Advertising agencies facing the digital revolution
ADVERTISING AGENCIES FACING THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION
What challenges does the digital economy present to brand communications, and what
are its implications on the role of traditional advertising agencies?
MSc Business Administration
Semester 3: Master thesis
Tuesday 1st June 2010
Table of Contents
I. INTRODUCTION 3
II. CHARACTERISTICS OF THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION 5
A. THE EMERGENCE OF DIGITAL AND THE INTERNET ECONOMY IN THE BUSINESS DEBATE 5
1. DEMOCRATIZATION OF CONTENT CREATION, DISTRIBUTION AND ACCESS 5
2. A REVOLUTION IN MEDIAS AND A RADICAL CHANGE IN PEOPLE’S MEDIA BEHAVIOUR 10
B. CHALLENGES AND DEBATES REGARDING THE FUTURE OF BRAND COMMUNICATIONS 14
1. THE END OF ADVERTISING AS WE KNOW IT? 14
2. THE EMERGENCE OF NEW FORMS OF MARKETING 17
3. DEBATES AROUND CONSUMER-CENTRIC AND RELATIONSHIP MARKETING 19
4. OBJECTIVE AND METHODOLOGY 22
III. EVALUATION OF STRATEGIC OPPORTUNITIES 24
A. REDEFINING BRAND COMMUNICATIONS FOR THE DIGITAL AGE 24
1. ENHANCING CREATIVITY AND DIFFERENTIATION 24
2. TAKING CARE OF THE BRAND EXPERIENCE 26
3. SHIFTING FROM ADVERTISING TOWARD BRAND CONTENT 31
4. CHANGING THE VIEW ON MEDIA 33
5. THE POWER OF STORYTELLING 35
B. ENGAGING CONSUMERS IN THE DIGITAL WORLD 38
1. BRANDS SHOULD LET CONSUMERS TAKE THE OWNERSHIP OF THEIR BRANDS 38
2. BUILDING THE ROAD TO SUCCESS: ENGAGE AND CONVERT CONSUMERS 43
3. THE OPPORTUNITIES OF SOCIAL MEDIA STRATEGIES TO FOSTER CONSUMERS’ ENGAGEMENT 49
C. WHICH ROLE FOR ADVERTISING AGENCIES? 54
1. INDUSTRY BACKGROUND 55
2. DIFFERENT MODELS ARE EMERGING 60
3. THE QUEST FOR THE IDEAL MODEL 62
IV. DISCUSSIONS AND FINDINGS 64
A. ADAPTING THE ORGANIZATION TO THE PATH OF DIGITAL 64
1. CHANGING THE CREATIVE DEVELOPMENT PROCESS FROM STATIC TO DYNAMIC 65
2. ENHANCE COLLABORATION BETWEEN DISCIPLINES 67
3. PLANNING AND MANAGING FOR THE REAL-TIME ENVIRONMENT 69
B. OPENING THE ORGANIZATION TO EXTERNAL COLLABORATION 71
1. APPROACHING OPEN-INNOVATION IN THE COMMUNICATION INDUSTRY 71
2. IMPLEMENTING AN OPEN INNOVATION MODEL TO GENERATE CREATIVE IDEAS 74
3. IMPLEMENTING AN OPEN INNOVATION MODEL TO THE PRODUCTION OF CREATIVE IDEAS 75
C. MANAGING THE CHANGE 78
1. ESTABLISHING A SENSE OF URGENCY 78
2. CREATING A VISION 79
3. FOSTER EXCHANGE AND COLLABORATION ACROSS THE ORGANIZATION 80
VI. CONCLUSION 81
The world economy has been facing serious challenges based on the adaptation to both
globalization and the emergence of digital technologies. In addition to these two drivers of
change, global businesses have been facing since 2008 one of the most important economic
crisis in the history of modern capitalism.
With the economic recession in one hand and the emergence of digital technologies in the other
hand, the industry of advertising and communications has been facing a critical period of
challenge and reinvention. The recession has been forcing companies to reduce massively their
advertising expenditures while the increasing acceptation of digital technologies and interactive
platforms by consumers transformed the operational system of advertising.
While global audiences have been migrating toward new media platforms, the fragmentation of
medias and the empowerment of consumers have been among the numerous drivers of
change that challenged the effectiveness of traditional advertising, which in return has been
encouraging companies to benefit from the recession to rethink and reassess their overall
Likewise, changing environments require new practices, and new circumstances challenge
established principles. This project will examine how traditional advertising models are resulting
ineffective to face the profound challenges that the digital revolution present to brand
communications. Moreover, this project will analyze how the model of advertising agencies itself
is being questioned and threatened by this new environment.
Advertising is operating in such shifting contexts that some affirmations in this project could
seem outdated, or irrelevant. One of the major challenges faced in this project has been that the
contemporary industry of communications is in constant evolution and in radical reconfiguration.
Starting to write about this project, a number of emergent trends already indicated further
restructuring and reorganization in an industry that was already adapting to globalization,
changing regulations and ever-evolving audiences.
The observation of the changing environment around brand communications will be the main
focus of the first part of this project. The emergence of the digital revolution will be discussed
through the review of different theories and discourses questioning the impact of digital
technologies on the economy. Among others, we will observe how the emergence of Internet
has transformed the way people access to content and information, which in return has
radically changed the way people behave with media and with communications. Finally we will
present how this new landscape is challenging the way brands communicate and in which
measure it threatens the traditional advertising model.
The second part will examine how brands should communicate in order to respond to the
challenges of the digital revolution and will highlight the new (and old) communication strategies
that brands should embrace to build on future growth. We will successively present how by
enhancing creativity, physical and digital experiences, brand content and promoting a different
approach of media, companies could successfully develop brand communications adapted to
the digital age. We will then try to understand why companies should let customers have an
important role on the construction of their brands, and present different strategies that, using
among others customization, open-innovation platforms, and social medias strategies, could
successfully increase the engagement of consumers. Finally, having defined what would make
brand communications successful in the digital environment, we will understand how the role of
advertising agencies is being challenged. We will then observe how advertising agencies have
been transforming themselves to respond to the challenge and observe that two strategic
models have been emerging: integration and external growth.
The third part will finally evaluate different opportunities to transform the advertising agencies’
model and adapt its internal organization to the path of digital. We will demonstrate how by
changing the creative development process from static to dynamic, by enhancing the
collaboration between internal disciplines and by planning and managing for the real-time
environment, advertising agencies could build a sustainable organization adapted to the speed
of culture. This paper will also propose a model for external collaboration and present how
advertising agencies could benefit from opening their organization to customers and external
collaborators. Finally, we will propose a framework for agencies’ managers that could help them
to successfully implement the change in their organization.
The aim of this project is to demonstrate that the radical transformation caused by the
emergence of digital technologies and by the change in consumers’ behaviors is challenging the
traditional model of brand communications. This project intends to present the change that
happens to the industry as a source of strategic opportunities and it will try to emphasize on the
benefits rather than on the risks provided by this changing landscape. While many predict the
challenges provided by the digital revolution, this project rather present the opportunities that
the emergence of digital technologies offers to brand communications. At last, this project will
criticize the status quo demonstrated by many advertising agencies and will highlight the
character of urgency in the communication industry.
II. Characteristics of the Digital Revolution
A. The emergence of digital and the Internet economy in the business debate
The review of different theories in the recent managerial, business and economical debates
enables us to understand the implications that the development of the Internet and the
democratization of personal computing have had on the uses and habits of individuals. The
environment in which brands communicate has radically changed, and we have assisted to the
emergence of new behaviours with the raise of the Internet economy. We are going to discuss
these points in the following part, by observing first how the digital economy enabled the
democratization of content creation, distribution and access, and generated a radical
transformation of the media landscape. Moreover, we will observe how different authors
consider that the new digital landscape is encouraging collaboration and external innovation
within organizations, and finally, we will try to identify how this new environment challenges the
future of brand communications.
1. Democratization of content creation, distribution and access
The emergence of the digital economy and its influence on our culture and economy is
discussed in the work many authors. In their book Wikinomics, D. Tapscott and A. D. Williams
(2006, p.3) explain how thanks to the Internet revolution “billions of connected individuals can
now actively participate in innovation, wealth creation, and social development in ways we once
only dreamed of.” In this regard, C. Anderson (2006) draws a clear overview of the possibilities
that the digital revolution presents to our society in his book The Long Tail. He develops the
Long Tail theory, which has become a classical framework of the influence of digital in our
economy. C. Anderson (2006) develops the analysis of three driving forces that explain how the
cost of reaching niches has reduced, which in return enables the democratization of content
creation, distribution, and access.
According to the Long Tail theory, the first driver of change is the democratization of production
tools. Thanks to the developments in personal computing technologies, everything from printing
press to film and music production is now in the hands of anyone. According to C. Anderson
(2006, p. 54), “the power of the PC means that the ranks of ‘producers’ – individuals which can
now do what just a few years ago only professionals could do – have swelled a thousandfold.”
