Bob Greenberg’s “Apps Not Ads” Philosophy Applies Far Beyond Technology Platforms…

A week ago, Adweek named R/GA their Digital Agency of the year for 2008.  In the past ten years, few saw the sea changes coming to our industry like Bob Greenberg.  So he harangued clients, award show juries, the media–basically anyone he could buttonhole–with his zealot’s vision of a vastly altered communications landscape.  And today we’re living it.  Nice job Bob.

Adweek's Digital AOY.  Again.
Adweek's Digital AOY. Again.

But the thinking behind his shop’s “Apps not Ads” philosophy is nicer still.  In R/GA’s opinion, disruptive marketing techniques don’t work, so they strive to direct their technology in helpful and useful ways, to create positive branded experiences.  In a cluttered world of parity brands, that idea makes a ton of sense.

But this thinking should not be limited to technology.  Social media, microsites, events, sampling, even the humble recipe print ad: all sorts of marketing tools and techniques can provide tremendous opportunities to engage consumers less by being intrusive and more by being helpful.  Thinking creatively, we can bring usefulness and meaningful value to our communications by carefully considering their context and content.

In these times when advertisers no longer control the brand story…  When web 2.0 empowers consumers to share their version of the story…  When social networks enable those consumer stories to spread swiftly, far and wide…  We need to rethink our assumptions about effective messages.   We need to imagine ideas beyond an interruptive, attention-demanding context to a polar-opposite POV: empathy.

But not just empathy, radically-immersive empathy.  We need to get inside our customer’s lives and schedules and values to really understand their needs and wishes. Because the more we can empathize, the more we can innovate ways to intersect their lives with positive, meaningful and memorable brand experiences.

Radical empathy well might be the new creative frontier.  At least, I think so, even if that hasn’t always been valued as a creative strength.  And so I imagine, much like Bob Greenberg back when people like me knew R/GA only as that movie title company, I could well be talking to myself for a while…

But hopefully, it will start making sense before too long.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

5 thoughts on “Bob Greenberg’s “Apps Not Ads” Philosophy Applies Far Beyond Technology Platforms…

  1. Mike D says:

    It’s obviously an oversimplification, but I think it often comes down to moving from talking “to” people, to talking “with” people. I think framing it that way helps shift the way you see things.

  2. TLC says:

    I love the notion of helping people out with their lives through advertising, but to me the notion of getting inside our customers lives, schedules and values sounds too intrusive.

    Walking down a sidewalk this morning and observing what was around me I came to the realization that most people out there don’t want to be “engaged.” Hell most will look anywhere just to avoid eye contact.

    I think advertisers are overlooking the obvious majority of people out there who can’t stand the sight of their logos and can’t stomach another “app” that often amounts to little more than a pinball game with a Snickers sign-off. We’re seeing too much of the same in the promising new medium of social networking. Same tepid Domino’s pizza. Different delivery guy. And people can see right through it.

    I think the question has become “How do we persuade people who have become so sick of being persuaded?” I don’t know the exact answer but I suspect it can, as always, be found in honesty and entertainment value. That’s still giving someone something – still adds something. Maybe even more so these days.

    1. dennisr61684 says:

      Fair point Taylor and if my admonishment came off as some kind of government eavesdropping suggestion, then that was clearly a boo-boo. My intention is that we identify and empathize; we put ourselves in him or her shoes and try to think how we can help. Where we can help. What we can do to associate our brand with a positive experience in our consumer’s life.
      And the reason to do that would be it’s the only meaningful way to reach those who, as you so rightly put it, “…have become so sick of being persuaded.” And honesty and authenticity is the best start.
      Hope you’re well brother…

  3. Mike D says:

    To build on what dennis is saying, and what I cheesily/poorly/clichéadly (new word, you’re welcome) said before, I think part of the problem is looking at it as persuading people at all.

    The sole purpose of any product or service, from BMWs to Butt Paste, is to enhance its purchaser’s life. If the brand can manage to do that every time it touches that consumer (in a completely non-sexual way… I took the training course), it’s going to be more successful.

    Now, obviously what that means will vary greatly from brand to brand. In some cases simply being entertaining does the trick, for others a more illegally invasive empathy is required. But in general, and I think Taylor you’d agree, if you’re not making people’s lives better you’re making them worse.

    Also, Florida sucks.

  4. Leo Ryan says:

    I’ve been having a good long hard think about this as there’s something in both Greenberg’s rejection of the narrative form and his adaption of technology that really appeals to me. Working in the tentatively corralled area of ‘social media’ ideas of brand utility are really taking hold and it seems to me that rather than taking the idea to a broader set of environments we need to really examine the potential of technology to be a platform for brand values:

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