The World's Leading Independent Agencies: Belgiovane Williams Mackay

BWM thinks great brand ideas should start conversations, and let the consumer do the selling.

Could it be that the most important thing that we need to learn in this so-called "new" media age, humans have, in fact, known for thousands of years? As we witness the rise of Web 2.0, the continued fragmentation of audiences and channels, and the increasing reality of convergence, it might be helpful for us to be reminded of the basics of human communication.

How did the likes of Google, Amazon and YouTube reach their world-dominant positions without using broadcast media? And why are there 120,000 new blogs created in the world every day, and most are not written by traditional journalists? What has made 130 million people to date join up to social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook? What have these brands done differently?

For a start, they're based on ideas so relevant that they pull people to them, rather than needing to be pushed into consumers' lives. They have put the power back into people's hands and help them to choose what engages them and binds them to other people who are interested in similar things.

These brands tap into the core of what makes us human: our need to interact with other humans.

For marketers, the challenge is to discover what engages consumers and binds them together. As a result, the role of strategic planning has never been more important. Without insight or human truth that everyone can relate to, there's little or no engagement.

Adland is full of fake insights we hope consumers won't see through. Things such as, "whiter than white", "fresher than fresh", "the real thing". These insights are created to suit the brand, rather than human nature.

To make matters worse, how often do we hear people say: "You need to be in all media now!" You need a TV execution, an online execution, a mobile execution. They carry on as if the channel plan is the creative solution.

But TVs, mobile phones, computers ... these are all just screens, devices that people can use to tap into the things that appeal to them. The principles of what attracts an audience to these new devices are the same in today's multichannel environment as they were when there was only cinema.

It's all about the emotional power of the insight you use to connect your brand with consumers. People like things that make them laugh or cry, things that they can empathise with. Not fake, insincere bullshit.

Get the insight right, and a great idea to bring it to life, you can roll it out on a napkin and in a day it will be all over the internet, phones, and TV news. Just as we saw in Droga5's viral for Ecko Streetwear, which seemed to show Air Force One getting graffiti'd.

Similarly, any brand could have owned the idea that "parents don't want their children to be left behind", but it was BigPond, the Aussie broadband media company, that owned it first. A simple human truth: No parent wants their kid to be the school dummy. Everyone empathises with the insight in the "rabbits" campaign created for Telstra BigPond Australia. They recognise themselves in the father, which makes them laugh.

When the little boy asks: "Why did they build the Great Wall of China?" in the car on the way to school, it's clear from the father's response he has no idea: "The Emperor Nasi Goreng built the Great Wall of China, to keep the rabbits out ... too many rabbits ... in China." We then cut to the boy about to do his "China speech" to the class.

This campaign, by BWM, was voted Australia's favourite campaign twice. And the word "rabbits" has become part of the Australian lexicon, used by people when they don't know the answer to a question.

This shows how the right insight - with charm and humility - lets the consumer engage and then take control. Human nature takes over. It's like a great joke, it spreads like wildfire. Originally released as a TV ad, it has ended up in every contemporary channel ... and even older ones such as talk back radio and letters to the editor.

A campaign by Santo for the Argentine internet provider Arnet won a swag of awards at this year's Cannes Advertising Festival. It was designed to look like someone's blog. It's obviously not, but it feels real. As each person signed up for the offer, the bald guy in the ads received one hair. The degree of empathy and genuine connection it created was remarkable, and it's an outright retail ad.

These examples show how important it is to feel "real". To the casual observer, they don't feel like they are selling anything; they seem sincere.

The point

Whether it's a viral or a website, a TV campaign or mobile ad is irrelevant. Get a great idea out there, and start a conversation that involves your brand.

In Cannes this year, Dove nailed it by "owning" the notion that women are no longer prepared to be misrepresented in cosmetics advertising. And who wouldn't agree with that? Unilever has connected its brand to a generic social issue, which was already well entrenched in the minds of consumers. In turn, it seems genuine. Quite a rare quality in cosmetics advertising.

Implications for the future

The creation of a key insight is as vital today as ever. But now, you don't so much sell the brand as create an idea that starts a conversation about it. And that lets the customers do the selling, via whichever channels they use.

For agencies, the creative development process is more collaborative. At BWM, we call it the "Hub" process.

The creative "team" is broader, and is often made up of designers, media strategists, film directors, online experts, event specialists, clients, children ... and copywriters and art directors.

Now, the flexibility of an idea is as important as its creativity. Ideas are developed in a different way, by different people, for different media, and for savvy consumers. The trick for agencies and clients is having the talent to spot a wildfire idea when they see it.

Despite the claims that life as we know it is over, has anything changed? In the 50s and 60s, great ads spread like wildfire. People would sing them. Or use the lines from them in conversations. Or tell friends about them by phone. Back then, as now, great ideas started conversations and were passed on via whatever "media" was available.

Here's what Confucius had to say about the trend centuries ago: "Tell me and I'll forget. Show me and I'll remember. Involve me and I understand."

Rob Belgiovane is the executive creative director of Belgiovane Williams Mackay.


Name: Belgiovane Williams Mackay

Founded: 1996

Principals: Rob Belgiovane, Paul Williams, Jamie Mackay

Staff: 108

Location(s): Sydney, Australia; Dubai, United Arab Emirates

What's the future for independent agencies? The ability to adapt to new environments is much easier for independents. And now, more than ever, being adaptable is critical

How will you be part of it? We are already part of it.