Empowered with technological tools, people are given the opportunity to produce content, from
short movies to albums, and to publish their thoughts to the world very easily. D. Tapscott
(2009, p. 90) argues in his book Growing Up Digital: “consumers are taking the next step and
are becoming producers, co creating products and services with companies.” As a result of this
revolution, the universe of content available has spread and there is a huge increase in the
number of producers.
The second force, according to the Long Tail theory, is cutting the democratization of
distribution, which is cutting the costs of consumption. C. Anderson (2006, p.55) explains: “the
PC made everyone a producer or publisher, but it was the Internet that made everyone a
distributor.” The Internet makes it easier and cheaper for anyone to reach more people. Indeed,
the power of this driver of change is changing many businesses. While distributors such as Wal-
Mart and Carrefour spent years setting up some of the world’s most sophisticated supply
chains to offer massive variety of products at low prices to millions of customers around the
world, it takes today few seconds for anybody to reach an equivalent potential market simply
with a listing on eBay or Amazon. As a consequence, efficient digital economics are leading to
new markets and marketplaces, which have no physical restrictions, and which strongly
challenge traditional markets.
The third force, finally, is the connection between supply and demand, which introduces
consumers to these new available goods on the digital world. According to C. Anderson (2006,
p.56), “this can take the form of anything from Google’s wisdom-of-crowds search to iTunes’
recommendations, along with word-of-mouth, from blogs to customer reviews.” The
emergence and the development of many social websites and personal blogs made that
customers are directly playing the role of sales force and replacing traditional channels of
communication. Besides, the most useful recommendations often come from other consumers
because their incentives are better aligned with our own. This is a very important point for brand
communications and we will come back to this point later in this research.
The three drivers of change that C. Anderson presents in his theory of the Long Tail allow us to
better understand how the Internet is challenging our economy by enabling people to access to
an almost unlimited choice. Moreover, because it has become easier and faster to find and
search for information, it has a direct effect of encouraging us to search further outside the
world we already know. Indeed, consumers’ tastes happen to be, collectively, far more diverse
that what marketers have tried to suggest. The explosion of technologies that connect
consumers is driving demand for niches products, which in return, creates a new and different
economy of culture.
Karl Marx was perhaps the original prophet of this new economy. In the German Ideology
(1845-1847), K. Marx explained: “labour - forced, unspontaneous and waged work – would be
superseded by self-activity.” Eventually, there would be a time, he wrote, when “material
production leaves every person surplus time for other activities.” This is exactly what seems to
happen with the consequences of the digital economy, which is transforming our societies. In
his book The Digital Economy, D. Tapscott (1996) introduces the term “prosumption” to
describe how the gap between producers and consumers is reducing, while Doc Searls (2000)
calls this a shift from consumerism to participative “producerism”:
“The ‘consumer economy’ is a producer-controlled system in which consumers are
nothing more than energy sources that metabolize “content” into cash. This is the
absolutely corrupted result of the absolute power held by producers over consumers
since producers won the Industrial Revolution. (…) Apple is giving consumers tools that
make them producers. This practice radically transforms both the marketplace and the
economy that thrives on it.”
In their book, The Pro-Am Revolution: how enthusiasts are changing our economy and society,
C. Leadbeater and P. Miller (2004) describe the rise of “amateurs who work to professional
standards.” They explain: “the twentieth century was shaped by large hierarchical organisations
with professionals at the top. Pro-Arms are creating new, distributed organisational models that
will be innovative, adaptive and low cost.” This emergence of new customers and new
amateurs is transforming the way companies are building products, managing organizations,
and develop their communication.
The emergence of producers and the access to distribution platforms makes that the content
available has spread. Indeed, according to M. Zorn (2009) in his presentation The Audience is
Always Right, there were two reasons why in the past people did not produce content: (1)
because of the lack of necessary tools, and (2) because of the lack of talent. Thanks to the
emergence of new technologies, everyone has now access to the tools to produce and
distribute easily information and content. The consequence of that evolution, according to C.
Anderson (2006 p. 63), is that we are assisting to a shift in the mentality of people “from being
passive consumers to active producers”.
This theorization of the digital society encounters some critics. Among them, A. Keen, in his
article The Cult of the Amateur (2006) criticizes the emergence of producerism and explains
how it presents real threats to our culture and talents. “The Web 2.0 (…) worships the creative
amateur: the self-taught filmmaker, the dorm-room musician, the unpublished writer. It suggests
that everyone – even the most poorly educated and inarticulate amongst us – can and should
use digital media to express and realize themselves.” A. Keen insists, “No more Mozarts`, no
more Picassos, no more Hemingways, (…) if you democratize media, you democratize talent.”
D. Tapscott and A. D. Williams (2006, p. 272) criticize A. Keen approach and consider it
“equivalent to saying that democracy is bad for the average citizen, because the average
individual is a poor judge of his or her own interests.” Therefore, the increase of information and
content makes that people live in a world of abundant choice. In such context, Mass Culture
tends to be less relevant that it was and we could rather consider that this environment is
turning culture into millions of different micro cultures that co-exist and interact between each
other. C. Anderson (2006, p. 184) calls it a shift from a “mass culture” to a “massively parallel
culture”. Each of us belongs to different tribes simultaneously, sometimes overlapping, and
sometimes not. We share common interests with our colleagues and families but not all of
them, and we all have particular tastes and likes that make us different.
In fact, what the digital revolution underlines, according to V. Postrel (2003, p. 52), is nothing
more than a reflection of the diversity inherent to any population distribution:
“Every aspect of human identity, from size, shape, and colour to sexual proclivities and
intellectual gifts, comes in a wide range. Most of us cluster somewhere in the middle of
most statistical distributions. But there are lots of bell curves, and pretty much everyone
is on a tail of at least one of them. We may collect strange memorabilia or read esoteric
books, hold unusual religious beliefs of wear odd-sized shoes, suffer rare diseases or
enjoy obscure movies.”
R. Williams (2001, p.46) once wrote in his book Culture and Society, “there are no masses;
there are only ways of seeing people as masses.” C. Anderson (2006, p. 185) demonstrates us
that the resulting rise of niche culture is reshaping the social landscape, “in other words, we’re
leaving the water cooler era, when most of us listened, watched, and read from the same,
relatively small pool of mostly hit content. And we’re entering the micro-culture era, when we’re
all into different things”. As a consequence, there is less space for traditional mass media and
“popular” content, and this impacts on people’s consumption and behaviour.
This change in culture and the emergence of technologies present challenges to the traditional
relationship between brands and consumers. Empowered with technologies, people are not
only consumers for brands but they now take on many new and different roles. D. Armano
(2009), SVP at the agency Edelman, explains in his blog that people can be at the same time
customers, producers, participants, users, multipliers, and they even can take part of brand
See Figure 1.1.
Figure 1.1. Don’t call them consumers anymore. Source: D. Armano (2009)
Consumers are changing their behaviours and the access to more content and information has
changed their media habits. This is what we are going to observe in the following lines, by
observing how the emergence of the digital economy is revolutionizing traditional medias, and
how it radically changes people’s media behaviour.
2. A revolution in medias and a radical change in people’s media behaviour
As we could observe, the digital economy is enabling people to access to an unlimited access
to content, and as a consequence, it is radically changing the way people behave with content,
information and media. According to R. Murdoch, Global CEO of News Corporation (2006),
“technology is shifting the power away from the editors, the publishers, the establishment, the
media elite,” and this power tends to be more and more in hands of people. A. Keen (2007)
insists: “traditional ‘elitist’ media is being destroyed by digital technologies. Newspapers are in
freefall. (…) The iPod is undermining the multibillion-dollar music industry.”
“We must address the old saw that new media don’t destroy old media. Radio didn’t kill
newspapers; television didn’t kill radio, and so on. That is true… so far. But some new
medias are so disruptive that they force older media to change themselves radically in
order to stay in business. Those that decide to circle the wagons and refuse to change,
refuse to reinvent themselves, are almost certainly going to struggle to survive.”
J. Cappo (2003, p. 72)
As we can see, researches demonstrate how the emergence of the Internet is challenging the
traditional model of medias. In his presentation The Audience Is Always Right, M. Zorn (2009)
argues that the emergence of the digital ecosystem has changed people’s media behaviour
regarding four dimensions: fragmentation, individualization, volatility and self-determination of
their media usage. In the following lines, we are going to have a further look on each of these
four different characteristics and undertake a deep analysis of their consequences.
2.1. Fragmented media usage
We could observe thanks to the theory of the Long Tail that people are surrounded by content.
The development of new digital technologies makes that they have now the choice between a
multitude of media possibilities to access to content. As a consequence, audiences are
becoming fragmented and people are spending more time with more media differently.
According to a study from the media agency Carat, while the time spent with traditional medias
(analogue television, radio and newspapers) is decreasing, the time spent with new medias
(Internet, video games, digital television) is growing. Still, according to the survey, this trend is
supposed to increase over the next ten years. See Appendix 1.1. Moreover, according to a
study on the evolution of media habits from IBM (2007), personal PC time now rivals TV time,
with 71% of respondents using the Internet more than two hours per day for personal use,
versus 48% spending equivalent time watching TV.
