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April 4, 2008

Scott Knox : Integration vs Egotism

I’ve noticed a worrying trend among live brand agencies of late, and that is that some are trying to argue that live brand experience is superior to all other forms of marketing communications. This is, equally, an interesting and perplexing shift from 12 months ago, when the industry was focused on integration and actively demonstrating it’s worth.

While I agree that live brand experience needs to be taken much more seriously within the marketing community, and there needs to be greater financial allocation to working with the discipline, what I’m seeing and hearing from some agencies is that, far from looking towards an integrated approach, they are redefining experiential to encompass everything – everything you do online, everything you do in store, everything you do on TV.

This resonates uncomfortably with the die-hard advertising industry, which is trying to convince the world that everything is advertising regardless of whether it’s online or offline, an event or direct marketing. Their view is that it’s all advertising, anyway, so this is why advertising agencies should be handling it.

Drawn into the trap
I’m surprised, and saddened, that some live brand agencies are letting themselves be drawn into such an old and stupid debate. Yes, the marketplace is all about engagement, about touchpoints, about working with the consumer and about talking to consumer when they need to be talked to. It isn’t about saying that live brand agencies are going to rule the world. My concern is that the live brand agencies that are doing this could cause a lot of damage to the better agencies, the ones who are spending their time trying to understand all forms of live communications and ensure that the live brand element is absolutely linked with the brand ideology.

I have always firmly believed that the original idea can come from anywhere – from DM, from digital, from advertising, from brand experience – but there have been a lot of rumblings from the egotistical parts of live brand saying it’s all going to come from them and the rest of the marketing industry is dead. We’ve heard this before in the early nineties with digital, and by the end of the nineties we were seeing a massive dotcom burst. Have we leaned nothing?

While live brand experience has a necessary and important part to play, because it, more than any discipline, has grappled with the issues of consumer engagement and has also been at the forefront of dealing with metrics and evaluation, let’s not go over the top. The discipline is not going to be the be-all and end-all. If the agencies taking this standpoint are simply doing so because they don’t feel as though live brand experience is going up the agenda quickly enough within client organisation, and that by singing from the rafters they are somehow going to force the agenda, then fine. But my fear is that some of the industry players in question genuinely believe what they are saying.

Defining moment
I was recently interviewed for another publication and was told by them that my definition of experiential marketing was incorrect in comparison to some of the other descriptions that had been given. I was informed that experiential, in fact, meant everything, and it is now the new advertising. Let’s not overplay this, guys, you are a great industry and you’re showing signs of a maturity unheard of in any discipline, but just make sure your boots don’t get too big. You have a part to play, as do all the other disciplines.

It’s easy to ride on the crest of a wave, and live brand experience is currently doing very well, and more income is being directed towards it. However, agencies need to be mindful of the future and ensure they are as integrated as possible. That is not about saying that your agency is everything, it is about making sure that every live brand agency out there has an acute understanding of all the other marketing disciplines and how they can work together to produce excellent communications.

Scott Knox is managing director of the Marketing Communications Consultants Association

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