Want to Restore Marketers' Faith? Embrace Agnosticism

Agencies Need to Stop Talking 'Integration' and Really Give Clients a Silo-Busting Solution

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Just because a campaign is integrated doesn't make it right.
Ad Age Editor Jonah Bloom | ALSO: Comment on this column in the 'Your Opinion' box below.
Ad Age Editor Jonah Bloom | ALSO: Comment on this column in the 'Your Opinion' box below.


Today's marketing world is lousy with integration. You name the agency and it's gone from doing whatever it was it did best to touting an integrated offering. You call the media owner and someone will come 'round and take you through a PowerPoint on its integrated-marketing solutions. You ask the marketers -- as the ANA did this March -- and you'll find that they cite "integrated-marketing communications" as the No. 1 issue that "directly affects their marketing decisions and plans."

Of course, it's an important issue. But only if you mean integration in the sense of breaking down the silos in marketing organizations to structurally align research, innovation, product development, digital strategy, e-commerce, CRM, sales, service, corporate communications and the traditional marketing disciplines (advertising, promotions, direct and so on). But in the majority of cases, that's not what they mean. By "integrating" they usually mean they're going to execute an ad-centric campaign that ticks multiple media boxes.

Ticking a bunch of media boxes because it will qualify a campaign as "integrated" is almost as redundant an approach as the old "The answer is TV; now what's the question?" What marketers, their agencies and the media owners who aggregate specific consumer groups for them should be doing is coming up with the right solutions rather than committing the marketers' money to multiple channels because that is à la mode. The buzzword shouldn't be "integrated"; it should be "agnostic."

In the past few weeks, I've canvassed a handful of marketers and search consultants who help marketers find agencies. My (statistically meaningless) sample of interviewees agreed it's impossible for most marketers to trust that their agencies are giving them the right answer. "They say they cover all the bases in the pitch, but clients are worried that when push comes to shove, they'll direct them down the road that fits their business model," said one consultant.

At the recent Federated Media's Conversational Marketing Summit, Casey Jones, VP-marketing at the currently in-review Dell, said agencies give no more than lip service to wanting to be partners, and although he's put out a "request for solution," and wants totally agnostic thinking, they still think in traditional RFP terms. "If I have a marketing problem and say 'What do I do?' an ad agency says 'Advertise'; a PR agency says 'PR.'"

While many agencies and media owners have worked out ways to offer multimedia and occasionally even multidiscipline solutions, it's noticeable that almost every "idea" they come up with manifests itself in some form of traditional, billable, ads-adjacent-to-content marketing.

If influencers stop buying bottled water because it's environmentally unfriendly, the right answer for Group Danone might be to start designing and marketing Evian-branded containers for carrying tap water. The right answer for Starbucks as it struggles to maintain expansion rates in the U.S. might be a partnership with a homelessness organization to create a subsidiary that sells Starbucks' coffee from carts on street corners and benefits the homeless vendors, Starbucks' bottom-line and people like me who are fed up waiting for some slow dude to decide whether he wants to frap his uccino.

But I'd bet my caffeine allowance that most agencies asked to solve Group Danone's or Starbucks' problems would offer some sort of messaging and a proposal to get that message out via a few well-chosen media. Of course, it'd be proffered as an idea that translates into an integrated campaign, and just maybe it'd be the right solution, too. But not because it ticked a bunch of media boxes.
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