Furthermore, people spend their time with media differently regarding the generations. The new
generations are not using the same mediums and the same platforms than the old generations.
According to a study from Nielsen Media (2009), the new generations are adopting more
quickly new media platforms and usages than the old generations, which keep a strong
attachment to traditional media formats, such as newspapers, books, magazines and
broadcast television. See Appendix 1.2.
Therefore, while broadcast TV remains the dominant channel and keeps attracting generations,
the emergence of digital television is enabling consumers to access much more channels than
ever before. Referring to Nielsen Media (2008), US homes have access in average to more than
100 TV channels. As a consequence, even if a couple of big channels remain dominant, the
competition for audience’s attention is becoming increasingly challenging for traditional
channels. Moreover, the weekly time per channel is dropping, which means that the major TV
networks are struggling to keep attracting their audiences.
2.2. Individual media usage
Digital platforms enable people to access information and content on their own terms and
schedules, whenever and wherever they are. According to R. Halton, quoted in an article from
G. Mann (2007), “consumers will be looking to consume content in their on terms, and in forms
and shapes and platforms that suit their needs.” As a consequence, traditional media channels
need to adapt their offering to keep attracting audiences that are increasingly adopting
individual media behaviours and customizing their media experiences in terms of what, when,
There is less big content that everybody finds interesting. Blockbusters have less success than
before because people have access to a profusion of cultural content and to exactly what
interests them on the digital world. This is particularly relevant regarding the music industry. In
2009, the best-selling artist in the industry was Taylor Swift, with her album Fearless, that sold
3.2 millions albums, while in 1999, the Backstreet Boys and their album Millennium sold 40
millions CDs, according to a research from Warner Music (2010). According to T. Hunt (2009,
p.12), “people are buying more music than ever, but because of the added ability to discover
new artists as well as the ability for more artists to emerge via various online channels, people
have more choices and they are making them.” The tendency is also reflected on television
shows, as according to Nielsen Media Research (2007), the best TV audience in the US in 2006
attracted less than 30% of the audience, while it reached more than 60% in the 1960s. See
There is no longer a set time when people consume media because content has become
available at any time for consumers. An event, broadcasted live on TV, can be accessed at the
same time through different TV channels and content platforms over the Internet. The main
consequence is that old medias are losing their ‘distribution advantage’ over consumers who
are gaining more control. As a consequence, prime time shows are dropping on the principal
broadcast networks, while audiences migrate to other channels and digital contents. According
to a survey from Nielsen Media Research, the percentage of US homes tuned to one of the
three biggest broadcast networks, ABC, CBS and NBC, in prime time, has dropped to less
than 30% while it was superior to 60% in the early 1970s. See Appendix 1.4.
Audiences are migrating to other sources of content, and it is simply becoming more and more
complicated for broadcasters to dictate when certain shows have to be watched or heard.
Besides, there will always be demand for live television and radio, for example to deliver
breaking news and to relay live events, such as sport events and awards ceremonies, but the
drive toward more consumer control will increasingly continue.
There are fewer devices that most people prefer using because content has become accessible
through many different devices. D. Tapscott (2009) explains that the generations born in a
digital environment are very easy adopters of technologies. As a consequence, these
generations access to media with new devices such as mobile phones, laptops, video game
platforms, and portable music players. If television remains a bridge between the old and the
young generations, the old generations remain attached to traditional sources of information,
such as newspapers, magazines and books.
In fact, the proliferation of media devices makes that the same content is becoming accessible
through many different screens and platforms. C. Anderson (2006, p. 220), in The Long Tail,
provides a relevant example: “today, you can get CSI on broadcast TV, video-on-demand,
iTunes download, DVD (purchase or rent), and TiVo season pass, and watch it on any device
from a plasma screen to a Sony PSP.” Likewise, for some radio shows, which you can get via
terrestrial broadcast (real time and delayed), satellite broadcast, Web streaming, and podcast.
In fact, to reach the biggest potential market, brands are now obliged to broadcast content
across the multiple distribution channels that are available to consumers.
2.3. Volatile media usage
Consumers use media in spontaneous ways. The convergence of medias and devices is driving
to a permanent availability and access of every kind of content from different platforms and
devices. As a consequence, people can decide at any time to switch between a media and
another, and this is particularly applicable for the young generations. D. Tapscott (2009, p. 3)
explains: “young people are using technology in ways you could never imagine. Instead of
passively watching television, the ‘Net Geners’ are actively participating in the distribution of
entertainment and information”. These new generations of consumers switch between different
medias, access the Web on their mobile phones, laptops, and watch TV at the same time. D.
Tapscott (2009, p.70) insists on the importance of multi-tasking for this generation: “while TV
was the signature medium of the boomer generation, the Net Generation doesn’t just watch TV,
they listen to it while they are chatting with friends and navigating the Web”.
Some researches tend to confirm this trend. According to a survey from Ofcom Research
(2008), more than 80% of the 16-19 years old in the UK use another media while watching TV
at the same time. Older generations have a more “monolithic” approach of media, as only 40%
of them are used to consume two or plus medias at the same time. See Appendix 1.5.
Furthermore, static and slow media devices are being replaced with more dynamic and fast
media tools. In addition, new technologies and platforms, such as RSS feeds and Twitter are
allowing people to receive real-time interactive information, which increase the volatility of their
2.4. Self-determined media usage
As the permanent access to content drives to more freedom of choice, people do not tolerate
intrusive content anymore. Besides, consumers are given the tools to avoid or block content
they don’t want to watch, and as they are given the choice, people skip content they are not
willing to spend time with, which is generally the case with advertising commercials.
Furthermore, the multiplication of media platforms makes that consumers are constantly
exposed to advertising messages. According to a study from M. Story and S. French (2004),
children from 3 to 11 years old are exposed to 40.000 advertising messages every year. As a
consequence, new generations of consumers develop a strong sense of immunity towards
advertising messages, which make commercials increasingly ineffective.
In addition, people generally see advertising commercials as an interruption into their programs.
If that happens, there are chances that people will switch the channel and access to another
content that interest them. The abundance of choice and access makes that people are
increasingly self-determinate with their media consumption. Commercials no longer reach them
between two different programs, because they no longer have a passive behaviour.
In fact, consumers are increasingly having more control on how they view, interact, and filter
both content and advertising in a multichannel and multi devices world where they shift their
attention away from linear TV. This evolution in people’s media behaviour has strong
consequences in the way brands must communicate to attract their attention. Indeed, we will
discuss in the following part how this new context presents challenges and debates regarding
the future of brand communications.
B. Challenges and debates regarding the future of brand communications
1. The end of advertising as we know it?
Since the Mass-Media era, most brands were used to one very simple advertising model that
consisted in buying visibility in Mass media and repeating the same message to target groups.
The objective for brands was to be louder than their competitors, by buying more space and
more visibility in traditional medias. Traditional channels had a major role and were very powerful
because they were the one supposed to attract and retain audiences. According to the famous
statement from Patrick Le Lay, former CEO of TF1 (2004), “there are many ways to speak about
TV, but in a business perspective, let’s be realistic: at the basis, TF1’s job is helping Coca-Cola,
for example, to sell its product. What we sell to Coca-Cola is available human brain time.”1
Empowered by digital technologies and surrounded by an abundant choice, consumers are not
part of this game anymore, which means that the traditional advertising model of targeting and
repeating messages on traditional medias is not effective anymore. According to a research
from Mc Kinsey (2004), it was projected that by 2010, the return on investment of advertising
on broadcast television would be barely one-third as effective as it was in 1990. C. Anderson
(2006, p.225) insists on the decrease of advertising on broadcast television thanks to “rising
costs, falling viewership, ever-proliferating ad clutter, and viewers’ TiVo-fuelled power to zip
Behind the decrease of effectiveness of traditional advertising, the entire operating system of
marketing is fundamentally being threatened. According to M. Zorn (2009), “it is becoming
irrelevant to send a message to many in the hope of persuading a few.” The complexity of the
digital media landscape has disrupted the ability to easily enforce the attention of consumers
and it becomes more complicated to catch consumers’ attention using traditional advertising
methods. S. Godin (2007), in his book Permission Marketing, calls it interruption marketing,
which he describes as the following: “the key to each and every ad is to interrupt what the
viewers are doing in order to get them to think about something else.”
Interruption marketing is losing ground and it is not effective anymore for brands to interrupt
consumers with advertising messages they don’t want to watch. J-M Dru, CEO of
TBWA/Worldwide (2010) insists that unadapted commercials will never reach consumers: “they
will simply pass it or ignore it.” This new context presents important changes for brand
communications and invite brands to challenge the traditional advertising model based on the
sender-receiver model and on repetition.
