Whenever I engage (reluctantly) with "hot or nots" of the "plannersphere", I discover a bunch of planners resorting to their blogs in a bid to be heard. Ignored on the creative floor, planners head to their self-built communities for release – proposing this, positing that, stipulating everything. They seek to move the conversation (and their careers) forward; climbing up their fibre-optic ivory towers to broadcast a constant wave of new buzzwords, when everyone but us has already tuned out.
This is not to say the process is worthless. It's our job to be thinkers and talkers. But how are we, as planners, meant to navigate this stuff? One thing for certain is the need for caution – countless it-concepts have already fallen faster than you could even say "syndicated content".
However, "interconnection" is pretty fresh right now. As "integration" bites the dust, interconnection suddenly seems an infinitely relevant reflection of our new techno-experiential reality; a time when touchpoints are touchscreens, and one screen is never enough.
We all get "connections"
And it does actually feel like progress. "Integration" always felt a bit too much like jargon – one of those words that needed explaining to your non-marketing friends. But not so with "connections". We all get that.
For, after all, we live in a connected world – a wi-fi-enabled ecosystem of syncing devices that offer fluid experiences and equally fluid purchases. So it's no wonder that we put such pressure on ourselves to turn every moment into a consumptive one. Because, ultimately, the opportunity is absolutely there: we just need to sync up.
This stuff is catnip to our industry, and for good reason. But, in our rush to tap into this booming economy of "opportunities to view", let's not forget what's really important. For interconnectivity is not, and cannot be, an end in itself. Nor is it a starting point for comms planning. Because connections aren't everything. It's what you connect, and the meaning of those connections, that really matter.
That's the problem with these buzzwords: they propose a one-size-fits-all strategy for all of our clients, without due diligence to the brand's specificity. They pile on pressure to conform - to be "ultra-modern" and "oh-so-relevant" – without asking basic questions about the actual relevance to the product or service.
The best examples of interconnectivity are those where the interconnected activity really makes sense for the brand.
Campaigns on a new scale
Take McCann London's "Roll of Honour" work for the Xbox game Halo 4 – the world's first Facebook-integrated TV campaign. By enlisting superfans to feature in our ad as "Heroes" in the fight to save mankind, the campaign tapped into the deep immersion of the first-person gaming experience, and took it to new heights.
More than any other game franchise, Halo has a hardcore dedicated fanbase – the "Halo Nation". Our work used multiple platforms to connect their in-game heroics with the real world. A TV audience of 31m: now that's what I call "pwnage".
Three's #DancePonyDance is another great example of an interconnected campaign that made absolute sense for the brand and its consumers.
We have all witnessed how the mass proliferation of smartphones has precipitated the mass proliferation of content generation. How, virtually overnight, the democracy of content has been born through create-and-share apps – as every one of us is transformed into photographers on Instagram, critics on Twitter and comedians on Vine.
Three's campaign was a celebration of this new landscape, taking the essence of create-and-share but then going one bigger. For, while the Pony Mixer app provided the tools to create our own ad in our own image, the TV platform gave us the opportunity to share our handiwork on an unprecedented scale.
This was an interconnected solution that dramatised the point of interconnection in the first place. Which, ultimately, makes total sense for a brand like this: because Three is not merely an app, or a mobile phone: it's the network itself – the facilitator of all this activity, and the source of interconnectivity.
These two examples demonstrate something else very important about interconnectedness: the need for interconnected activity to work hard for consumers, not just for our brands.
The interconnected world gives us the opportunity to be all-pervasive, but with this opportunity comes some very real responsibilities. For, unless we have a killer proposal from a consumer point of view, we're in danger of polluting the interconnected ecosystem, and, ultimately, making it a less pleasant place to be.
‘We don’t need content marketing to redeem us. All we need is a little artfulness’
This is the reason why the blanket application of an interconnected model is so dangerous. Because, when it comes down to it, interconnected spam is still spam.
The problem lies in using hot-right-now concepts as instruction manuals for how brands should behave. Because, of course, there is no "right way" for a brand to behave. I know it's a truism; but it's one we need to reiterate time and time again – especially when blinded by the lights of new language.
Bringing brands to market requires a bespoke, artful solution each and every time, and this can be clouded by the pressure to live up to the innumerable scientistic models of super-modern brand behaviour.
Nowhere can this be seen more clearly than with the fetishisation of "content" marketing. We're all in a frenzied process of thinking up content ideas for our brands: because content is "the future of marketing", "the shortcut to the consumer's heart", "the right way for a brand to behave". But there are brands that shouldn't be making content – brands for which a content solution just isn't right.
There's an incredible vanity in brands automatically assuming that they are interesting to people beyond the product or service they deliver. People do not want brands to be clogging the airwaves without good reason: and content for the sake of content does just that.
This was something that we at McCann London highlighted through our #ComplimentsCheese campaign for Branston Pickle. Sick of the inane traffic of branded Facebook content, we began to track the pages of major cheese brands, and to systematically lampoon their vacuous content posts with overblown, ironical compliments.
The campaign resonated with consumers, because here was a brand (Branston) that understood just how little people care about what Cheese has to say in the social arena. But 99% of the cheese brands didn't get that we were taking the piss. That's scary.
Set hype aside
Ultimately, it pays to remember that the elevation of content is fairly recent, and may prove to be another platitude. "Content strategy" simply means "ways to engage people". But somehow, as a buzzword, it makes us think that we don't have a strategy. Or that we absolutely need a content plan, because if we don't, we're not abiding by the new principles of modern marketing.
"Dumb ways to die" was a story that found its way into popular culture. This Australian rail-safety campaign is a great example of "content", but I don't think it was cooked that way. We don't need content marketing to redeem us. All we need is a little artfulness.
This artfulness starts with putting all hype to one side, and asking the most basic of questions: what makes this brand interesting to people?
New words come and go, but, really, nothing's changed. Our task is to define the role of a brand in people's lives, and then to fulfil it.
If fulfilling that purpose means interconnected activity, then so be it; but we need to start with the beliefs of the brand, rather than the neuroses of the blog.
Zaid Al-Zaidy, chief executive, McCann London, Additional contributor: Thomas Keane, planner, McCann London