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Everything is dead: Kevin Roberts on life in a 'super VUCA world'

The {insert thing here} is dead theme is a very common one in an industry that's enamoured with the new. Newspapers are dead, magazines are dead, TV is dead, retail is dead, radio is dead, full-service agencies are dead .. and the list goes on. Typically, these rather evangelical assertions come from those with a barrow to push, not from those who are part of the 'establishment'. So we were surprised to read a story about Saatchi & Saatchi's global chief executive Kevin Roberts claiming marketing is dead, strategy is dead, management is dead and big ideas are dead in a presentation he gave at The IoD’s Annual Convention. 

We don’t just live in a VUCA world - a volatile, uncertain, ambiguous and complex world - we live in a super VUCA world. We live in a vibrant world where our kids are connecting to each other and to brands across the world with no money involved. To us this is a world that’s gone crazy.

Strategy is dead. Who really knows that is going to happen anymore in this super VUCA world? The more time and money you spend devising strategies the more time you are giving you rivals to start eating your lunch.

Management is dead. To win today you need a culture and an environment where the unreasonable power of creativity thrives. Ideas are today’s currency not strategy. Martin Luther King did not say ‘I have a vision statement’ did he? He had a dream. You have to make sure you have dreams and your brand also needs a dream.”

...The big idea is dead. There are no more big ideas. Creative leaders should go for getting lots and lots of small ideas out there. Stop beating yourself up searching for the one big idea. Get lots of ideas out there and then let the people you interact with feed those ideas and they will make it big.”

Leaders need to become emotional thinkers. The difference between rational thinking and emotional thinking is that rational thinking leads to conclusions and meetings and more meetings. Emotional thinking leads to action.”

There are three secrets to emotional thinking – mystery, sensitivity and intimacy. It is a lot about story telling. Brands need to tell stories on their websites, on their packaging and so on. Make sure your brand and company has a smell, it has a sound, it has a feel and an intimacy with people. Think about how you can build empathy. It is the small things that count and how consumers feel about our brands that count today.”

“Marketing is dead. The role of marketing has changed now. There is nothing new anymore. If marketers are just hearing about something going on then it is already old in today’s world. The further up in a company you go the stupider you become and the further away from new things. Speed and velocity is everything today. Marketing’s job is to create movement and inspire people to join you.

“Everyone wants a conversation. They want inspiration. Inspire people with your website. Don’t just interrupt, but interact. Asking about Return on Investment is the wrong question today. You should be asking about Return on Involvement.”


Change is constant, of course, but if history is any guide—and as Assignment Group's Peter Cullinane wrote in his excellent summary of the modern media landscape in the latest edition of NZ Marketingrevolutions are much less common and humans have a habit of thinking change is happening far more rapidly than it really is.

There’s no doubt some of the so-called ‘traditional’ forms of media are being forced to evolve more quickly than they’d like. But that doesn't mean they’re dead, it doesn’t mean they won’t play an important role in the future—albeit in a potentially different format—it doesn't mean old ways of doing things still work perfectly well and it doesn't mean some of the benefits of digital and social marketing may have been overstated, as some believe the recent decision by General Motors to unfriend Facebook attests.

The utility of digital technology means there are more opportunities for brands and publishers to create immersive, interactive and relevant products and campaigns, like Nike's brilliant My Time is Now. And it allows previously passive consumers to become active participants. That’s a good thing. But old habits die hard, beacons of quality are still important and, from a media point of view, content is still king. So I agree with Cullinane’s assertion that not all eyeballs are created equal. Or, as Noel Gallagher so eloquently put it recently: “The internet is a pain in the arse. I was expecting a bit more. It’s really just a lot of people moaning and complaining.”

Context and environment are crucial when it comes to advertising and Cullinane believes digital media needs to be understood better—and judged differently—by creatives, media buyers and researchers. It’s the classic quality vs quantity debate, and while it's unfashionable to say the shiny new digital toys might not be all they’re cracked up to be, it’s still important to focus on what’s proven to work, not just on what’s new.

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