French quote: « Il y a beaucoup de façons de parler de la télévision, mais dans une
perspective business, soyons réaliste: à la base, le métier de TF1, c'est d'aider Coca-Cola, par
exemple, à vendre son produit. Ce que nous vendons à Coca-Cola, c'est du temps de cerveau
In fact, the impact of the changes in the media landscape on brand communications is well
commented in the debate that takes place in the advertising industry. Business leaders and
agencies’ “gurus” are conscious of the potentially huge consequences that the digital landscape
can have on the future of the advertising industry. J-M Dru (2009) insists in the fact that the
emergence of the digital economy announces “the end of repetitive advertising,” while F. Rodes
Vila, Chief Executive of Havas argues in an article from the Financial Times (2009) that the old
metaphors of ‘campaign, target and launch’ no longer apply: “the model that started with world
war two was based on control in a few hands: very few media, two or three relevant brands in
each sector and a few agencies. We are (now) facing a very different panorama, which is much
more democratic, much more social, much more interesting, but much more complicated for
The idea of ‘advertising’s death’ is present in several major debates. According to J. Stengel
(2007), former Global Marketing Officer at Procter & Gamble, “the old model of telling and
selling, is dead.” A. Ries and L. Ries (2002) both argue that the future for brands is in public
relations and not in advertising, while S. Zyman (2000) warns about the end of marketing, as we
know it. In these books, when death is mentioned, it describes more the idea of a
transformation than an end. However, both authors underline the unprecedented level of
change that happens in the industry.
Brand communications after traditional advertising is also the topic of other books. J. Jaffe
(2005) insists for example on the emergence of viral marketing, gaming, on-demand viewing,
long-form content and other ‘new marketing’, while M.L. Galician (2004) focus on Internet
advertising, video gaming and product placement and S. Donaton (2004) presents the
synergies that exist between entertainment and advertising through product placement.
As we can see, many authors are challenging the effectiveness of traditional advertising.
Moreover, according to F. Perez-Latre (2009), mass-media advertising is also suffering from
accountability problems, as many clients, advertising practitioners and researchers are
complaining about the inability to determine the return on investment from advertising spending.
Advertising’s lack of effectiveness is an important subject of research in the recent literature, as
the works of W. Fletcher (2008) and C. Volmer (2008) tend to demonstrate it. Therefore,
according to R. Briggs and G. Stuart (2006), as much as 37 per cent of overall advertising
expenditures are considered by marketers as complete waste.
2. The emergence of new forms of marketing
Companies are not willing to lose that much and increasingly turn to more direct ways of
communicating with consumers. However, the appeal of mass media advertising remains
strong, as traditional media still accounts for the greatest share of advertising expenditure,
according to numbers from Advertising Age (2010). The share of market of digital advertising
grew to 12,6% in 2009 from 10,5% in 2008, surpassing magazines for the first time, and will
keep growing in share to an expected 13,9% this year, and 17,1% in 2012, according to data
from Zenith Optimedia (2010). Magazines’ share of worldwide ad spending felt to 10,3% in
2009 from 11,6% in 2008 and is expected to fell to 9,6% this year, and 8,6% in 2012.
According to the report, “Television spend felt 6,7% in 2009, but its market share has increased
from 38,1% to 39,4%. (…) We expect it to continue to increase its share over the rest of our
forecast period, reaching 40,5% in 2012, thanks to the rise of the developing markets, where
television is generally a much more dominant medium than in developed markets.”
See Figure 1.2.
Figure 1.2. 2009 U.S. revenue by discipline for 800-plus agencies in report. Source:
Advertising Age. 2010.
These numbers tend to illustrate the rapid path of change that the communication industry is
observing. The emergence of the digital economy seems to have had many implications in the
way brands communicate. However, more than a simple impact, the digital landscape possibly
brings a true revolution to marketing and advertising. According to J. Farrell (2009), in an article
from Tim Bradshaw in the Financial Times, “I can’t think of many other industries where the
fundamental process of producing the product hasn’t changed for 40 years.”
Some observations of the business world today make us understand that some of the most
influent companies in the world, such as Google, Starbucks, Amazon and Facebook are being
built today almost without help of traditional advertising. Moreover, according to a ranking from
the magazine Brand Channels (2010), these are amongst the most popular brands in the world
according to consumers.
The best brands are being intensely creative in getting their message out and have evolved from
the traditional advertising model. According to an article from Business Week (2005), “many of
the biggest and most established brands, from Coke to Marlboro, achieved their global heft
decades ago by helping pioneer the 30-second TV commercial. But it is a different world now.
The monolithic TV networks have splintered into scores of cable channels, and mass-market
publications have given way to special interest magazines aimed at smaller groups.”
In this fragmented world, this new generation of brands has amassed huge global value with
little help of traditional advertising. Brands such as Zara and Starbucks have discovered new
ways of captivate and intrigue customers.
Zara, for example, has never run a single advertising campaign. This does not prevent the
Spanish company, according to D. Arnold and G. D’Andrea (2003) to be one of the most
successful fashion companies in the world and to launch almost 10.000 new designs each year
in more than 1.000 shops worldwide. In fact, the company innovated so much by dramatically
reducing the time between design inspiration and in-store product that it stays months in
advance of its competitors. Furthermore, the strategy of Zara includes launching stores in the
most prestigious streets of the world’s capitals, which ensures that people are aware of its new
stores, without having to invest in advertising.
This example illustrates that traditional advertising is not necessarily an obligatory path for
brands to engage and entertain people in an environment of choice. In this regard, A. Bogusky
and J. Winsor, in their book Baked In (2009, p. 26) insist on the fact that “the old concept of
how a brand works must be called into question.” According to S. Pestridge (2008), Nike UK
marketing director, a brand like Nike does not need advertising because “advertising is all about
achieving awareness.” Instead, Nike needs “to find new ways to become part of people’s lives.”
A. Bogusky and J. Winsor (2009, p. 25) argue that “word-of-mouth can actually be shut off by
using traditional advertising.” The example of Starbucks, with products – coffee and shops –
that are its unique marketing tools, tend to demonstrate that the company would probably have
failed to know the same success if it had used advertising. Starbucks did not advertise, at least
not in the conventional way we think about advertising, but succeeded in attracting and
retaining customers from the entire world thanks to an innovative and unique concept.
The brands that most consumers prefer today are brands that almost do not invest in traditional
advertising. That means that both traditional brand communications are becoming less effective
and the digital economy is presenting serious challenges to the way brands should
communicate. As a consequence, according to S. Berman & al. (2006), many of the skills and
capabilities that were the basis of success for advertising in the past need now refinement,
transformation and redefinition.
Therefore, we will try to respond to these challenges in the next part and present solutions on
how companies should communicate in the digital environment. However, before that, we will
observe why some debates have emerged around consumer-centric and relationship marketing
in the literature, and finally present the concept of permission marketing and analyse in which
measure it can bring a clear path to build on the future of brand communications.
3. Debates around consumer-centric and relationship marketing
The actual debate regarding the effects of the digital economy on brand communications
places consumers in a central role. In fact, the fundamental shift that the digital economy
presents to brand communications seems to be the promise of a different relationship between
brands and consumers. As underlined by Stephanie Bouchet (2010, Interview n2), the focus of
communications is shifting from a one-to-many relationship to a one-to-one relationship, much
more personal and individualized.
The angle of relationship is becoming increasingly important in marketing, and the notion of
relationship marketing is gaining influence in the actual debate on the evolution of brand
communications. According to B. Ivens (2008, p.5), “the classical idea of marketing as a
toolbox used by “the marketing people” in the marketing department is outdated, and modern
marketing is a management philosophy the whole company needs to embrace and adopt”.
E. Josserand (2008) outlined during his course Client-Oriented Organization, that the marketing
concept has evolved from a focus on product orientation, in the early 1950s, to a focus on
customer orientation, since the beginning of the 1990s. The illustration of Bruhn (2000)’s theory
of the evolution of the marketing concept is relevant to detail on this point. See Figure 1.4.
Figure 1.4. The Evolution of the marketing concept. Source: Bruhn, 2000.
B. Ivens (2008, p.6) insists: “the modern idea of marketing is a management concept and a
philosophy of how to maintain a company’s competitiveness, which means understanding
consumers and creating value.” In such context, some business thinkers such as R. McKenna
(1992) have tried to rethink the real nature of brands. According to McKenna, branding is no
longer important and powerful brands have more chance to succeed by building a powerful
distribution infrastructure rather than wasting efforts on branding.
Conversely, in the book Disruption Live, compiled by J-M. Dru (2000), D. Hackworthy criticizes
the belief that the future of marketing is a one-to-one relationship, describing it as too
“conventional.” Hackworthy rather defends the idea of branding and the power of traditional
mass medias. However, with the emergence of digital technologies, we understand that
consumers want and need to be touched individually by companies. Moreover, according to A.
Bogusky and J. Winsor (2009, p. 29), “consumers demand to be involved with companies.” An
angle of personal relationship is becoming essential in communications today, and the
traditional advertising model based on repetition fails to provide it.
