The Culture Clash: Social Media in the agency world

I do a night class on Digital Strategy and we did a discussion last evening on Social Media. It struck me how many of the solutions proposed were so traditional, ok granted I have only just introduced the topic of Social Media and many have been working in the agency world. I told the story to the class of a major FMCG company whose marketing director has said that they think social media is dangerous because people can talk about you. I find that such an “interesting” comment

I also picked up Jason Falls‘ post on social media explorer Advertising Agencies And Social Media: A Culture Clash last night and I think that he is right. There is such ingrained thinking in marketing and advertising circles that its really hard to change.

There is a tactical problem because social media fits into the agency business model with difficulty. There is also a significant philosophical issue and to quote Jason Falls “Social media is, in many ways, the antithesis of advertising. Advertising is one-way communications aimed at large groups of consumers. Social media is two-way communications that requires listening as well as speaking. It can also be said that social media is a multiple-way communications method as brands can speak and listen, but also watch other consumers talk to each other.”

After my talk at the TEDx event last Friday a young strat planner intern from a  major agency came up to me and asked me how we were going to change peoples thinking. Wow its going to take time and maybe many just wont change because its just so different.

Maybe the change in thinking will come from people like those in my Digital Strategy class but also when brands and agencies realise that their customers are already participating in social media, even if they aren’t.

Photo Source: Flickr Author: Darwin Bell: License:
Posted on September 22, 2009 at 7:18 am by Walter Pike · Permalink
In: Advertising, Marketing, social media · Tagged with: , , , ,
  • Michael

    I have a sadder one: The global Creative Director of a massive agency currently involved in a global pitch on on a major French auto brand sent a directive to all the local agency offices around the world: NO DIGITAL ALLOWED. The excuse, you see, is that Acme Auto is “scared of digital” – the one thing left that agencies might still be good at, was “challenging their clients” – it seems that in its death throes, Advertising has decided to bend down completely and agree with clients on the most fundamentally incorrect of grounds. These types actually deserve each other – it will help speed up the natural selection and remove these blinkered stubborn mules from the playing field.
    and with it, their incompetence, ineptitude and myopia.
    Be kind and lead the masses – they need it. But global business and opinion leaders? Off with their head, before we catch whatever they have.

    • Walter Pike

      You raise some great points here.

      I suppose money talks – the agency may win the pitch but its not helping the client. I think that agencies have in many cases lost the respect of the client by this behavior, once agencies had a consulting role – now in many cases they are the purveyors of pretty pictures only.

      I remember a time when I was in an agency being invited to PE to work in product development workshops on a car brand, I actually devised the entire nomenclature system for a car range once.

      They respected us as business advisers then.

      I remember too being told by a marketing director that I was not to work on his business because I questioned a new product go to market plan and told him that they hadn't done their homework.

      It was only a partial victory when this hair care product failed withing 6 months.

      I will expand in another blog post later how I think the business needs change.

  • mattvisser

    Nice post, thanks. You would think that with Youtube stars (or whatever meme you like) sometimes capable of dominating the online attention economy and with the amount of time consumers are known to spend online, that most bigger agencies would be scrambling to get into 'social media'.

    The reality is that they still make a lot more money printing 1 million on-con kits that include all sorts of P.O.S material. Besides which, the on-con kits aren't going to facilitate a debate about whether their RTD (ready-to-drink) really is the most refreshing or if it actually might cause blindness. I'd be pretty scared too if I had never heard anyone talk back to me and now not only were they talking back, but they're doing it in public and everybody's watching..

    (You mean they could actually see through the advertising? But we had real fake models pretending to like it!! Make the logo bigger so they know we're serious players in this market)

    It'll change, but it'll take time, hopefully your class can help because sometimes its so frustrating.

    • Walter Pike

      The penny that has not yet dropped is that because information flows have changed so has the power of one way broad cast media. consumers get information from multiple sources.

      Its not the talking back either, its that they talk to each other.

  • arthurficial

    So this begs the question: “How do you manage to straddle the line between advertising and emarketing with no hiccups?

    It's interesting that you are the “other” author of a post like this Walter. I was also reading Jason's post late last night, and whilst commenting and asking him how he knows so much about the ad industry, I thought of you, your position within AAA and what you're currently doing.

    This stirs up what could be a very interesting debate around whether we try and change things from the inside – like you are doing. Or whether we set up mutually exclusive emarketing agencies, associations, award shows etc. that deals strictly with the digital channels, mediums and platforms.

    I mention this in a comment on Jason's post as well. Textbook education is an open mind killer. It inculcates in you “the way” things are done and blinds you to doing it any other way. This is also why – sometime in March – I asked you why a course in digital marketing cannot be facilitated via the digital channels and in the digital space. The advertising industry has come to rely heavily on textbook theories and laws and structuredness. The results. If it's not in a text book or a syllabus – it's not on. And to date there is no text book that spells out exactly “how” to do social media in only one particular way – successfully. In fact the ever evolving nature of “this thing” dictates that the very first textbook published will be outdated before it's on shelves (which is how Rob Stokes is now on a second edition of his emarketing textbook.. my guess is the 3rd edition is in the works)

    So do you then engage the ad industry and try to get them to assimilate “what we do” as part of “what they do”, or do we just go ahead and do what we do.. leave them guessing.. and continue to pray that someday they'll get it?

    • Walter Pike

      Arthur once again an interesting series of comments:

      I honestly believe that its not about channels, digital versus legacy.

      Its about customers, the future of marketing communication will be the integration of channels, and a focus on the customer interface – this is where the brand is built. This also means that organisations will need to empower employees to deliver a different quality of experience (I don't mean with a website I mean with the product or service)

      And you are both right and wrong about the text books on social media. No books about how to use social media per se but lots about social dynamics, and in social media we are mapping human relationships and interaction.

      We also forget that marketing as a discipline was only invented in the 1960's and describes the mass marketing paradigm, really its about how to use television. The text books were written for that.

      To be honest I don't care whether the agencies change or not, out of change comes opportunity, and those who don't see what is happening will merely fall into the tar pit with the rest of the dinosaurs – this philosophy is following a “classic life cycle” the early adopters are already in the game.

      Remember that although I have been and around this business my entire life, I have only been in the “academic” space for a year.

      As regards the digital academy – watch this space.