Lean Advertising & The Age of Disruption
“Advertising is immoral, not because it is inherently insincere, manipulative, and intrusive, but because it is inefficient.” -James Oyle, Advertising Director
Advertising is about ideas. Ideas produce stories that are communicated to evoke emotions. Brand stories connect to the value systems of its target audience, producing action. Now these ideas have a much greater chance of being lost in the noise. Wasteful advertising has added a layer of media pollution that is degrading society. Despite the technological advances and proliferation of new advertising mediums in the last century, advertising has not become more efficient. It has actually become emptier, and fails to educe a meaningful emotional response in the hearts and minds of its public. Today brand messages are often watered down and pushed through every conceivable media, washing everyone with worthlessness.
A brand story can no longer be forced onto the public. Rather, the story needs to be enabled and expanded by its champions. There can no longer be one big idea. A brand must have many small ideas that can be incubated in the hearts and minds of its public. Once an idea is accepted, or better yet co-created by the public advertisers, the agency can expand on the story it creates.
Age of Disruption
We live in the age of disruption. In the last five years we have seen giant companies topple at a rate never before seen in our country’s history. One-time juggernauts of industry have been humbled, while unsuspecting start-ups have transformed the marketplace. Because of this disruption the advertising landscape needs to change.
In the age of disruption a brand idea needs to be lean and agile. It needs to be able to morph into reality, instead of the traditional way of pushing lies and half-truths out on a mass scale, hoping the assault produces a positive R.O.I.
The “full-service” advertising agency is becoming less desirable in the age of disruption. Many specialized firms are rising to favor because they are able to execute much more efficiently on a tight budget.
“Full-service” agencies’ value proposition has been that they can execute a client’s message through every conceivable medium. This spray and pray technique has wasted billions of dollars on useless waste. Big agencies pile on costs that provide little or even negative value to its clients. Brands do not need to exhaust every imaginable medium to achieve market penetration. The problem is that the agency is too protective of its own interests, and too lazy to do sufficient tests before they saturate the market.
“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” -John Wanamaker, department store merchant (1838 – 1922)
With the democratization of media, anyone has the opportunity to tell their story to a large audience. If a brand story is not effectively executed, tested and reiterated it will fall way beyond its potential, no matter the budget.
The world has changed, and consumers have changed with it. People are more informed, have less time, and have different value structures. Often the new consumer is initiating the communication process with a brand. A brand that has a great message will see its message championed by its users. A brand that produces a poor message will see the damage it has caused to its consumer relationship, which cannot be repaired with more advertising. This was true of the past; only now consumers can share and find information much faster than ever before.
The Lean Movement & Advertising
The foundation for the lean movement was formed by Toyota’s lean product development system. Toyota’s processes produced extraordinary results at relatively small costs. Toyota was so successful that the practices were quickly introduced in US manufacturing. The Lean movement was then brought to the start-up community of Silicon Valley, the heart of innovation in the United States. The key principles of the lean movement helped entrepreneurs quickly and inexpensively develop products and services people wanted. This was done through building rapid prototypes and testing it in the marketplace to reach “product/market fit.” The “Lean Start-up Movement” was popularized by Eric Ries’ book, The Lean Startup. In the book Ries introduces the concept of an iterative approach to building a business. It begins with start-ups identifying its “minimum viable product,” or “MVP,” which is the core of the product. The MVP is introduced to the market as quickly as possible to gather feedback from its customers. The start-up then learns what is working and what is not. It continues to go through this “build-measure-learn feedback loop” to deliver a product that has an optimized market fit. The start-up continues this process to form a repeatable and scalable business model.
Advertising agencies could benefit greatly from the lean movement. With lean practices applied, advertising campaigns will be executed faster, effectively tested, and continuously reiterated to efficiently optimize its advertising/market fit. Campaigns will start off as tests to see which media and messaging resonate with its customer archetype. Then the agency will direct more of its budget toward the media and messaging that are working, while conducting follow up tests. Instead of implementing a big strategic advertising plan the lean agency will break the budget into small pieces so it can test various ideas at a time.
Applying this scientific approach to advertising should not take away from the creative process. The creative model will stay the same. It is the implementation that will change to better validate the creative idea.
If the advertising industry fails to adopt Lean processes it will become obsolete in the age of disruption. The agencies that incorporate lean methodology and go through a build-measure-learn feedback loop will become the industry leaders. Lean advertising will not only strengthen agencies and brands, but will reduce the marketing pollution that plagues our society. Imagine a world where ads are so effectively targeted that only the potential customer would see it. Brand messages would reflect real values and bring out the best in people who align themselves with a particular product or service. There is a new consumer utopia just around the corner. It’s time for agencies to stop the media carpet-bombing and get lean!
What do you think?