In his book Permission Marketing, S. Godin (2000) proposes a new framework for
communications, based on the idea that permission marketing should replace interruption
marketing. S. Godin describes powerful advertising as anticipated, personal and relevant. In his
opinion, permission marketing guarantees that consumers pay attention to the marketing
message because they will be volunteers to be marketed to. In their book The One to One
Future, D. Peppers and M. Rogers (1993) already proposed a radical rethinking of the way
marketers should treat their customers. Indeed, their argument is that companies could
increase their profits by selling more things to fewer customers.
These theories elevate the notions of relationship and consumer loyalty. In other words, both
authors encourage companies to focus on increasing sales to a smaller percentage of existing
customers, rather than trying to find new ones. S. Godin (2007, p. 38) insists on this direction:
“Getting a new customer is expensive. It takes money to get his attention and it takes
continuing effort to educate him.” Indeed, D. Peppers and M. Rogers (2001, p. 35) argue:
“instead of focusing on how to maximize the number of new customers, the focus should be on
keeping customers longer and getting far more money each of them over time.”
Retaining consumers is demanding and it needs from brands that they take a very personal
approach. Stephanie Bouchet (2010, see interview 2) insists: “because people are over
exposed to a lot of messaging, they need to be touched emotionally, which means that it is also
becoming challenging for brands. They need to find ways and moments during the day when
people will become more receptive that anything else.” According to S. Godin (2007, p. 21),
Permission Marketing “encourages consumers to participate in a long-term, interactive
marketing campaign in which they are rewarded in some way for paying attention to
increasingly relevant messages.” As a consequence, it seems to represent the right answer to
customer’s need for attention.
The permission marketing theory encourages brands to take especially care of their loyal
customers. This is important, according to S. Bouchet (2010, see interview 2), because, as she
explains: “you really need to nurture that base of people that are very emotionally attached to
your brand, make sure they’ve got everything they need, to share with their friends, and to
spread the word for your brands.” We will observe in the second part of this project how brands
could benefit from the development of digital technologies to develop new types of relationships
with their consumers.
4. Objective and methodology
4.1. Objective of this project
The observation of the changing environment around brand communications has been the main
focus of the first part of this project. We discussed the emergence of a digital revolution through
the review different theories and discourses questioning the impact of digital technologies on
the economy. We could present how the emergence of the Internet and mobile phones have
transformed the way people access to content and information, which in return has encouraged
audiences to migrate towards new media platforms.
The emergence of this new environment is presenting important challenges for brand
communications. In fact, the development of new media platforms and the fragmentation of
media has dramatically reduced the influence of traditional advertising and it becomes almost
irrelevant to communicate using traditional marketing methods, which are increasingly failing in
delivering results. This context is presenting serious threats to the role and mission of
advertising agencies, which traditional role is being challenged and questioned.
Advertising agencies have been used for decades to a model of repetition that is not
responding anymore to the requirements of the digital age. The main question that comes to
mind is whether brands need advertising agencies anymore, and how advertising agencies
could still provide brands with benefits and value. We will try to respond to these different
questions by first, presenting how brands should communicate in the digital age. We will also
develop strategic advises to engage brands with consumers through different methods, such as
customization, content creation, brand experiences and social media strategies.
Presenting the best methods for brands to communicate in an environment challenged by the
digital will help us to understand how the mission and the role of advertising agencies are
progressively changing, transforming the traditional advertising agency into an interactive
This thesis is based on a deep analysis of the brand communication and advertising industries,
combining quantitative as well as qualitative types of research, such as questionnaires, semi-
structured interviews, and observation. I have been conducting my research based on a post-
positivistic methodological approach, meaning that the reality described in this thesis is
considered socially constructed rather than objectively determined. In social scientist terms, that
translates into not emphasizing gathering of facts and measure how often certain patterns
occurs, but rather to appreciate the different constructions and meanings that people place
upon their experience (Easterby-Smith et al., 1991).
The other basic methodology transition for conducting research is Positivism, which in contrast
is an approach to the creation of knowledge through research which emphasizes the model of
natural science: the scientist adopts the position of objective researcher, who collects facts
about the social world and then builds up an explanation of social life by arranging such facts in
a chain of causality (Finch, 1986). The post-positivistic approach that deals with understanding
the subjectivity of social phenomena mostly requires a qualitative approach (juxtaposed to
positivism, which is more closely associated with quantitative method of analysis).
Interviews have been one of the primary data sources for the research and a semi-structured
interview style was chosen in most cases. During the preparation of this project, I had the
chance to interview successively Jean-Marie Dru, Chairman of TBWA/Worldwide, Nicolas
Bordas, CEO of TBWA/France, Guillaume Pannaud, President of TBWA/Paris, Philippe
Simonet, Vice-President of TBWA/Paris, Cesar Croze, Executive Director at TBWA/Paris, Ed
Palmer, Head of Account Management at TBWA/London, Franck Perrier, Founder and CEO of
Idaos, and finally Stephanie Bouchet, Founder of the marketing consultancy Rouge Frog. Three
of these interviews have been recorded, transcribed and are available for the reader in the
III. Evaluation of strategic opportunities
A. Redefining brand communications for the digital age
1. Enhancing Creativity and differentiation
We could define in the first part the debate that happens in the business literature regarding the
implications and the challenges that the emergence of digital technologies present to brand
communications. As we could observe, people are increasingly in control of their media
experience as they can access constantly to information, content and entertainment. In
addition, people increasingly have the ability to skip things that are not valuable in their media
environment, such as brand advertising. In that context, brand communications need not only
to attract and retain the attention of customers, but also to give a reason for consumers to
include advertising in their media experience.
The first point is that brand communications need to be more creative and entertaining to
seduce consumers. Creativity has always been an essential factor in the success of brand
communications, as D. Ogilvy (1963) already advocated in his book Confessions of an
Advertising Man: “if it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.” However, brands should understand that
their audiences are not captive anymore and that they need as a consequence to be
entertained. J-M Dru (2009) explains it in the following words: “if you don’t entertain and engage
people, they will simply ignore you.” In the new media landscape emerged from the
establishment of digital technologies, safe advertising is becoming increasingly invisible.
Creativity in brand communications is becoming essential in every product category and every
communication discipline. Even large companies such as Procter & Gamble and Unilever
understand the need to be more creative in their communications, while both have been
awarded with a Grand Prix at the Cannes International Advertising Festival in 2007. For
decades, these companies had no reputation of being creative and winning creative awards.
Instead, J-M Dru (2009) explains in the article Big is Beautiful that “people were making fun of
these big unwieldy clients with their big traditional agencies.” The fact that both P&G and
Unilever have been awarded the same year the most prestigious prize in advertising
demonstrates that there is no getting away from the need for being creative to attract
audiences, even for largest companies.
Creativity, innovation and a risk approach needs to be enhanced within every single brand
communications. Therefore, during my internship at TBWA, I could observe that the main
philosophical guidance of the agency was to enhance creativity through a concept called
Disruption. J-M Dru (1996, p. 54) defines the concept in the following terms: “Disruption is
about finding the strategic idea that breaks and overturns a convention in the marketplace, and
then makes it possible to reach a new vision or to give new substance to an existing vision.”
The idea of disruption, he insists, is about “displacing limits, breaking the rules, challenging the
conventions and turning them on their heads to unearth something entirely new.” The belief of
disruption is that brands that truly outperform markets and have success do so by breaking the
existing conventions in their market. Disruption means breaking the conventions in brand
communications but also in product marketing and innovation.
The best example that comes to mind to illustrate disruption does not come from business or
brand communications but from sport. In 1968, in Mexico, Dick Fosbury shocked the Olympic
world by high-jumping upside down, instead of following the standard paradigm and jumping
stomach first over the bar. Fosbury won the Olympic gold and broke the Olympic record, but
more importantly, he radically changed the rules of his sport, having tried something that no one
had never tried before.
Disruption is behind the success of many brands, such as Apple, who changed its vision from
being a computer company to become a provider of tools for creative minds. As a result, Apple
embraced different paths from its original computing industry, such as the music and the mobile
phone industry, with the success that we can appreciate today.
This philosophy encourages brands to enhance creativity, innovation, and change in every
aspect of their business, not only communications. It takes risks and courage to do things
differently from its competitions. Businesses are often uncomfortable with the idea of
discontinuity, and change is generally seen as a threat. As Steinbeck once said, “it is the nature
of man, as he grows old, to protect himself against change, particularly change for the better.” It
is natural for companies as for individuals to be reactive against change; however, the success
of companies often comes with embracing change. Successful companies generally see
change as an opportunity and a force not to be feared but to be welcomed and exploited.
The easier step for brands to create discontinuity is to encourage change and innovation in their
own communications. Advertising should be the main source of creativity and disruption for
brands. By fully embracing disruption, not only communications would become more attractive
for consumers, but they would also reinforce the uniqueness of the brand positioning. While
many companies pretend that they are doing it, the majority of brand communications remain
ineffective because they are not creative enough to attract customers.
