Why I’m betting my money on small creative agencies to thrive in this digital age?

I recently outsourced my brain to a creative agency as the other parts of my body were busy rebuilding a house. It was an ad-hoc request to create a pitch for a well-known banking brand. Whether I could come up with a creative communications campaign based on a humdrum client briefing. Turned out I could. Turned out this is what a creative director does: A strategic and creative answer to a dull briefing. If you want to see the pitch slide deck, drop me a line.

This whole project got me thinking tough. On the role and type of agencies we have today. And which ones we will have tomorrow, or even the day after tomorrow. Contrary to current popular believe, I’m going all-in for the creative agencies. I’m pleased to detail my reasoning further below.

In 2017: Digital is basic by now.

I’m amazed that digital marketing is still a thing. It’s 2017. Digital is like electricity, it’s just basic. Everybody does it. Maybe it’s time to drop the term digital as such.

Back in 2006 when I started, digital (online) marketing was a true differentiator. Today, it’s not. It even might be the hardest way to catch the consumer’s increasingly selective (digital) attention.

Today, there is also the growing understanding that overall customer experience is the key differentiator that can make or break brand success. Back-to-basics, isn’t it?

Sure marketers need to drive tangible, data-driven results – something consultancy firms are traditionally good at. However agencies and/or in-house marketing teams have (or should have) those skills as well today.

But, the big, creative ideas are more necessary than ever for brands in search of the ultimate experience. Even, or should I say especially, in a digital space and age.

The big, creative ideas, concepts and stories are the key asset of a creative (ad) agency. And those things aren’t time-specific. Stories and creativity are for eternity.

In eternity: creativity & stories are channel-agnostic.

The core relevant ideas/concepts/creativity are just as relevant for any channel. That’s basically the adagio we’ve known for ages – integrated communications. Back-to-basics. Again.

We can finally make that happen. Over numerous channels. A unified, seamless experience. Some channels are fully traceable today, others will be soon. And that’s exactly where data comes in. But be aware, there isn’t gonna be a lot of (big) data when there’s no big story that resonates and draws the attention of many.

Data is important and it is at client’s side.

No single creative ad ever came out of the blue. It was always driven by insights. By understanding. By empathy with the “target audience” the message was meant for.

In today’s digital age, there’s of course the digital data trace of human behavior that lead to great insights and understanding. It’s a completely new game due to data science. But then again, doing something relevant based on these insights requires creativity.

What’s even more, the data is owned by the agency’s client. One can imagine that privacy may be of importance so it seems natural that agencies will also need to service at client’s side. Let’s say like martech companies do today. Marketing tech companies help marketers manage data, loyalty and CRM programs.

Next to this data thing, there’s another trend that “design” or “creativity” evolve into key hires at the client side. And we agree, those things really give a competitive advantage. But I believe it will not replace the creative agency – rather act as a bridge.

Where data meets creativity, innovation spurs.

We talked above about data and creativity. I firmly believe this is exactly where innovation happens. At the intersection of data and innovation.

And oh yes, innovation is the thing of a creative agency. No longer is advertising necessarily the best manifestation of creativity. Marketers are now looking towards innovation and effectiveness in terms of brand-experience. For the agencies, this is gold.

Agencies have a perfect position to foster innovation based on dull client requests. Due to creativity within a specific context (data). So agencies should not only conceive a new label on a package, they should conceive an innovative package for instance.

The great rebundling of “expertises” to offer full-fledged customer experiences.

With the above trends in mind, how does a successful marketing communication service provider of the future look like?

A one-stop shop that provides companies with all the support they need to deliver relevant, exciting experiences across all consumer touch points.

Companies need a streamlined, end-to-end solution to push creative thinking to the forefront. It doesn’t make sense to get business strategy advice from one firm and creative input from another—especially if the creative agency doesn’t understand how the company’s business works or how industry trends are impacting its bottom line.

Just as consulting improves the quality of creative work, consulting work benefits from the ingenuity provided by creatives. There’s going to be a blurred line between the folks who create amazing original content and big ideas and the more nerdy specialists that do all that personalization “data” and “tech”. People who understand data and omni-channel ultimately become the most responsible in this respect. 

