Jonathan Durden on why hybrid solutions are way forward for creativity

In advertising I expect that most agencies, media companies and their network owners have this year resolved to become totally integrated communications houses, where an idea can be executed across multiplatforms, working in harmony in brand teams that include their customers. Fair enough as ambitions go, but I wonder if that “one size fits all” approach is in touch with the future.

I was reading an excellent profile of Richard Parry-Jones in the February 2008 edition of Car magazine. “RPJ” is the vice-president of global product development and the chief technical officer of Ford Motor Company. After 39 years of service and a career to make your eyes water – he was responsible for the dramatic improvement in quality standards, and iconic models such as Focus, Discovery, Mondeo and the new Jaguar – he is now retiring.

One sentence in this article really stood out for me. When asked to predict how the motor industry would develop, he said that if carbon emissions remain an issue, which it will, then there will be a diversification in the very purpose of the car.

We can still jump in any automobile and drive to anywhere, any time. In future, he contends, the differing nature of journeys regularly taken will dictate the type of vehicle that we consciously use.

RPJ believes there will be three distinct types of car – small zero-emission electrics for cities, larger plug-in hybrids for crossover tasks and long distance cruisers powered by efficient diesel engines.

If he is right it is a very radical thought which will change everything about design, fuel distribution, retail and manufacturing methods within this massive industry. Everything will have to be rethought, including whether you would choose to hire, own or lease cars in future.

Perhaps, then, it is no coincidence that Toyota is about to become the world’s largest motor manufacturer, an achievement in no small part accelerated by the success of its Prius hybrid model.

The Prius has made Toyota’s whole brand appear pioneering and in touch with providing one aspect of RPJ’s prophecy, that of social responsibility for certain tasks.

That thought made me review the apparent obsession in the advertising industry with total comms planning, and paranoia at not being at the centre of all things, all the time.

The premise is that creativity is at the heart of the offering, and therefore the protection of that special asset is the foundation on which all other services are built.

So only the “idea” is where the value is, and then it is about strategy upfront, and broad execution to follow, which can be discounted if necessary.
Those in the music business know that this “creative-centric” model does not work any more in that industry.

Why are Led Zeppelin leaving their country manors in Surrey and parking up their Audi turbo estate cars to go on tour again? Why has Madonna traded her CD sales for a larger slice of live tour revenues? Because “creativity” can be downloaded for free and artists’ 7% share and back catalogue values have been cut to zero. The money is in providing the live experience for a 50% slice, and the record sales have become the sampler for turning up to that live experience.

Only in advertising do we seem to be clinging on to the idea that creativity is a gated fortress, defended by our business from attack by outside predators at our own discretion.

Perhaps more imaginatively some might consider approaching a model loosely based on RPJ’s view of the world. That is, to celebrate the diversity of a group’s offering and to re-engineer the portfolio to reflect the emerging needs of their customers in more varied ways.

Maybe they could achieve this by creating off-the-shelf brands specifically aimed at key audience segments. Such brands would not yet have a category, but could be sold to new product development projects in a hurry to become established.

Or perhaps by forging privileged access via unique partnerships with content providers and media owners which define a group’s offering, rather than by playing the largely level field that exists.

The single communications group that merely shadows the structure of the world’s largest corporations may be doing everyone a disservice, by not addressing the nature of the journeys that so many clients must now attempt to make. If even Ford is thinking in this new way, why would it need communications advice from any group that resembles its old establishment process?

My hope for 2008 is to see less reliance on unsustainable creative resources, and the emergence of a more hybridised style of marketing.

Jonathan Durden is a partner at Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy

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