Partly because it's been rumbled about for some time and partly because the marketer already works with other agency-type entities, when Nike announced recently it would take some of its storied business out of the ad agency that literally built the brand, there wasn't so much surprise as the feeling that an era had officially ended -- or begun.
Wieden is a big part of the reason Nike is the brand people mention when they mention epically great brands, and it was rare the shop did anything less than great, influential work. But surveying the best creative ideas last year, one of the most exciting is not an ad; it's Nike Plus (think of it as Angelina Jolie -- not just fun to look at, but useful ... in that, you know, she helps babies and whatnot). And it's in this direction that the marketer, rightly, wants to direct its affections.
Marketers embracing the power of digitally driven -- dare I say useful -- consumer-engagement vehicles is a given. I don't think anyone's arguing that TV spots are enough to sustain any marketing plan or agency relationship. And to the extent that everything will soon touch, or be, online, all agencies have to be "digital." Fine. Then what? What does that ultimately mean for the client-agency relationship?
If you look at the evolution of that relationship, you see that the traditional marriage is only one of a number of options. We've seen a number of fruitful agency collaborations: the 180/ TBWA-type tag teams; and the multidiscipline collective (JDK Design, interactive shop AKQA; and agencies 72andSunny and McCann, San Francisco) that launched the Xbox 360. And, of course, we've seen Nike work with R/GA on its most compelling recent ventures, Nike ID and the aforementioned Plus.
All of this brings up some questions: What becomes of the long-term marketing-partner relationship that feeds the carefully built brand identity? Is such a thing a quaint notion -- like monogamy? Should or can one agency be spearheading the direction of a brand? Can marketers pursue cool projects with different agencies and a long-term plan that incorporates everything from products to employee morale to brand experiences?
The only reliable answers lie with the marketer. Writers in these pages have suggested most agencies would have a hard time keeping up with forward-thinking Nike, and it is one brand that seems fit to maintain its vision while exploring projects with a range of agencies. But that's Nike. Marketers who don't have that kind of passion, self-awareness or digital savvy, don't try this at home.
Whatever the relationship model and as much as agencies have to take a hard look at what they're offering, it's the marketers who need to look within and make sure they are philosophically and financially committed to brand creativity. As one agency creative with much experience with collaborative relationships wondered: "Do clients have the internal depth and structural cohesion to manage all of these resources to one unified end? It's an expensive, time-consuming and often emotionally charged mandate. It takes commitment. And patience. And loving discipline."
Marketers learning to know and love themselves. Isn't that the greatest love of all?
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Teressa Iezzi is the editor of Creativity magazine and AdCritic.com. E-mail your big ideas to her at email@example.com.