OPINION: Nick Brien in America

The irony of starting my new job in the US on 1 April has not been

lost on my UK colleagues although I guess George W Bush feels the same

way as his economic flu spreads across the globe. The US advertising

Goliath has been officially knocked out and while no-one seems to be

looking for the culprit, there is ongoing speculation as to the timing

and nature of the industry's revival. On this particular issue, there is

little consensus and executives have departed for their summer vacations

having effectively written off 2001.

So, what's the next big thing? I don't think it will be one thing, one

idea, one technology or one approach. Instead, I believe it will be the

re-dedication to what branding is all about. Emerging technologies forge

ahead as specialists scramble to discover ways to use and measure these

new channels. There is lots of talk about data and customer-centricity

but, in the end, it all boils down to smart marketing strategy.

From this side of the Atlantic, I see an exciting future for our

industry if we commit to the reinvention of our brand-building


It is time to walk the talk as they say over here. We cannot hold on to

advertising as the art form when technology has shifted control to

consumers, enabling them to conveniently avoid our intrusive commercial

messages. We need to move from the general to the very specific, from

directional to measurable, from theory to practice, from intangible to


Branding must become the sum total of all of our creative energies -

ranging from data aggregation to customer segmentation to personalised

messaging. Leading global brands, such as Amazon, Harley-Davidson and

Swatch, increasingly leverage the power of community to create new

business models and, in this world, branding demands that our industry

more effectively integrates its skills, accepting that further

diversification within functional silos isn't the answer.

Our opportunity as an industry is to seize this initiative and avoid

being seen as either myopic or lazy. Privately, senior industry

executives admit that we failed to fundamentally revise our approach to

branding when the internet splashed into all of our lives like a

tsunami. We dipped our toes in the shallow end and refused to embrace

it, strategically or creatively. The e-commerce industry is currently on

its knees economically, not technologically, and their knowledge and

expertise of consumers' use of the internet and digital media is the key

to our future.

So how is the industry reacting over here? On the agency side, with

further consolidation. The big holding companies are focusing on the

continuing game of media consolidation. The big get bigger, but is big

better? Or smarter? Or more creative? I wonder whether the clients are

asking if creativity and innovation are central to these latest industry


On the media owner side, they're digesting after the recent feeding

frenzy of consolidation while proactively packaging their varied assets

in cross-media deals, which are the hot new thing to have. Time will

tell whether these deals translate into innovative marketing solutions

or simply secure the majors such as News Corp, AOL Time Warner, Viacom

and Disney a greater share of total media spending at a time of drastic

rating and budget reductions.

Through my new American sunglasses, I can see tremendous opportunity for

our industry to dramatically raise the bar at a time when our clients

need it most.

Have a nice day.

- Stuart Elliott is on holiday.


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