A concept can take you anywhere
I liken this period of time in the advertising industry to what it must have been like in the Space Race.
It wasn’t long ago, that as a creative, I felt like every time I got a job I was lighting off an other rocket for the world to see. Each built to do the same thing. To raise awareness , change perception and sell something. We’d build and launch a campaign—usually with TV, print and radio—sending a message into space. The message was fueled by our concept. Media would direct it toward the target. Women 25-54 years old. Men 18-34 years old. And so on.
If the concept was good enough, and the rocket carried the message far enough for the audience to see it, we’d hopefully find out that it “appeared” that we moved the needle. More things sold, better scores on awareness and perception studies. Inevitably, as soon as we lauched one rocket, we were building the next. Maybe the fuel was different and the direction changed, but it was, like the Space Race was for a while, growing, but not exponentially.
But then something happened. Technology offered the opportunity to challenge how we built a rocket. For the U.S. that sent us to the moon. In our industry going to the moon, metaphorically, happened with the internet. Things were possible that never were before.
Where are we now? Well, while the real Space Race was always at the mercy of politics and popular opinion, digital technology is embraced by all. What does that mean? It means that all of us who were busy for years launching rockets—who then learned to take it to the moon (our new territory the internet)— now have free reign to travel throughout the universe.
Today, the race in our industry has advanced at light speed. We are far beyond landing on the moon. Now we are building rocket ships that travel to distant planets. Social media has quickly made it so that we not only land that rocket on the planet, but we allow people alien to us board that ship and fly home with us. Because they are “fans” or they “like us.”
And this race isn’t slowing down. It gets better. Now we are building rockets that go get those aliens, befriend them and then, what the heck, let them drive the space craft where ever they want. Doritos let consumers create Super Bowl commercials for the second year. Look at an American icon, Harley Davidson, who hired crowdsourcing Victor and Spoils to replace their more traditional rocket-firing Carmichael Lynch as agency of record.
Has the industry changed? Absolutely and forever. Is traditional thinking obsolete? Much of it is.
But there is something fundamental that gives me hope. It’s why I created this metaphor to explain it. It is what gets me up in the morning to go to work. It’s what keeps me up at night, wondering how to solve the day’s challenge. It’s why I believe some of the thinking is obsolete, but not the thinkers.
I say look at the rocket, the thing we are building. Sometimes it may just fly around the sky (people will see an ad) . Sometimes it will attract some who want to travel with each other on that journey (people will “Like” a brand). And now, sometimes those along for the ride will actually drive (people will create content for a brand).
But no matter what we intend the objective of the mission, one thing is constant—it’s a propellant, a fuel, an ignitable idea called a concept. There is always a concept and that concept always carries a message.
A campaign today can encompass anything, but devoid of a concept, it’s not going anywhere. Perhaps, the lines are getting blurred between the people concepting and people executing an idea. But someone had a concept to let customers do some concepting and produce some TV spots for the SuperBowl. And Victor and Spoils is capitalizing on selling other people’s concepts.
I believe a concept can take you anywhere. Even into the future.
How do you see it? Where are we headed? Is concept King? Or a thing of the past?