Crossing the Line

Lately, when I catch up with friends and colleagues about agency life, they inevitably say, “Wow, it’s amazing how you’ve reinvented yourself … you’ve truly evolved who you are in this business.”

I find it rather amusing, but I guess I have evolved a bit. While I cannot claim to have had a reinvention plan, I can say that I feel lucky to have had my eyes opened. I recommend that others take a broader view as well. Let me explain.

For 25 years, I did whatever I could to build a solid career in advertising. I grew up at Ogilvy, learned from true legends and had enormous passion for doing the kind of work that made brands famous.

Back then, we were all about the big television campaign. We judged our success through market share, tracking studies and industry awards. Our hearts were in the right place, but to be fair, we were advertising snobs.

The big, glamorous advertising work was all that mattered to us. We were above it all — or at least we thought we were.

I realized recently that this must have been how we got to the concepts of “above the line” and “below the line.” Today, I know these concepts should be eliminated from our vernacular.

It was during my years managing a hotel business and a beer portfolio that I began to see things differently. No matter how brilliant our television campaign was, our brand would come to life — or not — in the hands of a franchisee, a distributor, a club owner or a local promotion shop.

I realized then that those who were doing smart, strategic activation work were making their brands stronger and locally relevant. They were magnifying the power of the mainstream idea in ways that would resonate in their market. And they were winning.

Three years ago, I was asked to lead the activation arm of the Ogilvy Group. Here was an opportunity to make activation a strategic part of our 360-degree proposition. It was a chance to remove the line that prevented agencies from delivering effectively, in a media-agnostic way. I took the job and it has been an enlightening experience.

Some find this new world of marketing rather intimidating. Marketers are squeezed like never before. The consumer is more fickle than ever. The retailer has enormous control. The return on traditional media remains elusive.

Every day, there is a new hunt for how to best engage a consumer, how to effectively gain trade support and how to truly measure performance. Agencies are in a unique position to help clients navigate the constant change. I believe this should be an exciting time for those ready to embrace it all. 

I guess that’s the point: Now is the time to embrace it all.

Our clients need expertise and thought leadership from us. They need to know that we are ready and able to activate their brands in whichever ways make the most sense. And just about anything is possible.

There is one thing that will never change in our business: the power of the brand. Today, there are few limits to how we can build a brand relationship. We must avoid being one of them. We must be willing to open our minds.

We need more media-neutral engagement leads, touch-point planners and creative talent who leverage everything at their disposal to activate a brand. And we need to appreciate when certain people happen to know more than we do about their part of the mix.

Never before have I had such respect for data miners who discover consumer engagement opportunities otherwise hidden, shopper marketing pros who see what will change a person’s actions at the point of sale, trade experts who can make a retailer advocate for our brand and analytic wizards who help prove ROI.

Most of us know we need to do things differently today. Having spent time in the activation space, it’s easy to spot those going through the motions just as they always have. It’s obvious to me, but more importantly, our clients can spot it a mile away.

Recently, the CMO of a major financial services company told me he would not let his agency begin another creative presentation with a television spot. “From now on, I need to see what’s happening first at a street and store level. If the agency has thought leadership there, it will have my business.”

It’s no surprise that far more is being invested today in understanding how people interact with brands and how to influence their actions as they travel toward a purchase.

Ideas can be brought to life through an array of disciplines, and we must take advantage of them. As my world evolves, I gain a new appreciation for all that’s at our fingertips — experiential marketing, sponsorship and brand entertainment work, field, shopper and trade marketing and the rapidly exploding area of digital activation.

The world has changed and so must our approach to building brands. It is no longer about being “above the line,” “below the line” or even “through the line.” The line is gone for those truly delivering against the promise of 360-degree marketing.

Rick Roth is global CEO of OgilvyAction, the brand activation arm of The Ogilvy Group.