As clients demand newly bundled support across commerce, digital content and media distribution, agencies transform to meet the challenge, investing in consulting and tech. At the same time non-agency players are getting their way into the marketing services industry. The threat of new competition lures behind the corner too: media owners/publishers & wide range of ‘consultancies’. 

I imagine creative agencies will get smaller. The big idea doesn’t benefit from size. It flourishes in small cultures. What doesn’t get much smaller, beyond the roles that can be automated in time, is the data and analytics business that drives personalization

That’s exactly why I’m betting on small creative agencies to remain the marketing service provider of the future. 

Is “push to add drama” truly the best ad? Yes, for the agency.

Do you remember how TNT Benelux launched?
Odds are high you don’t even know what I’m talking about… (based on small-scale research, see below).

But if I’d ask you whether you recall a really cool video starring a big, red button in the middle of a town square – flanked with a sign that said “push to add drama”, chances are high you know what I’m talking about…
(based on small-scale research, see below).

The Best Ad in the World

Do I love the ad? Hell yeah!
Do I believe this is the best ad in the world? Hell no!

Why it isn’t the best advert in the world

To determine whether a specific ad is good or not, one has to look at the goals that were set before the advert was made. I have to be honest here, I don’t know the advertiser’s goals. But I believe they can be one or more of the following:

  • Awareness of the Brand TNT – it was a product launch after all
  • Drive ratings for the TV Channel – which impacts the bottom line of TNT
  • Brand building: make TNT’s identity
  • Other goals?

So in the last couple of weeks I ran an experiment to know whether this great concept also proved to be the best ad ever made (as I read somewhere). And once again, I need to be honest. The hypothesis I was looking to back up through research was:

“Push to add drama is the best ad for the agency that made it.”

Experiment Design

The experiment design consisted of two groups:

  • People within the Marketing, Communication, Ad industry
  • People outside of that industry

Next to that, the experiment asked whether they knew the brand for whom this video was made (in 2 distinctive manners) and whether they have been watching TNT Benelux so far. Hence the questions after viewing the movie:

  • For which brand is this video made?
  • For which newly launched TV station this video was aired? Tip: logistics, explosives.
  • Have you watched TNT Benelux?

Experiment Results

Experiment results

Experiment results


Experiment conclusion?

In general people don’t recall the brand promoted through the viral video. Even when I provided extra tips to them: “explosives (=TNT)” & “logistics (=TNT)”. Consequently it shouldn’t surprise that only 1 out of 35 respondents watched the channel. Within my respondents nobody went to see the website of TNT Benelux.

Well done Agency!

The most striking thing however is that the “Marketing, Communication, Advertising Group” of respondents basically all knew which agency made this ad / viral movie. And today, they’re all dreaming about a collaboration with that agency. It was the best ad in the world. For the agency that is.

What’s your view on viral advertising by the way?

Samson meets F.C. De Kampioenen. Storytelling for Flemish brains?

I recently came across the below YouTube video. It mixes two of the most popular Flemish TV shows ever – F.C. De Kampioenen and Samson & Gert – into a video clip for the latter show. It got me thinking.

Could it be that there’s something like a narrative format that pleases Flemish brains? What constitutes those success factors? And did Bart De Wever – a nationalist populist politician – crack that same code to win elections?

So to answer the questions from the introduction, I strongly recommend to have a look at the above video after which we present some background on Belgium and the TV shows in particular.

Background: Belgium & Broadcasters

Belgium at a glance.

Belgium at a glance.

Belgium. One of the planet’s most difficult, absurd and surreal countries. Yes, we excel in chocolate, beers and waffles. And that’s a good thing. But apart from that we organized our country into distinct regions like a French-speaking part called Wallonia, a Dutch-speaking part known as Flanders and a mixed region known as Brussels.

There’s something remarkable about Flanders and its most popular TV shows.

Successful TV Shows on Public Broadcasting TV

The Belgian broadcasting landscape is organized along the same lines of the country. That is to say, TV is organized and managed by the regional governments. In case of Flanders, the Flemish government takes care of the media landscape. That landscape is a mixture of public broadcasters and commercial broadcasters. It’s important to realize that the public broadcasting service is quite popular up until recent changes in the media landscape.