2. Taking care of the brand experience
The objective of brand communications is to encourage people to buy products and services
from a given company. Traditional advertising is generally perceived as an important factor in
the consumers’ decision. However, people do not judge brands on their advertising but on the
quality of the experience that they deliver. According to E. Josserand (2009), during his course
Client-oriented organizations, “brands generate expectations that are both rational and
emotional,” and these expectations must be enhanced by the physical and digital experiences
that people maintain with the brands that surround them.
2.1. Characteristics and promise of the physical brand experience
Every aspect of the physical experience plays a role in the perception of a brand. In the
Experience Economy, B. Joseph Pine and James H. Gilmore (1999, p.34) explain: “When a
person buy a service, he purchases a set of intangible activities carried out on his behalf. But
when he buys an experience, he pays to spend time enjoying a series of memorable events that
a company stages – as in a theatrical play – to engage him in a personal way.” According to U.
Okonkwo (2007, p. 9-10), “every brand possesses the characteristics of identity, promise, value
and differentiation.” These are the features that enable the relationship between a consumer
and a brand.
Consumers expect the promise and the delivery of an experience with the brands they use. As
a consequence, companies should make use of emotions and create feelings to enhance their
experience with consumers. Everything a brand does and offers to its consumers should be
embraced as a way to enhance the brand experience, through its story and its values. Whether
it is packaging, retail presence, website content, PR programs or employees themselves, every
point of interaction between consumers and the brand should be enhanced with creativity to
deliver a unique experience to consumers.
Packaging is for example a very important part of the brand’s perception for consumers and it
is a critical aspect of the brand identity. According to K. Newman (2009), “whether your brand is
aimed at luxury, specialty or mass consumers, ignore packaging’s power to define your brand
is at your own peril.” In addition, for many products, packaging is the first point of contact that
exists between consumers and the brand. It plays a critical role in appealing and seducing
consumers. Even for companies where packaging does not represent an important part of the
buying decision, packaging can bring additional value and is an opportunity to express brand’s
vision and values.
This is the case of Apple, which uses packaging as an opportunity to express its values of
creativity and tell a story about the brand. See Appendix 2.1. According to L. Clow (2009), in an
article in the blog Media Arts and Disruption, “the experience of buying an Apple product, and
discover it through its packaging tells as much of a story about the brand than a TV
commercial,” while L. Bix, quoted in an article from P. Mortensen (2005) explains: “Apple has an
understanding others don’t have that there’s an interface between people and the packages
that happens before you even reach the product.” Packaging brings a real additional value in
the experience of buying an Apple product, and demonstrates the desire of the company to
deliver a beautiful and compelling product.
Another company that embraces packaging design as a creative added value to strengthen its
brand experience is Coca Cola, which enhances collaborations with designers and constantly
creates new limited editions of its bottles. Among recent examples, Coca Cola developed
collaborations with the designers Roberto Cavalli, Sonia Rykiel and Karl Hagerfeld, and created
a limited edition for the celebration of Selfridges’ 100th birthday. See Appendix 2.2. Nike also
gives importance to packaging, and its concept Nike “Stadium,” for example, won the Cannes
Lions Promotion Award in 2007. Nike Stadium consisted in a limited number of Nike shoeboxes
that looked like a stadium, with a printed sheet of a stadium, which created the feeling of
hearing the crowd while opening the box. See Appendix 2.3. These different creative packaging
experiences both provide value for consumers and provide additional opportunities for brands
to build and develop on a truly relevant brand story.
In addition to packaging, everything that affects the customer journey should be taken care of
by brands and perceived as additional opportunities to express the brand story. Every brand
should wonder what kind of experiences should customers have with everything that surrounds
its products and services. Therefore, one of the most important experiences in buying a product
is the retail experience. Apple is relevant again to illustrate the importance of retail in the brand
experience. According to L. Clow (2009), Media Arts Director at TBWA and the man behind
Apple commercials, “the Apple Store is probably the best ad Apple has never done.”
Apple Stores are audio-video experiences where consumers can interact with the products,
discuss with passionate kids at the Genius Bar, and assist to lessons where employees teach
and explain how to use the products, and where films are shown to engage, inform, tell stories
and sometimes entertain. With the Apple Stores, the experience of buying an Apple product is
truly aligned with the brand’s story, its products, and its vision of enhancing creativity.
It is essential to align the experience of buying a product with the positioning of a brand. Both
need to be aligned in order to offer a coherent brand experience to consumers. This is what
Nestle did to upgrade its Nespresso coffee system to a luxury brand, and build it as a premium
brand comparable to Gucci, Louis Vuitton, or Bang & Olufsen. While its commercials promote
“the ultimate coffee experience,” Nespresso opened high luxury flagship stores in stellar
environments, such as the Champs-Elysees in Paris, to align the experience of buying the
product, and become one of the most elite brands in consumers’ mind.
Both examples from Apple and Nespresso demonstrate how building a relevant brand story
requires taking care of every physical point of interaction between the brand and its potential
customers in order to deliver a coherent brand experience. However, while consumers are
spending more time on-line, digital experiences are becoming increasingly important points of
interaction between brands and consumers.
2.2. The digital experience makes the difference
We could observe in the first part how both the emergence of new technologies and the
increasing acceptation of digital platforms were reshaping the way people accessed to content
and information. In this new media landscape, consumers also access to brands’ information
and content through different channels, which means that brands have digital experiences.
Figures and numbers confirm the need for brands to build digital experiences that have
coherence and relevance with their physical experience. In fact, according to a study from
Razorfish (2009), 65% of consumers have had a digital experience that changed their opinion
about a brand. 96% of them report that digital experiences influenced whether or not they
purchased a product or service from a brand. (Details of the survey can be found on Appendix
2.4.) In fact, in today’s media landscape, a company’s digital presence is increasingly becoming
the only experience that potential customers may ever have with a company.
The digital landscape is increasingly becoming the first place of contact between consumers
and brands. Still, according to the survey from the digital agency Razorfish (2009), 97% of
consumers have searched for a brand online, 77% have watched a commercial on YouTube,
68% have read a corporate blog, 65% have already played a branded, browser-based game,
and 73% have posted a product or brand review on a site like Amazon, Facebook or Twitter.
Before making a purchase, consumers often access to information about the products and
services that interest them, and select and compare relevant articles and commentaries,
through the Internet, that help make their decision. Greenberg explains, according from an
article by W. Berger (2009), “the most important interaction between consumer and brand
tends to happen in the digital space - often starting with a Google search that leads to a
company Web site. What happens when people arrive at that site may very well determinate the
survival of a brand.”
Developing a coherent and relevant brand experience on-line is becoming extremely important
and companies need to evolve their corporate websites into dynamic 24/7, 365 days online
experiences. Indeed, consumers praise brands online such as Nike, Apple and Spotify because
they succeed in delivering their brand promise in the digital environment. These brands offer
truly effective and inspiring online experiences that engage and entertain consumers.
One of the best examples of on-line experience is Nike+, a digital driven offering that combines
the products and services of Nike and Apple. Created in 2006, Nike + is an easy tool for
consumers to track and share their training progress. Performance results can be uploaded to a
personalized Nike+ account, where people can review their progress, connect with other
runners, and download training workout created by world famous coaches. The result is a
digital experience that delivers Nike’s brand attributes of performance and innovation, in a
relevant and unique way. According to B. Morrissey (2009) in an article in Advertising Age, since
the launch of Nike+, Nike Plus runners have logged in total more than 100 million miles. The
success of this platform is little coincidence with the fact that Nike increased its running shoe
market share from 48% in 2006 to 61% in 2008.
Many companies fail to understand the needs and desires of their consumers online.
Entertainment and value are two very important factors of decision for consumers in the digital
landscape. Brands should not only conceive websites to promote their products and services,
but also imagine these interfaces as interesting and attracting experiences that incite
consumers to spend time with the brand. Moreover, the emergence of mobile technologies and
digital applications provides new valuable opportunities for brands to engage their consumers.
IKEA, for example, used the benefits of augmented reality2 to enhance its consumers’
experience by providing a valuable interface that enable customers to imagine how their IKEA
furniture’s would fit into their home. Its agency Ogilvy One created a very simple mobile
application that displays different pieces of furniture that customers can select. By simply taking
a picture, aiming the camera of their phone at the area of the room where the furniture might be
placed, customers could see how the furniture would fit in their place. See Appendix 2.5. This
application is a great example of applying the unique attributes of mobile technologies to a very
specific customer situation. This innovation brings a real additional value for consumers and
enhances the brand and products experience.
In the case of IKEA, the digital experience is combined with a real customer need in the physical
world, and provides answers. An example from McDonalds presents another innovative
interactive experience that combines the physical and digital worlds to engage and entertain
consumers. In Stockholm, McDonalds created an interactive outdoor game, combining a
traditional outdoor format (4x3) with Bluetooth and digital technologies. Products from
McDonald’s scrolled on the digital billboard, and consumers simply had to catch one of them
with their cell-phone camera, go to the nearest McDonald’s, and show the picture of the
product to get one for free.3 Consumers were willing to play an interactive outdoor game and be
rewarded with a present, while it drove attractiveness and frequentation to the brand.
