The death of the middleman – why social is changing the media rules

The death of the middleman – why social is changing the media rules
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In high school, I had a Latin teacher who constantly reminded his pupils: “repetition is the mother of learning”. Even though I recognised that his thinking was antiquated I didn’t challenge his perspective and continued to translate passages from the ancient language to the present. 

The truth in his logic lies only in the fact that the texts we were translating didn’t ever change. (In Virgil’s Aeneid, ‘audentis fortuna iuvat’ translates to ‘fortune favours the bold’ yesterday, today, tomorrow, and always.) 

Business isn’t nearly as static as ancient texts, and a far more useful lesson – both to the Romans and to modern brands – is that survival requires innovation.

For the longest time, the marketing and media universe was comprised of two unchallenged beasts –  the creative agency that inspired meaningful campaigns and powerful notions to align a brand with a potential customer, and the media agency that understood how best to place those ideas in front of customers at the most appropriate times. 

For years these two beasts worked side by side as their symbiotic relationship allowed them to grow larger, stronger and more powerful in shaping how we absorbed and consumed nearly all advertising material. 

But along the way something very interesting happened. What happened fundamentally changed this dynamic and introduced a whole new level of competition, creativity, and ‘connection’ in how we interact and engage with media and marketing material. The democratisation of information, fuelled by the explosive adoption of the internet and its many different applications, has unlocked our innate ability to be expressive through creative and social channels. Our biology dictates that we’re social creates by nature – the internet has simply allowed us to rapidly catalyse our creativity and take our social nature to a much higher level. This shift has altered the relationship between the creative and advertising agency and completely disrupted how brands engage with their customers. 

This change is powered by the same technological advancements that expanded the channels through which we communicate, pushing us from print to radio; from film to television; from static pages on the internet to dynamic email, and now, to SoLoMo (that perfect nexus of social, local and mobile which represents the marketer’s Holy Grail of being able to use real-time data to convert a potential customer into a real one at any given moment along their unique customer journey). This change is driven by our ability to reinvent better and faster ways of doing nearly anything.

I find two things about this evolution absolutely fascinating. First, just a decade ago most brands, businesses and governments didn’t even have a social media presence. Facebook wasn’t around and I’m sure many of today’s most popular social platforms – Skype, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Vine, Line, Jelly – weren’t even technologically feasible.

Now, according to research giant Forrester, many consumers don’t trust a brand that doesn’t participate actively on social channels. 

Second, in a very short time we have seen a huge shift in actual consumer behaviour in how we interact with brands and their media and marketing messaging. Marketers have shifted their time, effort and resources from outputs (circulation, reach, opportunity-to-see, cost-per-thousand etc.) and outcomes (changes in awareness, perception, action, etc.) to actually working to influence engagement and drive behaviour (traffic, purchase, advocacy and loyalty).

This shift has been rapidly facilitated by specialist digital and social media agencies that are able to provide brands with the best of both worlds. On one hand, we’re able to leverage the latest technologies to better aggregate data (thereby ensuring that creative is supported by the latest real-time beliefs of actual end-user customers), and on the other, execute far more targeted and precise advertising (faster, cheaper, and more rigorously than traditional advertising firms). 

Of all the campaigns I’ve monitored across the past several months, there are two that brilliantly demonstrate the power of this model. The first is the Grand Prix Award winning campaign launched by Oreo last year, which captures what is a growing movement across marketing and communications divisions to a real-time-performance-based publishing model, where all branded content, across channels, is topically related to what is most important to your audience. (You can find a synopsis of that campaign here.) While that is a model requiring significant coordination and commitment between the agencies and the brand, it is something we are certain to see more of across 2014. 

The second is a current campaign being run by chip-brand Doritos. In what is a first for the brand – and very clearly epitomises how social media is front and centre in a changing media landscape – Doritos is actually crowdsourcing the advertisement it intends to air during the mother of all professional sporting events, the SuperBowl. 

It has managed to completely crowdsource the entire campaign, across several social platforms, by incentivising fans to create branded content with a chance at winning $1m (a lot less than they would have paid its creative agency). At the time of writing, an Aussie ad is leading the way with over 2.3 million views online. You can take a peek at the “Finger Cleaner” ad here.

I’m looking forward to seeing which ad wins, and to watching it air during the SuperBowl knowing that most of the marketing people watching along will be thinking to themselves ‘why couldn’t we have thought of that first?’.

So, while fortune truly follows the bold, in today’s world, innovation is the mother of learning.

Yianni Konstantopoulos is the group managing director of Social@Ogilvy. 

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