What’s striking however is that this public broadcaster often airs the same shows. This allows them to recycle content without investing in the production of new shows. Equally important is to point out the fact that the ratings for these shows remain impressively high.

Over the last 20 years there have been two remarkable TV Shows. Those were so brilliant that they were aired year after year.

Flemish TV Shows as a cultural meme?

During my entire lifetime there seem to be two extremely successful TV-shows, one for ‘adults’ and one for ‘kids’. I’m respectively talking about ‘F.C. De Kampioenen’ and ‘Samson & Gert’. Both have been aired and recycled year after year that an entire generation of Flemish people actually knows these stories as if they were a cultural meme. Hey, I believe today they actually are one.

But why exactly are these shows that popular? I believe one needs to find the answer by looking at both shows. For me, it’s quite clear that both shows draw upon the same principle. The way the narrative is structured and told is the same. The only thing that differs between both shows is in fact that the one is for adults and the other one is for kids. In practice, it comes down to a family wide social TV watching experience.

The Flemish brain?

Why do these stories appeal the Flemish people that much? And why don’t these stories appeal to the Dutch-speaking neighbouring country ‘The Netherlands’? Yes, we tried to export both shows. The one for kids worked fine but wasn’t as big in the Netherlands as it was in Flanders. The TV show for adults was a complete disaster: Dutch people did not like it at all. Was it our humor? Or is there something more at stake here?

I believe that the TV shows are popular just because of the way the story is told. The stories are wired for a Flemish brain. The only thing I need to find is a method to analyze stories so to check whether this hypothesis is valid anyway.

How to analyze TV Shows as a story?

In order to find the “success narrative elements for Flemish brains” I’d like to analyze loads of the shows of both series and consequently compare both series to one another. The final goal is to demonstrate that both shows act on the same storytelling principles. Principles that are particularly appealing to Flemish people.

Until today however, I’m having some issues developing the right analytical frame to execute a proper content analysis. I would truly appreciate your help. Do you know any studies that have analyzed the narrative as such?

Content Analysis Framework to discover the narrative

In order to demonstrate that both shows rely on the same narrative principles, I’m looking to develop a framework for content analysis so to test my gut feeling. The below information from Dr. Chris Griffin seems a good starting point.

narrative analysis

narrative analysis

Has Bart De Wever cracked the code?

We recently held local elections, as my earlier article demonstrates. And regardless of the fact that they were on regional level, Bart De Wever was able to take it to higher levels. He had to anyway, otherwise his “story” wouldn’t have made any sense.

Bart De Wever, N-VA

Bart De Wever, N-VA

But now that we touch upon the story-aspect. Is the political success of Bart De Wever related to his storytelling tactics? Does he deploy the same techniques that F.C. De Kampioenen and Samson & Gert stories do? I believe he might have. What he certainly does is simplifying reality. This has been proven in a Ph.D. “N-VA. Analysis of an ideology.” that states “the party reduces democracy to a temporary dictatorship – meaning: the ones who won the elections are the only ones that can actually reign. In their story they are the only valid voice of Flanders. And this story is often repeated in media outlets: N-VA and especially Bart De Wever are the personification of the moral community of the “Flemish people”.

What else could explain “Flanders Only” popularity?

Pleading for the Elimination of Social Media from our Dictionary.

Social Media is a hot topic nowadays. Maybe it’s even too hot. Every single one is talking about it: from marketer over IT manager to adolescents. And yes, sometimes people ask me: “what do you think about social media?”. As from today, I will reply those people by saying something like: “well, actually, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Social Media is not in my dictionary. I can say a thing or two about social. Or even about media. But I don’t speak about social media.” Below is why.

Social Media as a term is framing the whole thing in a false matter.

Toffler, Third Wave, 1980.

Toffler, Third Wave, 1980.

Social Media is an all-encompassing term. It points to digital platforms in which the users are responsible for the content – without any or minimal intervention of an editorial team.

Looking at the very concept from this media-centric perspective results in a very narrow view on the nature of what we are experiencing. Social media are a lot more than a bunch of media. It’s a profound change in society. The drastic impact is brilliantly envisioned by a guy named Alvin Toffler. And he already forecasted this back in 1980. Waw!

Toffler, Third Wave, 1980.

Toffler, Third Wave, 1980.

Social is change.

