On my mind this week is "collaboration". There are two dictionary definitions: one inauspiciously linked to some French officials during the Nazi invasion; the other - "working together, especially in a joint intellectual effort" - a cause well worth pursuing. The concept has struck home twice in recent days.
First, there was a Lego-themed ad break on ITV on Sunday evening that benefited at least six brands: BT, Confused.com, Premier Inn and the British Heart Foundation – all of which had their creative reworked with Lego animation; Warner Bros, whose Lego Movie opens this week; and, of course, the Danish toy-maker.
ITV’s reputation was enhanced because it proved how the traditional TV ad break could be used laterally, and the media agency PHD rightfully received acclaim for coming up with this innovative media approach.
With Lego’s ad break, the demarcations of brand-centricity, and of media and creative agencies, were ignored
Although the creative itself left a lot to be desired, this was a rare case of win-win for the respective marketing directors and creative agencies, who ceded control of their brand output to try something fresh.
Earlier this year, the Bartle Bogle Hegarty boss, Ben Fennell, wrote in Campaign about communications "that connect to the consumer, to popular culture and to the business". And with Lego, we saw a prime example, where the old demarcations of brand-centricity, and of media and creative agencies, were judiciously ignored.
Second, the concept came up in the new deal signed this week between Guardian News & Media and Unilever, which will see the former creating consumer conversations around sustainable living funded by the FMCG company. The Guardian talks of a "collaborative and participative approach to developing brand stories that resonate among highly engaged communities" – the perfect definition of modern, progressive marcoms.
Unilever, whose open-source-style strategy includes Dove’s "real beauty sketches" and Project Sunlight, is engaging head-on with its stakeholders – in sometimes challenging subject areas – without, so far, losing sales.
Both the Lego and Unilever initiatives demonstrate bright new thinking by media owners. They show that chief marketing officers are willing to take risks and abandon their traditional control freakery – although, in Unilever’s case, it must ensure its underlying operational and ethical processes are sound to avoid a backlash.
It is also a huge opportunity for agencies. Clearly, there are inherent risks in exposing clients to wider thinking, but agency bosses should have the confidence to take a lead on collaboration in the interest of their brands’ futures. Above all, such an approach enables creatives to move beyond basic promotion to braver, more salient, more persuasive campaigns.
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