Read an Excerpt
How Disruption Brought Order
The Story of a Winning Strategy in the World of Advertising
By Jean-Marie Dru
Palgrave Macmillan Copyright © 2007 Jean-Marie Dru
All rights reserved.
The Method (Or Why Our Way of Working Makes Our Agency a Different Kind of Company)
If you look at the list of the top advertising networks worldwide, the only newcomer in the past ten years is TBWA. It was the fruit of several mergers. Among the most memorable of these were the absorptions of Chiat/Day and, later, BDDP. Born in Paris, BDDP is an agency I co-founded in 1984. There we invented the Disruption methodology. Parallelly, Chiat/Day, born in Los Angeles, is probably the agency with the most disruptive spirit in America, perhaps the world. This is the agency that became famous around the globe that same year in 1984, with the campaign for the launch of the Macintosh computer.
These agencies were made for each other. Following their merger, resources were pooled, cultures were blended, ways of doing things were mixed; this gave a new energy to the company that is now known as TBWA.
All the agencies TBWA now encompasses were founded by real entrepreneurs, and a large number of them are still with us. This has resulted in an impressive group of talented people, a group that our competitors admired, a group of creative people whose reputation has gone well beyond their original frontiers: first and foremost Lee Clow from Los Angeles, John Hunt from Johannesburg, and Trevor Beattie from London.
But we soon realized that talented individuals alone were not enough to build a successful network and to create something truly different in our industry. We needed a catalyst, something for these talents to rally around and to bring us inexorably together.
I offered Disruption.
At first, the concept was rejected. The method and its underlying culture were too closely linked to one of the agencies that had been absorbed. The buyer rarely embraces the culture of the acquired. Because I did not want to force Disruption on people, I thought it was going to disappear.
Months passed. Then John Hunt of South Africa invented a brilliant new way of conducting Disruption Days, and he started to share his new expertise with people from other countries. Sometime later, one of our board members finally stated the obvious: "We are really stupid not to realize that Disruption is the idea."
From that moment on, Disruption became the mantra of our company. It was consistent with Lee Clow's swashbuckling pirate flag, with the irreverence of Trevor Beattie, and with the unorthodox approach of John Hunt.
Once we had a unifying philosophy, a rallying cry, once everybody started to buy into it, I knew we could create something special. In this book, I would like to tell the story of Disruption and all it has done, in the hope that it might inspire others who are seeking to create change in their own companies.
UNFAIR COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE
Disruption is fed by the idea of change. In theory, we are all in favor of change. But the truth is that each of us is most at ease in the comfort of the status quo.
Yet the only thing that you can be sure of is that if you stay still, you will fail. I often use this quote by Paul Valéry: "We need to wake up from a thought that lasts too long." Companies and brands that do not try to see and do things in a new way find their personalities gradually diminishing. Our job is to help them to constantly renew themselves.
Hunt/Lascaris is the agency in our group that knows better than any other how to borrow from others. Whatever the project, idea, or suggestion, John Hunt captures it, takes it on board, revises it, and comes up with a new and completely transformed initiative. In Disruption, the book I published in the mid-1990s, I briefly described our intention to organize brainstorming sessions around Disruption, a topic I termed Disruption Days. From this embryo of an idea, John Hunt and Marie Jamieson, the agency's planning director, created a complete process for Disruption Days, a brainstorming program between clients and the agency that has proved incredibly rewarding. Three chapters of a compilation book entitled Beyond Disruption, published in 2002, show how Disruption Days are put into practice.
For a long time, these Disruption Days followed the usual Disruption sequence: Convention, Disruption, Vision. The method then evolved over the course of the hundreds of Disruption Days we have organized for our clients. We always begin with a detailed analysis of Conventions—in other words, the assumptions and given wisdom that apply to a market or a brand—but we then go straight toward defining the Vision, a new way for the brand or a company to imagine its future. Work on Disruption becomes the third phase, with Disruption being defined as "the idea that will accelerate our journey from the challenged convention to the renewed vision."
Though we may not define a ten-year plan each and every time, we always come up with something: a new product idea, an innovative way of seeing the brand portfolio, an original approach to retail, and so on. This allows the agency to begin a dialogue on another level from that of a typical creative presentation. On occasion, young executives from our clients have come down to my office in New York to tell me that, thanks to Disruption, they could finally express their opinions and have their voices heard.
For TBWA, Disruption has become a decisive advantage. Our method allows us to be creative not only at the final creative stage, but also in the initial strategic stages. We believe in being creative before the creative process starts. As for Disruption Days, they create levels of proximity and communication with our clients that some thought was impossible today.