As Toffler’s quotes made clear: Social isn’t just an innovative medium that continues along the lines of previous “old” ones. When Toffler speaks about an altered info-sphere and a “Source” organizing people around shared interests in communities, one instantly thinks about the so-called social media we know today.

My Twitter account is a very good example of this altered info-sphere. It’s constructed as the best-in-class virtual professor. It’s build for personal development. It’s constructed to learn. It also acts as a networking platform but that’s beyond the scope of this article.

Structural Change on Multiple Levels

Social brings along structural change on several levels of society: personal, business, Ngo’s, governments, etc. all are to transform into something social. The position of the (social) media (platforms) is just to ease this change. It’s not about technology. It’s more about change and (re-)integrate social into the world.

How and where is “social change”? And what are its main challenges for “adoption”?

Social Media is Change.

Social Media is Change. Change has a challenge.

Music Maestro! Shantel & FIHP to spark off Whispering Web TV.

Closing Summer with a Big Party

At the end of this summer I decided to take some time off and just enjoy myself with some spare time. After all, it was summer and I didn’t take a break from work. What’s more, I still didn’t up until now. However, I’m quite convinced though that I’ll take my lazy ass to a beach in October. Plenty of places in the world still offering summer in October: Egypt, Thailand, Indonesia, …

FIHP & Shantel

One of the best experiences in my summer was the concert and performance from Shantel at FIHP.

Because I spend an excellent time and just like music really much, I want to share My experience with you. Hence I made a little video. And while producing that video, I came up with the idea to start my very own TV Channel.

Shantel to spark off Whispering Web TV! Yes, I might do videologs now to tell a story instead of writing it down. Yes, I might record cool keynotes on public events and share them on the Whispering Web TV Channel. Stay tuned!

Crises, Rebels, Journalists & Bloggers. On labels & labeling.

TV News

TV News

I’m not that different from any human being on this planet. I also watch TV news bulletins almost everyday. Yes, it offers me a window to the world. It shows me what’s going on. However, I came to realize the news is a heavy filter. Time to pull up the shutters, it’s noon.

On Labels & Labeling.

Labeling is describing someone or something in a word or phrase. That specific word or phrase is consequently a “label”. Without going into details of labeling theory, it’s important to realize that the very act of labelling is necessary for communication. You have to give something a “name” (aka label) so to communicate about it right?

It’s logic that journalists deploy labels and labeling techniques. After all, they are all human beings. However, they are human beings with a dramatic impact on society. Their act of labeling impacts how most people on the globe think about and frame certain events, evolutions, etc.

Let’s demonstrate “labels and labeling” with 3 real-life examples.

Example 1: multiple labels for 1 phenomenon

Mortgage crisis, credit crunch, debt crisis, economic crisis, etc.

I guess you’re quite familiar with the above “labels” today, as they have been largely present since a couple of years in the news. What’s remarkably striking however is that these terms have been deployed consecutively, one by one, the one after the other. In this manner it seems as if we’re hit by multiple different crises. I believe this is not the fact. All labels in fact point to one deeper phenomenon: rectification of global power values.

Global Power Value Rectification

The concept of Global Power Value Rectification is not that easy to understand. Maybe that’s why journalists don’t use it to frame the crisis story. However, as a non-journalist, you have more time for interpretation and analysis. So why not try to explain this concept and consequently understand the framing of the different crises. I hope the below definition and graphics make clear what I label “Power Value Rectification”.

Global Power Value Rectification is:
a rectification process by which
a discrepancy between the Value in Reality and the Virtual Value
is manoeuvred away through crises.

Global powers - a reality check?

Global powers - a reality check?

Global Power - the virtual situation not aligned to reality?
Global Power Value Rectification as underlying phenomenon to frame the crisises.

Global Power Value Rectification as underlying phenomenon to frame the crisises.

Well, that should be about it for the first example of “journalistic labeling”.

What I’m trying to prove here is that all crisises are related and have a deeper reason: the change in global power. The crises are the process that rectify the difference between real and virtual value. There’s only a new name (label) to it because it happens at different structural levels that construct society. Once all structures have gone through their crisis, the deeper reason – rectify global power – is gone and consequently all crises, up until a new rectification is required.

