Back in 2006, when the English cricket team toured Australia for the Ashes, its coaching staff famously devised a set of colour-coded plans for bowling to the Australian batsmen. That this tactic failed in the most spectacular fashion (they lost the series 5–0) was testament to the adage that the best-laid plans can go awry.
But the funniest part of this debacle was when a journalist asked the English bowler Matthew Hoggard about his execution of these plans. He replied “To be honest, I don’t really think about them much – I just wang the ball down the other end.”
It was a hilarious response from a man clearly unconvinced by his administration’s pre-determined, quasi-scientific approach to his craft.
As a ‘creative’ in marketing communications, I sometimes feel like Matthew Hoggard did on that fateful tour. Recent and not-so-recent changes in the world of media and marketing mean that those of us at the pointy end of the communication process – the ones doing the ‘wanging’, as it were – find ourselves rather bemused by what’s happening around us.
Now, in my opinion, the fundamental principles of marketing have not changed. And this view is shared by much wiser and more experienced marketers than me: just take a look at Drayton Bird’s blog or Bob Hoffman’s Ad Contrarian observations.
But it is beyond question that the marketing communications industry has changed.
Because of a seemingly growing preference for automated marketing over communications created by and intended for human beings, the creative agencies of yesteryear are disappearing or being subsumed within broader ‘full-spectrum’ (ugh), media or digital agencies.
Meanwhile, all those self-proclaimed social gurus and digital mavens are becoming increasingly influential. And as a corollary, their recommended approaches – always ‘innovative’, of course, if not ‘game-changing’ – are taking precedence over what is actually being communicated.
So, unsurprisingly, there is a tendency to think about marketing purely in terms of process rather than craft – that if you can just work out who and where your customers are (Big Data!), and reach them via the right media, then the communication itself is largely irrelevant.
And so, by extension, is the person who creates it.
I don’t think I’m overstating this. At a seminar I attended last year, almost none of the attendees responsible for writing copy were professional writers. They were planners, or brand managers, or even business owners; copywriting was simply tacked on to their other roles. And this was despite them having no real experience with writing – or talent for it, based on what I observed.
This should not have come as a surprise. Every day, I see examples of marketing communications so God-awful that they make me want to weep. Badly conceived. Badly written. Badly designed. And destined to fail.
I’m not sure what all this means for the future of our industry. But perhaps when it becomes clear that colourful plans alone are not enough to win the game, the wangers might come back into fashion.
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