But What Do We Want People to Do?

Too Many Campaigns Still Ignoring the Role of the Consumer

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Andy   Gould
Andy Gould
In the pre-digital age, the best advertising campaigns were essentially the ones that were most entertaining or the most emotionally resonant. In the digital age, the best campaigns are the ones that give consumers something valuable or interesting to do. This is just my opinion, of course, but a glance at many recent award shows would indicate I'm not alone in this perspective.

You would think that this shift would make a huge difference in terms of how our industry approaches generating ideas. With all the creative possibilities that interactive work opens up, maybe we should be focusing a little less on messaging and a little more on what actions we can get consumers to take. While messaging will always be important, think about how far beyond messaging the agencies involved had to think to make something like Nike's Chalkbot possible.

Earlier this year at a conference in Boston, the always-excellent Edward Boches from Mullen was showing some great digital work he'd recently seen. He stopped and posed a simple question: Why would we create campaigns that don't have a role for the consumer anymore? In other words, with more creative tools and platforms at our disposal than ever before, why are so many of us continuing to work the way we've always worked?

Our agency is generally the digital AOR working alongside various other agencies (advertising, media, P.R., event marketing, in-store, etc.). After seven years or so of working this way, here's an observation: With so many players contributing to a larger campaign, the best work is done when there is precise alignment among us about what we want people to do with our communications.

As I look back at two of our most successful campaigns this year, all the agencies involved identified the role of the consumer very early on. For Cottonelle's Roll Poll, we decided every piece of communication should be geared toward getting people to vote on which way they rolled their toilet paper (over or under). For the Pop-Tarts Flavor Tournament, we wanted to put 20 flavors head to head in a March-Madness-style bracket, and have teens influence the outcome of each matchup until we had named a champion. Determining these things at the beginning of the process (at the same time as the messaging piece) gave us the time to make the work more interactive, and allowed us to structure things so that what users did and said during the campaign actually impacted the creative work. We left plenty of room for consumers to help shape the message.

But, incredibly, in an era where the creative possibilities have gotten infinitely larger due to technology, we still see lots of campaigns brought to the table with no thought as to what role consumers should play (beyond the role of passive "watcher," that is). And waiting to determine that role until later can lead to a lot of creative head-butting, agency turf wars, client second-guessing, and more things all of us could probably live without.

I suppose you could argue that clients bear some responsibility for this, too; agencies tend to provide what their clients ask for, and last time I checked, there wasn't a section in any brief I've seen that outlines which actions should be made available for consumers to interact with or experience the brand. (Most briefs do have a "what do we want the consumer to do" section, but I'm talking here about something beyond "go to our website to learn more" or "buy our product.")

So I propose this: In addition to all the energy we expend in briefings talking about the role of TV vs. the role of print vs. the role of digital, what about making it mandatory to address what the role of the consumer should be in every campaign? Do we want people to engage in a multiweek learning program, send an inspirational text, create something, cast a vote, play a game, print a coupon, or something else? This would force agencies from all disciplines to think about these important elements in their earliest planning and conceiving stages. Better yet, it might force agencies from all disciplines to plan their communications around a true experience idea, rather than around a messaging idea.

Giving consumers something to do is one of the musts of digital work, but even outside of the digital realm, I think many of us believe it's the best way to connect with people today. Doesn't work that actually requires something of the consumer stand a better chance of creating genuine impact? So why aren't more of us doing it?

Andy Gould is senior VP-executive creative director of Biggs Gilmore, Kalamazoo, Mich. Follow Andy on Twitter: @AndyGould. Andy also contributes to Biggs Gilmore's blog, SlackerCEO.
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