Augmented Reality, according to the Financial Times (2010), “deals with a combination of real-
world and computer-generated data, and generates for the user a view that combine the real
scene viewed by the user and a virtual scene generated by the computing machine.”
Watch the video case study:
Technology is increasingly enabling new types of experiences between brands and consumers,
and it provides brands with opportunities to add value and fun to their communications.
According to a report from DM2PRO and Quattro Wireless (2010), almost one-half of marketers
created a mobile application in 2009, while most are planning to invest in one in the following
months. Brands should use mobile and digital technologies as opportunities to create
compelling interactive experiences that reflect the core values of the brand and complement its
3. Shifting from advertising toward brand content
The role of advertising agencies, according to C. Croze (2009, see Interview 1) is “to advice
companies in order to build great brands’ stories and produce communication ideas.” In a
media landscape where there has never been as much information and content competing for
people’s attention, brands’ stories need much more substance to attract and retain consumers’
attention. Moreover, as we could observe in the first part, safe advertising is increasingly being
ignored and its effectiveness has dramatically reduced.
Building brand stories in this new environment requires more than simple advertising
commercials. Brands need to capture the attention of consumers and for that they need to
produce content that is interesting and entertaining enough to compete with the content that
people use to spend time with. The role of brand communications, and as a consequence the
role of advertising agencies, should shift from focusing on producing advertising commercials to
producing brand content. J. Hicks (2009) the CEO of the agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky
insists: “the agency’s job is to create content so valuable and useful that consumers wouldn’t
want to live without it”.
Brand content is different from branded content. J-M Dru (2010) explains in his article Brand
Content that in the case of branded content, “the brand participates in pre-existing editorial
content” while in the case of brand content, “the brand creates its own content.” Branded
content has always been part of brand communication strategies, through sponsorships,
ambassador programs or public relations. Companies have always tried to find ways to
associate their brands with the power and prestige of famous competitions, ceremonies, artists,
and art fairs, in consumers’ minds. However, the association in consumers’ minds could be
more or less evident, and the effectiveness of sponsorships can legitimately be discussed.
Brand content is different because it enables brands to play directly an editorial role that can
raise the interest of an audience. As it happens for consumers, the emergence of digital
technologies is empowering brands to produce, distribute and share content. Besides,
contrarily to the belief that media providers only should create content and information because
of a supposed neutrality and independence, brands have a real legitimacy to create content, as
illustrated by the words of P. Somarriba, former advertising director of Benetton, that J-M Dru
(2010) quotes in his article Brand Content:
“People believe that media are by definition independent. As a consequence, this
freedom would guarantee the quality of the content they create. This reasoning is not
justified. In fact, the media are profit-making businesses with commercial constraints
that brands don’t have, because brands’ resources come from other activities.”
The search for new experiences for consumers should encourage brands to engage resources
in the creation of content. Brands have access to financial resources that traditional medias
don’t have, which enable them to invest in media projects financially inaccessible to traditional
media providers. This is even truer for international companies that have the ability to connect
with audiences in a worldwide scale.
The challenge for brands with brand content is that they are not only competing with other
brands but also with all kind of content producers (television producers, movies directors,
entertainment conglomerates) to catch audiences’ attention. Some recent examples prove that
brands can perfectly fit the challenge. To demonstrate its willingness to embrace the spirit of
sport, rivalry and competition, Gatorade decided to stage rematches of classic games between
some of the biggest sport rivalries in the US. The first episode of Gatorade Replay staged the
re-match between the Easton and Phillipsburg College teams in a one-hour documentary
showing the return of the original players, coaches and cheerleaders, fifteen years after one of
the most memorable game in history between the two teams, which ended with a dramatic tie.
This idea of re-staging memorable games attracted audiences around the world and helped to
build a great story around the Gatorade brand. The first episode of Replay, according to J. Hunt
(2009), sold 13,000 tickets out in only 90 minutes, received over 130 million worth of media
impressions, and has been featured in almost every single newspaper in the USA. J-M Dru
(2010) even explains in an interview with France 24 that Gatorade and TBWA received requests
from the major studios to turn the documentary into a feature film or a longer series.
The success of Replay demonstrates that brands and advertising agencies can produce
content that both results attractive for people and provides brands with great benefits. Brand
content responds to a real customer need, which is to live new and different experiences while
being entertained. In addition, brand content helps to legitimate a positioning and demonstrates
the commitment of a brand with its values.
4. Changing the view on media
The emergence of brand content such as Gatorade Replay tends to illustrate how brand
communication ideas should enhance creativity both in the idea and in the form. The need for
brand content implies that agencies should focus not only on developing innovative creative
ideas, but also on finding how to deploy these ideas across multiple channels and platforms in
the most creative format.
The development of different types of brand content challenges the traditional idea of media. In
the case of Gatorade, the company did not use media in order to broadcast its message
because the message of the brand itself was the media. For decades, brands have used media
in a strictly limited sense: they paid to leverage a mass media channel and display their
advertising messages. This vision of media was relevant while audiences spent their time on a
few limited mass-medias. However, the migration of audiences towards new media platforms
has transformed this model and forces companies to change the vision of media.
Media is not only a way for brands to target and address messages to consumers, it is also the
way that people are engaging with the world around them. According to L. Clow (2009), “media
is just any space that exists between a brand and the audience.” The Inventor of the idea of
Media Arts at TBWA explains: “everything a brand does that connect to the consumer is
media.” Brands should use their communication strategies as opportunities to develop new
intersections with their customers, whether it is through the creation of physical and digital
experiences. In addition, marketers must understand that the revolution of digital
communications makes that their brands are progressively transforming themselves into a
There are many new connection possibilities between brands and consumers. The digital
revolution has created a whole new universe of media possibilities that enrich the possibilities of
advertising, as represented by this picture, taken from an article from Tim Bradshaw, in the
Financial Times (2009). See Figure 2.1.
Figure 2.1. Advertising, 1980 / 2009. Source: Financial Times, August 28th, 2009
Brands have more opportunities than ever to build their communications strategies and to
become part of their consumers’ lives. Indeed, this ever-evolving choice in the media
possibilities reassesses the notion of medias. Brands should stop thinking about buying time
and buying space in audiences’ lives as they have been used to do for decades with the
previous model of advertising, mainly based on a few mass medias. Instead, brands should
rather think and act like media companies, and create time and spaces that attract audiences
and provide them with a valuable reason to live and engage with the brand experience.
Some of the best brands today are already becoming the places, the spaces, and the
experiences that people choose to spend time with. Brands like Apple, Starbucks, and Nike are
brands that are shaping their brands to transform themselves into a medium through which
people can experience their lives. Trevor Edwards, Vice President of Global Brand Management
at Nike explains, in an article from L. Story, in the New York Times (2007): “we are not in the
business of keeping the media companies alive. We are in the business of connecting with
consumers.” The best ways for brands to connect with consumers is to create their own points
of interaction and their own interactive channels.
Brands must shift their attitude from being media neutral to become media passionate. The
digital revolution provides brands with unique opportunities to become the medias of their
consumers, and increasingly, brands should choose to develop media concepts and platforms
that use the benefits of technology to bring the brand closer to its audience. When Coca Cola
creates the “FIFA World Cup Celebration radio”, an on-demand personalized radio in
collaboration with Goom Radio, it expresses its desire to place celebration at the heart of its
communication strategy and it does it by inviting its consumers to celebrate the World Cup with
Coca Cola Radio, a live and interactive media, that creates value and interaction with
5. The power of storytelling
We already discussed that the role of brand communications is to build great brand stories.
These are the emotional links that connect consumers with the meaning of brand. R. Schank
(1990), once said: “human beings are not made to understand logic, but stories.” This is the
reason why, as N. Bordas explains in his book L’Idée qui tue (2009, p. 99), parables are so
important in religions and books like the Bible or the Koran.
Great stories play with emotions in order to be easier to commit to memory. They can be funny,
sad, true, or dreamt, but great stories always play with emotions in order to capture the
attention of audiences. To exist, ideas need to convince. This is the reason why politicians are
among the greatest storytellers because they know how to convince audiences. Barack Obama
and John McCain are also respected and successful authors.
Storytelling is extremely important in the creation of a brand identity. The best brand stories,
and the most easily recognizable, come from very simple ideas that capture a relevant
emotional universe around brands’ values. Many people associate Nike with the idea of “Just
Do It”, while unconsciously, consumers believe in the “refreshing” effect of a Pepsi. When
Adidas claims that “Impossible is Nothing”, it states clearly and firmly its vision that everything is
possible. Great visions are unique. Brands such as Nike, Virgin, Danone, Google have all visions
of their very own that make them unique.
