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.
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.