: Director or curator?

True integration isn't about making a campaign do the same thing across a number of channels, but letting each element bring the big idea to life.

The time has come, the word "integrated" has been torn from pillar to post, spouting offshoots such as "seamless" and "media-neutral" along the way until it has become its own parody. Now you must decide if you are New World or Old World. Our own mini apartheid is over, the wall has been torn down and now there are no other choices. It's not about some magic line and whether you sit above it, below it or through it. It's about whether you want to be part of a dictatorship or part of a democracy, whether you want to be a director or a curator.

We're all familiar with the current status quo, the received wisdom on integration. Consumers have access to more channels. They engage with different disciplines in different ways and the TV spot is no longer king in the way it used to be. That much is recognised. So, until now, the solution has been "take a brilliant brand idea (usually from a TV or press ad) and replicate it across all these brave (if slightly scary) new channels". Big ideas, usually straplines from big brand campaigns, have been simply handed down to other channels and expected to fly in the same way. After all, a big idea that doesn't travel is a dead idea, right?

Well, yes. And no. A big idea must travel - but that doesn't mean it must simply be slapped on a direct mail piece or a viral and expected to deliver in the same way as a 30-second TV spot. For too long, the ad agencies have created something beautiful, and once they have envisaged how it will deliver to a mass audience, they've chucked it back to their below-the-line friends and expected the same creative to translate virally, digitally, experientially. It won't. It never will. And now, our world is divided into people who accept this and embrace it, and people who won't, who can't.

This brave new approach should be about understanding the communications challenge and then feeding it through to everyone from every discipline at the same time. That way you aren't pushing an idea into the confines of one discipline or another. Rather, you are celebrating and respecting each and its ability to deliver the big idea. Give everyone the challenge at the same time. No artist ever delivered the masterpiece from a paint-by- numbers canvas - they always start with the raw materials. Change the way you look at your role. You aren't the creative director or the marketing director. You are curator, a facilitator - you bring the elements together and let them sing in the loudest, most relevant and exciting way possible.

Just as the Old World was once transfixed by "media neutrality" and "seamless execution", now we must embrace new additions to our lexicon and challenge the old ones as we do so. For years, we have chased fool's gold, the dream of seamless, cross-discipline delivery. And what does seamless mean to us? It means no interruptions, no surprises, no joins. But if you don't deliver these clear differentiations between channels, then how can you engage through each one? A viral and a TV ad can't be "seamlessly" joined. They are fundamentally different, and that difference should be celebrated. The joins, the moments of difference, are what will surprise the market.

Indeed, we should challenge the notion of the "big idea" itself. What does "big" even mean? Where once it meant "easily transferred", now it must mean "expansive". A true big idea just keeps on giving, and can be ignited across any channel, in any way. For so long, we have thought of our big ideas as fireworks for instant gratification. But we have been all about the visual display and forgotten about the big bang.

This new approach works. It is living, breathing, happening at this very moment. In the US, the telecoms brand Sprint had one aim in mind: to be associated with the one thing consumers really want from technology - immediacy. The brief was "help us to own immediacy", and was issued to everyone. The result? A beautiful, engaging mishmash of touchpoints celebrating the concept of immediacy in the way best suited to their channel. So, the big idea expanded. It became a brilliant, throbbing, fact-filled TV ad, a revolutionary widget, an interactive Yahoo! takeover. These elements weren't seamless, they were linked but had their own characteristics, existing as their own celebration of the big idea.

I have seen the dramatic differences when you hand someone an idea, not an execution. When I worked with the US's Office of National Drug Control Policy to help combat habitual drug abuse, the team and I started by identifying the insight that the issue wasn't exacerbated by drugs themselves, it was driven by the "influence". We personified this influence as the enemy and called every agency together in a room - planners, media buyers, PRs, creatives. We asked everyone to come back with their interpretation of "the influence is the enemy" and, in return, they showed us the power of letting a great idea breathe through an endless number of creative (and sometimes unexpected) collaborations and channels. It worked in print, it worked in film and it worked digitally. It didn't roll seamlessly over every channel.

If you can't remove yourself from the mindset of "seamless", "transferable" and "adaptation", then you will never champion the new version of "integrated". If you think integration should be about taking an execution and applying it everywhere, then you should be working somewhere else - in branding, perhaps. After all, that is the branding approach, isn't it? Making touchpoints consistent, keeping a unified identity. Advertising and marketing must be about igniting, not soothing seams.

We must believe our ideas live longer than an awareness campaign. We must have faith that they can fly in millions of ways - not through careful adaptation, but through noisy, viral, visual ignition. Because if they don't, they will fester in the seamless wallpaper of old-fashioned integration.

Let us never forget who we should be talking to. No consumer ever said: "The best thing about that campaign is the way it looks the same on the posters and on the website." Never did, never will. So you can keep chasing that reaction or you can become a curator and let each element bring the big idea to life. The time is now - you are with us or against us, in support of creative eclecticism or in opposition.

Choose wisely; the future of the brands you are looking to ignite will depend upon it.