This was a rather difficult example of journalistic labels, I know. But it was the starting point in my thinking on labels, so it’s a well-deserved first place. The next case should be easier to understand: the labeling of freedom fighters as “rebels” during the Arab Revolution.

Rebels Journalistic Framing - HLN.be (rebellen = rebels in Dutch)

Rebels Journalistic Framing - HLN.be (rebellen = rebels in Dutch)

Example 2: The label “Rebels” in Arab Revolution

You often hear about the “Rebels” fighting the Arab Revolution. Quite frankly, this is a pretty strange label. After all, these people are actually fighting for freedom. Labelling them freedom-fighters would make a difference. Why do you call them rebels? I happen to associate the label rebel with negative and bad feelings, while freedom-fighter suggests they are “rebelling for a cause”. What about you?

Example 3: The label “Journalist” and the label “Blogger”

Overlooking what’s being said above, one can state that journalists are still important to provide us a window to the world but that we should always keep in mind that they are also humans who use labels so to interpret, understand and communicate about the world. I believe there might be a role for additional interpretation from bloggers around the globe.

It might be note-worthy in this respect to relate this to the “blogger vs journalist debate”. A journalist is formally employed at a professional media organization whereas a blogger is a more ad-hoc individual initiative. As a result the blogger has more freedom, time, less pressure and is able to frame stories more in-depth. Or am I just completely wrong on this whole labeling issue?

I’m sorry not to auto-follow back on Twitter. On Twitter goals.

Auto-Follow on Twitter

Auto-Follow on Twitter

Please follow me back. Erm, nope, sorry.

You probably noticed it: your Twitter follower counter goes nuts on a daily basis. It’s quite remarkable how this number fluctuates massively. I guess we should all be pretty glad that stock exchanges are more stable. But why is it then that this number is so damn fickle?

Twitter: getting followers

I know, you want followers. And that’s quite logic since it doesn’t make any sense to spread messages through-out the real-time web without any human being (nor animal I believe) ever noticing your efforts. I don’t want to provide tips or guidelines to get followers here. But I do want to break down at least one strategy.

Auto-follow people who follow you

I noticed some people just assume that you follow back when they follow you. I have some issues with this approach.
Yes, it’s friendly. Yes, it’s social. But does it add any value?

Alternatives to your Auto-Follow strategy

If you want to be followed I recommend deploying other strategies, like sharing and spreading compelling content. Use hashtags to broaden your range. Some people look for new Twitter accounts via keywords / hashtags. If you pop up there, you might get a chance of being noticed … and followed as a consequence.

Another approach could be to not just ask for “follow me back” but to surprise the account by mentioning him/her in a creative, funny or clever way. Tickle me through an @-mention and the odds of getting followed rise dramatically!

Why I don’t auto-follow back? My Twitter Goal

I look at Twitter as an infosphere that I put together myself. Twitter is as my home-cooked first-class private teacher in Business and Marketing. I put a lot of effort in finding the right people to educate me, to follow. What’s more, it took me about a year to create a satisfying infostream. Yes, Twitter is full of crap. Finding the right people isn’t easy.

Without being rude, just adding people as a friendly gesture because they follow me, would just break down all my previous efforts.

Am I just a bastard? Checking who follows you takes time

I might sound like a bastard to you now. You might think I don’t appreciate your following. But of course I do! And I don’t want to be a bastard. Sincerely, I’m not. I just have a Twitter goal.

From time to time, I go through my follower base and look for people to connect with. Speaks for itself that those people do make a chance to become an essential part of my “virtual MBA Professor”. However, this takes some time. So if you’re waiting for a follow-back, please note that this can take up to 2 or 3 months as from the day you connected with me.

Follow on Twitter

Follow on Twitter

How do you use Twitter? What’s your goal?

It’s completely legal to disagree on the above thoughts. But that’s just the way I use Twitter. If you want to label me as a selfish bastard for using Twitter in this manner, please do so. And if you want to hit the “unfollow button”, do as you please, that’s legal as well. What’s more, I once was the “King of follow and unfollowing”. After all, I had to cook that teacher I was envisioning.

So, that’s about it. Don’t hesitate to “Follow or UnFollow” me on Twitter.
But what would be more of my interest: What’s your Twitter goal?

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