Brand visions must reflect a very unique positioning. J-M Dru (1996, p. 99) explains in
Disruption that brands need to own something because “that is the only way for a vision to be
effective and stand the test of time.” Nike represents the belief of surpassing oneself. “Just Do
It” is the idea that embodies this vision. “Don’t Make Evil,” the motto of new Internet giant
Google, encourages innovation and progress for the good of people. All of these visions are
special and determinate a very specific vision inherent to the brand.
Jean-Marie Dru, in Disruption (1996, p. 100), gives a framework for finding relevant inspirational
sources to define a company’s savoir-faire and mission. The following outline is adapted from
the original one, and updated with recent examples:
Product Performance Product Category
Brand Expertise Inspiration Source Brand Meaning
Company Know-How Company Role
The BMW brand represents the product performance in the automobile industry, in addition to a
special care regarding design and aesthetics. Nintendo created a whole new product category
in the gaming industry when launching the Nintendo Wii, which revolutionized the way we think
and conceive gaming into a more interactive, fun, and participative experience. While other
actors such as Sony PlayStation and Xbox are focusing more on graphics and processing
power, Nintendo represents and owns a different product category. The Michelin brand
symbolises brand expertise, synonym of quality and effectiveness over the decades. In the
other part, a brand like Innocent embodies a different brand meaning, around the respect of
nature and the quality of its components. Hermes represents a company’s know-how, savoir-
faire and an expertise that seems unquestioned in consumers’ minds. Finally, the recent turn-
around of the brand Pepsi, which encourages and rewards consumers to realise charity
projects, through its platform Pepsi Refresh4, is an excellent example of a company that
embodies a role in the society.
All these cases are relevant examples of the importance for brands to have a powerful story and
a relevant positioning that makes the brand different and unique. Strong brands ideas give a
meaning and relevance to the company. In addition, brand ideas are also a great management
tool internally. J.M. Goumnu, J.F. Gagne and E. Josserand (2005) develop this idea in their
book Manager par la marque (Managing through the brand).
Brand visions are not only effective in consumers’ minds but they also galvanize people
internally. Brands need a vision, a belief system, an attitude and a view on the world that is
shared by the entire organization, internally and externally. More than simple guidelines, a brand
vision is a definite set of values. According to J-M Dru (2010), “when a company has a strong
culture, everyone in that organization not only supports decisions made by the CEO – but could
have made the same decision in his ore her place.” E. Josserand (2008) insisted in his course
Client-Oriented Organization that the brand is a promise that is first delivered by employees.
That reinforces the necessity for all employees to share a common vision and the same beliefs.
Thanks to Steve Jobs’ vision, Apple owns a culture of creativity and innovation that makes it
unique. TBWA created for Apple the motto “Think Different”, and it happened that this was
much more than an advertising slogan. In fact, it went directly at the heart of the company and
transformed its way of thinking. Apple embraced internally this idea that it was not simply a
computer maker, but the provider of tools for creative people. As a result, Apple launched new
devices, such as iTunes, the iPod, the iPhone, and now the iPad, which have been radical new
departures for Apple, but that were simply in line with this culture.
Pepsi launched the Refresh Project, a grants scheme providing millions of dollars to fund good
ideas that make the world a better place. Pepsi has up to $1.3 million in Refresh grants to give
out every month, ranging from $5,000 through to $250,000. www.refresheverything.com
Finally, the Pedigree brand recently changed its vision from being a dog-food producer to a
dog-loving company. The company fully embraced this idea, and now employees come to their
office with their dogs, the brand launched adoption drive initiatives in multiple countries, and
tries to embrace this positioning in every of its actions. Such examples, from Apple and
Pedigree, demonstrate the importance of having strong brand visions. When brands embrace a
clear vision, then every action of the brand, internally and externally, and then every
communication initiative remain honest with the idea of the brand. Strong brand ideas are
necessary in order to maintain a clear positioning and strong values in the mind of consumers.
This is the necessary condition to the next phase: engaging consumers in the digital world.
B. Engaging consumers in the digital world
1. Brands should let consumers take the ownership of their brands
1.1. Enhance customization and personalized consumption
The emergence of digital technologies has enabled brands to engage a personalized dialogue
and a concrete relationship with their consumers. Thus, we could observe in the first part of this
project that consumers are increasingly demanding to take a role in the creation of their
products. When consumers are given the opportunity to shape and influence the construction
of their brands, companies develop more chances to increase their customers’ loyalty.
Consumers love their own creations and with the increasing development of digital platforms,
they are demanding to have a word in the creation of the products they will become loyal to.
People want to find their identity through their purchases, and consumption is a massive tool of
identification. According to J. Brewer and F. Trentman (2007, p. 42), “consumption is an act of
discovering and cultivating the shelf.” Therefore, consumers expect from brands that they tell
them which kind of person they are. “Consumers gather around object which define their
identity and become centrepieces of particular routines of sociability,” according to D. Miller &
al. (1998, p. 89). Brands must build on this quest from consumers to find distinction and
difference in the use of their products to enhance customization and personalization.
The development of interactive digital technologies encourages brands to build platforms that
enable people to customize their own products. The idea of customization requires from brands
that they stop thinking in terms of control and start to open themselves to customers. On this
regard, A.G. Lafley, CEO of Procter & Gamble, quoted in an article from L. Crombie and A.
Simmons (2008), challenges marketers to “stop trying to control their brands and allow
customers to engage with them in creative ways.” Moreover, according to D. Tapscott (2009, p.
79), “the desire is about personalizing and accessorizing, it is more aesthetic than functional.” In
fact, consumers are becoming overused with standardized products and they want products
that are perfectly tailored to their needs.
Companies such as BMW, Converse and Mars have fully embraced the idea of customization
and allow their brands to serve for their consumers’ personal expression. For example,
consumers can draw the exact features, colours, and designs of their Mini Cooper cars and
Converse sneakers. In the case of M&M’s, brides can even serve monogrammed chocolate
candies for their weddings. Nike also pioneers customization since it created its service Nike ID
in 1999. The basic idea of the Nike ID platform is to use technology as a solution to let
consumers customize their own products and experiences.
Customization became one of the key elements of Nike’s strategy that is to shift its perception
from being a sportswear brand to become the enabler of customized and personalized
experience for its consumers. In the blog Buzz Canuck, Nike’s Brand President, Charlie Denson
(2007), explains it in the following words: “customization is a very important part of the way that
consumers interact with anybody or with brands today. We have spent the last 20 years trying
to bundle things, adding value to a purchase or a relationship. And now, it’s almost in reverse,
because you have to unbundle everything if it’s going to become customizable.” Therefore,
Nike’s strategy tends to illustrate the fact that we are leaving an age of controlled and limited
product offering to an age of customization and creative personalization.
The Nike ID platform is the perfect example of brand customization applied to the digital age.
Either on the Nike ID website, on Nike stores, or through Nike ID applications, people can
experience customization in very entertaining ways. Across all these platforms, customers are
given the opportunity to very easily build their own shoes from special sets of colours and
materials. Using the advances in technologies, Nike went further in the interactive experience
and created a mobile service, Nike Photo ID, which enables customers to create their own
customized shoes from pictures of the real world. The service, using MMS technology, identifies
the two dominant colours in a picture, matches them with the ones available from the Nike
Store, and finally generates Nike sneakers inspired from these colours, sending them to the
user, which can purchase them instantly using a unique Design ID code on the Nike ID website.
See Appendix 2.6.
The power of the case from Nike is that it matches visual technologies, very simple and easy to
use interfaces, with a real customer desire which is to customize their own experiences. Other
examples of brands that created customization platforms include a certain number of luxury
brands, including Zadig & Voltaire, which enables its consumers to customize their own
watches on its interactive website (See Appendix 2.7.), and Longchamp, which offers the
opportunity to its consumers to create their own personalized bags. (See Appendix 2.8.).
The idea of brand customization can also takes much simpler forms. Consumers are looking for
personalization and brands can provide them with additional choices or options to accessorize
their own products. Companies can enhance simple details that will provide a different
experience and develop the feeling of owning truly personalized products. For example, Apple
gives the chance to its consumers to add a personal laser-engraved message at the back of
their iPod for free.
We insisted in the importance of physical and digital experiences in consumers’ choices.
Enhancing customization provides brands with the opportunity to enhance their experience
through interactive or physical platforms. Brands should definitely seek new ways to improve
the customization of their offering and use the opportunities of evolving digital technology to
provide consumers with truly valuable ways to personalize their brand experience.
1.2. Encourage customer innovation and participation
Brands should not only enable consumers to customize and personalize their offering but they
should also open their organization to encourage customer innovation and participation. D.
Tapscott explains in his best-selling book Wikinomics (2006, p. 4) how the “traditional plan and
push mentality is being replaced by an engage and co-create economy.” The collaborative
revolution that D. Tapscott describes impacts companies in much more areas than brand
communications only. It involves changing the way companies do business.
Companies such as P&G and Dell have found that collaboration with customers could be
extremely successful and drive the emergence of powerful innovations. P&G launched a
website dedicated to open-innovation called Connect + Develop, which solicits externally