Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Creativity, Control and the Land of Discontent

I totally dig the world of consumer advertising and the creativity of hot shops like Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Wieden + Kennedy, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, and Mother.

Their work focuses on the idea and how it is best expressed through visual media. When successful, an ad agency’s impact is measured by the campaign’s influence on brand reputation and positioning, as well as sales and revenue generation.

Much of advertising is about creativity for cut through in a crowded and noisy environment. I get that.

What I don’t quite understand is the approach Crispin Porter & Bogusky has taken with this possible new version of its corporate Web site. It is still in beta so I suspect the agency plans to evaluate feedback before going all in.

Crispin has mimicked the approach employed last year by Skittles in which content from a number of social networks -- such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube -- are aggregated on the Web site.

It is certainly dynamic and demonstrates relevance (or buzz) in the market. However, the site owner forfeits control of content and related messaging and, as a result, assumes a high level of risk. A site designed as a promotional vehicle could quickly digress into a channel for customer discontent.

Now there is a valid argument that the loss of message control serves as the very foundation of credibility in a social media environment. It’s an honest and transparent dialogue which will most likely resonate with key stakeholders.

I do buy into that and believe that for a product like Skittles this creative expression via social media works.

However, in a corporate environment the risk is simply too great. Could unjust negative comments impact client retention or new business? You bet. How about unflattering remarks from a former employee fired for cause? Could that hamper recruitment and retention efforts? It sure could.

There are a myriad of ways Crispin can portray its creativity and hip-ness while mitigating risk. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.


Michael Hiles said...

ick... total distraction. What are they selling? Why should I buy what they are selling?

Fruball nonsense. I mean... how is this creating relationships? How is this client-focused marketing? What message are they communicating besides ADHD?

Gary said...


Are you saying that the concept of going social for a corporate agency presence is in itself a bad idea, or are you just not happy with their execution?

I agree, what they have could have been done a little better. Little too much exposure for where this market lies. Buuuuuut...

I commend the idea. I very much respect a "communication" agency trying better to, well, communicate. Execution aside, the more an agency can bridge the gap between what is and what should be (as the so-called marketing experts), the more respect they will gain, the more trust they will build, and the more clients that will get it and want to take part in it.

The agency schtick is over as far as I'm concerned. The chest beating of those pros is no longer viable in today's markets. Agency workers need to realize that they no longer have all the answers and that in many ways the "market" dictates them. In this case, I think they went a little too far, but what CP&B is essentially saying is..."...look, we're in the s**t, and we are plugged in more than anyone on the friggin planet. We have gotten over ourselves, so get over yourselves. We are bleeding edge and our competition isn't. So there. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it. And BTW, we are AOR for MIcrosoft, Burger King, VW, etc..."

I for one commend them. In one year, you'll look back and say...these guys were ahead of everyone else. Trailblazers in their own right. And dead on.

Lock it up.

Marc Hausman said...

@Gary - Thanks for the thoughts on this.

I'm certainly not saying the incorporation of social media into a corporate Web site is a bad idea. In fact, it is something we recommend to all of our clients.

Rather, I believe Crispin's execution is flawed because they forfeit control of the message on a Web property intended to be a promotional vehicle.

Deanna said...

Hi. The idea that you can control your audience and mitigate risk is old school and simply bad brand management. The times they are a changin and the way consumers are engaging with brands has indeed changed. There are too many outlets available for consumers to talk about brands...and from what we can tell, they like to talk. As a brand, you have the option of acknowledging this reality and working with the tide or become obsolete.

Secondly, the execution of CP&B's beta site is not really like Skittles. Skittles was an interesting idea with poor execution. CP&B's site is spot-on. They have provided relevance and context and have opened a dialog between many audiences.


Charnell said...

"However, in a corporate environment the risk is simply too great. Could unjust negative comments impact client retention or new business? You bet. How about unflattering remarks from a former employee fired for cause? Could that hamper recruitment and retention efforts? It sure could."

I disagree. Leaving an open and public line of communication from a business standpoint is a great thing. Sure, negative comments can be left but it's about how the business handles those negative comments that helps build upon the company brand. They can be transparent and address any and all comments, good or bad showing strength and trust or choose to ignore them and ruin their brand.