I recently came across what I had written about this method in 1996: "Disruption is a catalyst for the imagination, a guide that opens up many paths, a method that allows us to turn perspectives inside out, a process that breathes new life into brands, an alternative to standard ways of thinking. In a word, Disruption is an agent of change."
And this is what Carisa Bianchi, president of our Los Angeles office, our largest agency, had to say on the subject: "Make no mistake, Disruption won all our recent pitches. We made an active choice to unleash the power of Disruption early and often. Disruption is a tangible asset that makes a tangible difference. It puts us on a different level. It inspires us to excel and gives us an unfair competitive advantage."
A WORLDWIDE TOUR OF DISRUPTION
Our first Disruption dates back to the 1980s. It concerned a little-known sports watch brand that has gone on to become a famous luxury brand. In the space of three years, the average price of a Tag Heuer watch went from $600 to $1,500. To raise the brand's status, the campaign had to raise the status of sport and the athlete. Tag Heuer highlighted the fact that in sport, as in all competitive activities, mental strength is what makes the difference.
In the campaign, an athlete conjured up imaginary obstacles in his mind in order to push himself farther; we used a stick of dynamite for a relay runner or a razor blade in place of a hurdle. Imagination became a source of motivation. The concept, elaborated on in the slogan Don't Crack under Pressure, bridged the gap between sport and prestige, between sweat and luxury, making it a true Disruption.
When I am asked to give a recent example, I often cite what we have done for Nextel. The case is very demonstrative in its sheer simplicity. Nextel's Disruption can be summed up in a few words: Others talk, we do.
We described Nextel as the company of doers. The majority of its customers were initially blue-collar workers, for instance in the construction business. People with heavy workloads, people who have little time to waste. Our objective was to broaden Nextel's user base and to make its clients feel that they belonged to an exclusive club of doers. In reality, the message was targeted at anyone considering him or herself an entrepreneur, whatever the domain.
Defying all logic, a telecommunications company insinuated that things would be better if we spent less time talking and more time doing, even though the company's financial results depended on the amount of time its clients spent communicating. The strength of the campaign lies within this paradox. Overnight, Nextel was seen in a different light. Advertising defined the space it could occupy ... The following year's annual report was entitled "Ready. Set. Done." Each section incorporated the word do or done in one form or another. The section dedicated to its mission was defined as follows: "We may be in the wireless communications market, but our mission is to help people talk less and do more."
We have identified four types of Disruptions in general and regrouped them into four concentric circles. Business is found at the center, with Advertising at the outermost circle. More precisely, the center is assigned to the business model, or how the company makes money. The second circle is devoted to the products and services it offers. The third is for marketing, that is to say, how these products or services are proposed to consumers. The last circle is that of Advertising. Disruption can intervene at any of these levels. The closer the Disruption is to the center, the more solid and durable it is, by definition.
In the first circle, Ikea and Amazon best illustrate companies that have invented different business models. As for the second circle, what company better than Apple represents companies consistently proposing revolutionary products? The Body Shop and Absolut are exemplary illustrations of marketing approaches that create a rupture in the third circle. Last but not least, Tag Heuer and Nextel show us how a Disruption at the communication level, supposedly the least enduring circle, can also create a powerful force.
In recent years, Disruption has spread across our network, to the four corners of the earth. I will describe in detail later in this book what we have created in the United States for Apple, Nissan, and Adidas. Their communication programs have been encapsulated in one word or sentence: Think Different for Apple, Shift for Nissan, and Impossible Is Nothing for Adidas. Each of these corporate taglines has inspired a series of disruptive initiatives. I will also show that in France, our actions have a profound effect on two institutions that you could not imagine more different: McDonald's, and the French Railways.
But first, let us look beyond the United States and France, at a number of unconventional strategies that have blossomed around the world. We will briefly examine a number of them, coming from ten different countries, starting with South Africa.
Our agency in Johannesburg lashed out at those who were banishing HIV-positive victims from their own villages in the bush, calling this behavior the new Apartheid. By retouching old black-and-white photos of "whites only" signs into signs saying "non-AIDS only," the agency took a stand against this new form of segregation. We exploited the most painful images from South Africa's collective consciousness to serve a noble cause. Quite disruptive.
The same agency recommended that Nando's, the fast food brand, raise its game with a delicious manipulation of the political agenda, registering itself as N.A.N.D.O.S, the New African National Democratic Organization for Solidarity, a new independent political party for the 2004 elections. One of the advantages of this new political party status was to obtain free advertising space in the mainstream press for campaigning: unbelievable but true.
