Why failure is good

Strategy publisher Mary Maddever on advice from Kevin Spacey and Agency of the Year winners.

This story appears in the November 2014 issue of strategy.

Agency of the Year is the best – and the busiest – of times for us here at strategy. Amid CASSIES judging, Shopper Innovation Awards entry rush and kicking off the advisory boards and content push for BCON Expo and the Shopper Marketing Forum, we produce this magazine and put together an award show. And we also put out a few dailies – Media In Canada, strategydaily, not to mention stimulant – along the way. So that’s the busy.

On the best side, it’s a chance to see all of the amazing work from Canada curated in a unique way: top cases from all sides of the industry, looked at in the context of the daily deluge of change that’s rewiring the industry – spotting the impact of the trends, from the tech impact on shopping to branded content.

Those were the big themes that kept popping up during Ad Week in New York last month. Bottom-line takeaway was to be brave, embrace failure as valuable learning and rethink everything you do from the consumer’s POV.

Kevin Spacey’s IAB Mixx keynote was perhaps the most relevant takeaway of Ad Week, given that more marketers now focus on the value of creating content. Blending killer wit with knowledge of the industry (working ROI, purchase funnel and SEO into a line ending with, “Yeah, I know your fucking terms”), Spacey busted the myth that making good content is a crapshoot: “We know how to tell a story.” But he said since tech has given audiences more control over what they consume, we need more creative courage to break through.

He cited House of Cards as an example of the potential rewards, saying in the new content spaces, creatives have more control than ever before. With the hits coming from braver, non-formulaic concepts – and the fact that “anyone with internet access and an idea can have an audience” – he advocates content mold-breaking. “We must make no assumptions about what viewers want. The more we try new things, the more we learn about our audience.”

Noting the tech is there to create virtual worlds, Spacey sees an increased urgency for brands to innovate – “Engage with consumers one on one in their own time and space.” His caveat: “You have to be willing to fail and trust that it will lead to the right thing. Because that’s how you know when you get it right.”

But risk goes both ways, and that’s why it’s harder for marketers and agencies to jump in (and keep their jobs and clients). So look at the work from the winning agencies this issue (do check out all of the cases here), and be inspired to take some leaps. And if you need a further nudge, we’re putting together our branded-content focused day in March, and our Shopper Marketing Forum in April, with more of the best and bravest examples out there – what’s inspiring and working on the new frontiers.

Congrats to all the winners, as well as all the agencies who took a shot at the prize this year, and to all the brands who took risks.

Cheers, mm