The fallacy of Integration

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A word from Huge's MD, marketing strategy: Digital doesn't alter the nature of ideas or the power of collaboration

For years, clients and agencies have been touting "integration" as the essential component of great marketing campaigns.

But in the digital-first world we live in now, this kind of integration is a fool’s errand and its pursuit will limit both the quality of creative and the potential of the campaign. Why? Because integration is essentially the combination of distinct entities into something new it typically results in the component elements all having to compromise in some way. 

When we created marketing and communications around the "single most compelling idea" or "the one thing we need to say," integration was a legitimate goal. TV, print and outdoor all provided different ways to communicate that one thing. Replicating or extending the idea across these channels worked with the natural roles of the mediums to produce an "integrated" campaign.

To take advantage of all that digital lets us do today, we must work a little harder. Yes, we still need a clear focal point — a single big idea, if you will. But we must respect the roles and potential of the individual mediums available to us. We should consider not just what a brand must say and do, but what it must enable as well. Creating utility, service, entertainment and even products that not only engage but that drive participation in new and different ways.

Because of this, we must ensure that an idea is not just attached or extended into a medium but that it evolves to deliver all that that the medium can offer. We must seek to amplify ideas through cohesion, rather than compromise them through integration.

For example, during the Super Bowl in 2014, Audi showed how an idea ("Stay uncompromised") that started in TV could be extended into Snapchat and other social channels in ways that did much more than simply replicate the TV spot. The Snapchat execution allowed users to "stay uncompromised" during the game by receiving news updates about everything happening off of the football field during the game. The initiative evolved the core idea in ways that maximized the capabilities of Snapchat as a medium and, as such, amplified the relevancy and impact of the content.

Does that sound obvious? Sure. But if delivering on it were easy, we’d see more cohesion and less integration. The limits integration puts on the quality of the work makes it easier to manage.

Cohesion requires working harder and with more freedom — something that not all clients or agencies embrace easily. It requires all of us to think and act differently. It means that the role of a planner must go much further than inspiration — planners must now also be responsible codifying and translating an idea to different channels. We must all become more fluid and dynamic.

 Cohesion also requires people in other strategic disciplines — product strategy, analytics, social and user experience, for example — to not only grow and evolve but to become part of broader strategic and creative planning.

Finally, cohesion requires honest collaboration between agencies if we are going to be effective at working cohesively. Too often integration is a symptom of our individual responsibilities and resentments.

But before any of this can begin, we need to stop asking for integrated campaigns and integrated strategies and start asking for cohesion — strategically, creatively and operationally.

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Jonathan Lee is managing director, marketing strategy, with Huge.

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