Strategy is overrated

The problematic pecking order of strategy, creation and production

Advertising has a pecking order. At the top of the food chain we find the Brand Strategists. They think up the Big Themes and and everybody takes them very seriously, since they speak the language of business people. Then the advertising agency comes in. Agencies are judged by their success in bringing the brand strategy to life – the originality of their ideas is not so relevant, really. Production agencies are at the bottom of the food chain. Even though it is an open secret that their part of the chain is where value is created, they willingly allow themselves to be pushed way down the chain, pretending that “We never understand a single word of strategy”.

So what’s the problem? The problem is the pecking order doesn´t work. And startups know. In The Lean Startup Eris Ries argues that the main reason why most startups fail is that their founders never tested their sacred beliefs. They are so convinced of their own vision of the market that they only wake up to find out they’ve got a hangover when the money is gone and the first paying client still hasn´t been found.

Yet, in advertising, the holy faith in this pecking order remains untouched. The number of brand gurus flown in and the endless, strategic company awaydays make us wonder in despair. So much intellectual labour, discussion and compromise is put into birthing a Brand Essence, that marketeers find no other way than to defend it to the bitter end. Even if it is impossible to filter a single interesting idea from the Brand Essence – or worse yet – if the business problem is beyond salvation by any brand story.

Rei Inamoto of AKQA once wrote: ¨Business ideas from the least expected angles or players will disrupt your business faster than advertising can save it”. Those who have best guarded their brand essence will find a place of honour in the museum of forgotten brands. Those who experiment most aggressively will be the successful marketeers of the future.

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