Words by Business Director, Jake Mackay. Jake has been part of Whalar since its genesis. Having previously worked in finance, he has since thrown himself into the world of digital marketing, working out of both our New York and London offices.
Humanity possesses a proclivity to order. Defining and categorising. Perpetually fighting against the inherent entropy, this compulsion helps give us a temporary sense of clarity and purpose in an otherwise random and chaotic existence.
Concepts, objects and people are easier to understand if we define and order them, and frankly it would be hard to get anything done at scale without doing so. It also appeals to our tribal and social instincts: I’m this type of person, or with that group; I support that team etc. (Influencing one another to move amongst these different categories is an art to be discussed another day).
The structure of the advertising industry is a perfect example of our need for order. Formalising and valuing creative communications for public market investors in the late 1980s (the creation of the ‘holding model’, which is still just about de rigueur), required categorisation par excellence. A giant financial conglomerate constructed to allow us to paint pictures and tell stories, but safely encircled by the rigours of balance sheets and cash flow statements. A wealth creation engine for another classification – shareholders.
Of course, all structures degrade. Their usefulness is finite. In a Universe composed of a succession of events, structures exist in a fleeting moment in which they gain a purpose. And whilst the clarity provided by rigidity can be appealing, it lacks the flexibility to cope with the shock of sudden change. Whether a wrought-iron bridge across a river, or an entire industry, unexpected shocks can bring them down in a relative instant.
It is not my intention to illustrate a dystopian future - or needlessly criticise what has been a very successful model for years - but simply to highlight that through technology (and specifically social media) the way we create, consume and communicate has irrevocably changed. Yet our industry still talks about creative, media and PR as if they exist neatly and conveniently on their own line in a spreadsheet. For some they probably still do.
A derivative of social media, influencer marketing, is – to use these traditional categories – creative, media and PR rolled in to one. However, these distinctions were devised and honed in a far simpler time, and it is a fool’s errand to attempt to categorically untangle them. Yet, I am continually asked to – to value the creative asset, or split out the media, “and what about the PR?”.
We are applying archaic definitions to a more advanced phenomena in a desperate attempt to understand. And it is only when we shift the lens through which we view the world - from one designed to satisfy past needs to one suited to an entirely different practice - that we will truly gain clarity and perspective.
Influencer marketing is far more than just the numbers, far more even than great work and inspiring experiences. It’s an advanced form of communication, and the smartest brands are not just embracing it but putting it front and centre of their ongoing business strategies. Why wouldn’t you? Your own customers are now on hand to collaborate with concepting, designing, communicating and feeding back on your products, services and creative aspirations.
Sure, we have work to do to improve the quality and validity of content over chasing social metrics, as our CEO Neil Waller alluded to in response to Keith Weed’s announcement on axing fake followers during Cannes 2018. But show me any emerging market that hasn’t experienced challenges in overcoming the chaos. This is not a trend, it is a universal shift, and we’re only just getting started in harnessing its power.
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