Until recently, pharmacies in Sweden did not give advice to customers, but rather merely filled doctors' prescriptions. The goal of a recent advertising campaign was to train pharmacists on how to give advice on illness prevention, and in the process save millions of dollars worth of unnecessary time wasted in visits to doctors and sick leave. The seriousness of the subject did not inhibit the agency's creativity. Far from it. To promote oral hygiene, pharmacists were persuaded to organize a nationwide competition for the world's longest kiss, a category that is now recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records.
In Guatemala, an inexpensive motorcycle brand coming from India has trumped the big Japanese companies by making a virtue out of buying and using a motorbike not for fun or sport, but for work. As the advertisement says: The motorbike helps you to do your job better. As a result, the banks give preferential loans for the brand, which now enjoys more than 60 percent of the market. What was once cool—to own a Japanese brand—is now seen as a foolish waste of money.
We recommended that the United Kingdom's No. 1 garden retailer adopt a new vision, to transform the health of every garden in Britain. The competition's approach has always been merely cosmetic, horticultural "plastic surgery." These competitors were dealing only with the outer appearance, which indeed is the usual convention of the market. In making health the focus for all of its client's new garden products and services, the company saw itself in a different way. And its market share more than doubled in just two years.
The strategy we proposed to one of the largest insurance companies in Belgium consisted not just in selling insurance, but also in working with clients to reduce the very need for it. One of the company's recent new products is automobile insurance with lower premiums for those who go to work by train rather than driving their car. At the end of the day, if we launch more products like this, we can gradually participate in reconfiguring this client's business model from top to bottom.
Many people believe—incorrectly—that giving up smoking diminishes their ability to concentrate. In a Japanese chewing gum campaign, the concept of mind sharpening was expressed as a behavioral insight, Chewing is thinking. These three words are now the signature of our campaign, which fights a cultural taboo against chewing gum in the workplace.
One of our agencies in Spain discovered how to convince more companies to outsource work to prison workshops. They decided to make the label Made in Prison fashionable. To do this, they focused the spotlight on what had previously been hidden. It is now trendy to show that you are supporting Reinsertion Initiatives. "Made in Prison" has become the stamp of a cool fashion brand.
In Finland, the increase in domestic abuse had become a major national issue. Victims' shame drove them to invent stories of mishaps and clumsiness to explain their injuries. By wrapping warning tape on walls, steps, doors, table corners, and other areas of the home, we drew attention to the obvious dangers these everyday so-called hazards represented to women as a source of potential injury. This was a surprising way of executing an insightful strategy: When you choose to accept the lie from a victim of domestic abuse, you become a partner in the crime itself.
South Korea is one of the most sophisticated wireless telecommunications environments in the world. Despite this, our client, SK Telecom, refused to participate in the prevalent hype around convergence. Instead of advertising the supposed joys of watching live sporting events on your phone, we did just the opposite. We invited customers to share all the reasons why SK Telecom is important to them in their lives, celebrating unexpected or very basic uses such as being able to check your lipstick, or setting your morning alarm call. Thousands of customers contributed their stories, which were featured on the web and also published in the most traditional of "analog" formats, a hardcover, modern handbook on daily life. The book was called "365 days."
When is a soup not a soup? When it is a snack alternative to coffee or tea in the office. Our disruptive marketing strategy chose to take a soup brand out of the cupboard at home and to place it in dispensers and vending machines in offices throughout the Netherlands. We took the brand to work, literally. Inspired by research that showed that the average worker's energy drops significantly in the afternoon, we created a new institution: 4:00 p.m. was a good time for a break—and a cup of soup. By positioning the product as the answer to a loss in business productivity, we recast the brand's role.
All these examples serve to show how Disruption has spread around our company. Each of our offices practices it daily. Above all, they all illustrate what is at the very heart of Disruption, which is to generate ideas at the strategic level. We want there to be an idea in the Disruption strategy itself. When this happens, the force of the creative product, the power of the words and images that translate the strategy, are greatly multiplied.
Disruption, the book, was published in 1996. In an advertisement published in the Wall Street Journal, I explained some ideas that are still at the heart of Disruption in action today: "From now on there can be no change without rupture; change is discontinuity. Consequently, gradual evolutions and series of adjustments are not enough.... What has changed, and is decisive in our eyes, is our conviction that what in the past was the fruit of intuition and chance must now be the basis of a systematic approach."
A quote that I often use in my speeches is from the well-known words of Benjamin Franklin: "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting something different to happen." Most of the people I speak to start to smile when I say this, forgetting that, more often than not, it is aimed directly at them.
Excerpted from How Disruption Brought Order by Jean-Marie Dru. Copyright © 2007 Jean-Marie Dru. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
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