Nigel Morris at the World Economic Forum

Away From Financial Debates, Content a Dominating Theme

Day Three at Davos: Talk Stayed Clear of Disruption, Unless It Was About Martin and Maurice

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Nigel Morris
DAVOS, Switzerland ( -- Nigel Morris, CEO of Isobar, Aegis Media's global digital agency network, is attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, where the business elite gather annually to debate business, political and intellectual issues. This year, internet and technology and how they're changing marketing and communications are on the agenda, and Mr. Morris will be filing daily reports to

Today has another very interesting day. In the halls and corridors there obviously has been a bit of discussion about the rogue trader at Societe Generale that just added a bit more spice to the financial debates and perhaps made people even more sensitive about financial stability and controls.

And then there was the spat between Martin Sorrell and Maurice Levy over Publicis Groupe's Google partnership. All very entertaining stuff that seems to have amused a great deal of people -- it came up with probably a dozen client and agency people and all had a slightly different spin.

For all the entertainment, the chatter highlighted for most a very serious issue at the future of marketing: the impact of technology and data and the changing model. Google was seen as a disruptive power by everyone. When pressed, it really is because everybody felt they were being pushed in a direction faster than they wanted to go or they thought was good for their businesses. Some were more accepting that, on balance, that was a good thing and others felt more threatened. The big question is around the solutions: for clients, how to get the right advice to enable them to change effectively; for agencies, how to change the organizational, planning and business models. Even if they still haven't worked it out yet.

Reinforcing this, I had a great day again talking to people from entirely different industries and sectors about the problems they face. Everybody is very open but it is clear everybody is facing major issues in adapting to a networked digital world that needs a more sustainable business model. The struggle is that most industries have established supply-chain structures, some of them very embedded. These are being disrupted from two sides and require a new approach in how industry players work together. Everyone actually keeps bringing up the theme of the forum, "Collaborative Innovation." One person raised this and said the choice that everyone faced was between a new form of collaboration and partnership and Darwinism. He pondered and said he thought the choice would default to Darwinism.

This is no more true that in the converging world of advertising, content, communications and technology.

There have been a number of key industry sessions today that were absolutely fascinating but very much closed and off the record. Not great for giving you searing insights and gossip, but very good because people really spoke their minds.

I do, however, just want to give an impressionistic view of the overall themes.

Content was a dominating theme, especially how to protect the IP, how content translates from screen to screen and how it gets charged.

There was a great emphasis on the potential that mobile technologies have and the challenges the industry faces to make mobile easy to use for consumers, advertisers and agencies alike. Mobile perhaps is the ultimate category faced with over-complexity and in need of a different model of vertical collaboration to enable it to fulfill its potential. In that respect, there was almost universal support for the iPhone and its impact on consumers, the industry and content providers, who saw the potential of mobile as a media.

There was some good discussion around the need for sound regulatory frameworks in emerging markets to enable them to flourish and for less regulation in more mature markets.

Overall, though, there seemed to me a lack of focus on some of the key disruptive developments. There wasn't any discussion really about consumer-generated content and consumer involvement and new forms of creative expression from consumers. This was a marked contrast to the design debate that I spoke about yesterday. There was also a surprising lack of focus on data and how this would affect the overall business model. Everyone saw a huge role for advertising.

The big debate is, of course, what "advertising" actually means moving forward and how will its success be measured. So that's why people were talking about Google.

Off now to a dinner about how technology affects competitive advantage. And then there is a party being held by a big search engine. I wonder who'll be there.
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