Provocative Invitations

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We used to think of what we did in terms of pushing stuff Out to consumers who were Out There. Somewhere. We were exporters of creative content. More specifically, we were distributors of messages. And integration used to mean using channels to amplify the executional expression of a rich idea. Amplification was about making something bigger and louder. It was about us talking about our idea. With the consumer being treated as a fairly passive receiver.

It is a wearying cliché to observe that technology has infiltrated people’s everyday lives, their interactions with each other, and how they experience and engage with companies, brands and products. Consumers are behaving as both receivers and participants. They are are able to access both broadcast and personal channels, and are searching and distributing as well as receiving.

In response, the body language of what we produce is changing. Or perhaps more accurately, we are building new behaviors into our repertories. Value exchange is becoming a mainstream preoccupation, rather than merely the province of those few who understood that all great creative content worked by giving something back to the consumer in return for their time and attention. We are stimulating consumer pull, not just pushing stuff out. We’re creating interactions and experiences, not just messages. And we’re seeking consumer recommendation and pass-on, not just attention.

The participation economy – if we can be achingly pretentious enough to call it that – changes what we think the job of integration is. It now means providing the consumer with ways into participating directly in that idea. Even if that extends no further than choosing to distribute it on our behalf. It’s about finding ways of letting the consumer in. Rather than just blasting stuff out.

Our creativity has always had to adapt to and stay ahead of where culture is at. So perhaps to the mandate that our ideas stimulate hearts, minds, and crucially, conversation, we can add another mandate: That if it does not have some form of participation at its heart, it’s simply not a twenty-first century creative idea. Should “No participation, no idea” be our new mandate and mantra?

What if we thought therefore, about invitations? They bring people in. They involve, engage, and make people a part of something. And crucially, invitations if they are to work, require that there be something in it for people if they choose to turn up. Invitations imply reciprocation. If you get an invitation to attend a party, it’s reasonable to assume that the host will make an effort to ensure you have a good time.

The notion of invitation compels everyone – agencies and their clients – to have a new perspective on what we’re really about. We are in the business of entertaining guests not directing military-like campaigns against targets. We are creating participants, not assaulting consumers. We’re creating experiences, not just messages. We are creating relationships based on value exchange, not merely trying to extract value from unwitting consumers. And we are making stuff that’s real, visceral and tangible, not just abstract and intangible ‘added values.’

So much for the case in favour of invitation.

I’ve banged on about the importance of provocation before. The bland, the safe, the unadventurous, the stuff that is afraid to divide people, that doesn’t take a position and offers no point of view has no hope of encouraging people to come in and play. If we want people to respond, and to respond actively, then we’re going to need some appropriately powerful stimulus for action and behaviour. Provocation then, is absolutely crucial. It disrupts, intrigues, challenges, and involves. It starts a conversation.

Nike’s ‘Write the Future’ was a call to arms. It didn’t just observe and describe the actions of the players competing in the World Cup. It wasn’t just about them. It wasn’t merely a message. A one-way piece of communication. It dared, challenged, and inspired football fans to write the future. It provided people with the means to become actively involved themselves.

Provocation ignites involvement and participation.

So what would happen if we started thinking about the provocative invitation?