You don't have to forfeit control and if you have a good strategy, you actually have a good handle on what direction the comments can lead into - it's all about how you as a business responds.

It's really not about how tied into Social Media you can be, it's about how you handle your Social Media presence that stands out and either makes you or breaks you.

Harald Felgner said...

"However, in a corporate environment the risk is simply too great. Could unjust negative comments impact client retention or new business? You bet. How about unflattering remarks from a former employee fired for cause? Could that hamper recruitment and retention efforts? It sure could."

@Mark Agree! Unjust (and JUST) negative comments will impact your business. But ...

... and @Deanna puts that point forward: You cannot control your audience anymore. Collecting all feedback including the negative voices on your Corporate Homepage might be extreme and will not work in every industry. But think about it: Where does your digital corporate presence end? Where does the outside begin?

Mary Fletcher Jones said...

This is a case of the Emperor and his new clothes. You call it as you see it, and you called it right.

I tried to find something nice to say about this web site, but it's ugly and incoherent, which is hard to forgive in a web site. It has no message; it's gimmicky. Nothing trailblazing or spot-on about it.

Great that they used video on their home page, though. It's not what I would have chosen but still. I wonder why more companies, particularly agencies, do not.

In my view, social media is SOCIAL, not arrogant. There is WAY too much arrogance in the social media community and this is just one example. As marketers, advertisers, and publicists, we need to remember that we are service-based and client-focused first. Any web site should take into consideration the end user. Especially, in this case, potential clients. A cardinal rule of web site design: don't make your your visitor work to understand your site.

Pam Broviak said...

As a consumer, I loved their site. Because I never watch TV anymore, I rarely watch ads. But I spent quite a bit of time at their Website watching the ads which were funny. I particularly liked the Domino's ones.

Anyway, not only does the site showcase their work, it is becomes another tool with which they can promote their clients. They just need a button or page for promoting themselves.

And even better they said on the site they are going to make the code they used to build the site open source.

John White said...

What's the problem? It's memorable, it's relatively sticky and it's a nice showcase.

I hope they run it past a few clients first.

chick1 said...

I think it is risky, but interesting and will certain garner attention. Will all that attention be good all of the time? Probably not, but isn't that life? Don't we all have a handful of clients, that for some reason or another, we couldn't make happy? I would LOVE for the illusion that good companies always make all clients happy to be dispelled by someone who can afford to do it!

My one real fear for them is a Twitter hijacking being displayed on their page, making their site a malware dispensing medium. Not sure how their tech is set up, hope that have some way of keeping themselves from being shut down by Google in the event.

Mark said...


An interesting experiment. It might work, it might not, for a firm that sells a creative service as its corporate "face" on the Web and wants to portray itself as creative, fun, iconoclastic. yada yada. But....

My big "but" is this: This sort of presence would be nothing but grief and trouble for a firm whose products or practices attract attacks from motivated adversaries, i.e. environmentalists v. plastic products or labor unions v. major retailers, to name but two.

What would the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina been like if FEMA took this approach?

Addendum: Let's say a manufacturer with a "social media" Web page is named in a product liability lawsuit. Said "social media" based web site is the official Web organ of the company. What kind of hassles will there be during discovery? (Believe me, I'm not advocating turning company management over to legal counsel, but it gives me pause.)

Robin Ferrier said...

Regardless of whether the concept is a good one or not, the result / design is way too busy. I didn't even want to stop and look around or see what the company was about. It gave me a headache just looking at.

As to concept, I think it's an interesting one for a company focused on social media. I'd rather they have a link to their "live social media" page -- that could look something like this -- vs. having it be the whole site or the homepage.

James Wallis Martin said...


I would have to argue they are spot on in so many different ways. First, there is the search engine ranking which the multi-media content will help launch them from page 30 in a Google search up to either the first or second page. This is huge in the ad agency world. Is it worth giving up control? Well it definitely means you have to keep the customers happy now doesn't it.

It also means they have enough balls to put their money where their mouth is. Most ad agencies are like financial brokers and after-life insurance salesmen. They can never directly show that you needed their services to make it, but they will charge you as if they have either way.