The dominant theme at this year's Media 360 conference, where around 250 delegates from clients, agencies and media owners debated the future of the media industry, was convergence - only not in the way you might think.
The days of clear boundaries between advertiser, agency and media owner are no more. Instead, thanks to the fragmentation of media, the relationship between the three pillars of the media industry has become "a tripartite collaboration" - and all are struggling with the same issues surrounding how to reach consumers when campaigns are splintered between hundreds of different media channels.
Delegate Jason Brownlee, research director at Other Lines of Enquiry, said: "I'll remember this conference as the moment when the media iron curtain began to crumble. The conceptual division between media and creative is dissolving in response to new technologies and client demands. Media and creative disciplines have begun to collaborate again in a way that we haven't seen for almost 20 years."
Whereas in the days of Mad Men, the creative department ruled the boardroom and the media men were in the basement, the tables have now turned, with the media arm of the industry required to find creative solutions to break through the clutter.
Conference chair Roger Parry, executive chairman of Media Square, outlined in his opening address how media is getting more creative, with agencies used not only to manage the advertising process, but also to provide "real creative insight and ideas".
He said: "There is so much more media out there. The challenge is to find the target consumer at all in an extraordinarily complex world, and then when you have found them, to try to find some way of capturing their attention."
Speaker Robin Wight, chairman of WCRS and Engine, who represented the creative agency point of view, described Media 360 as an "eye-opener" and a "mental gym".
He said: "It was fascinating to hear about all the issues facing the industry from a media perspective. The old world of mass marketing was broad, shallow and occasional. Tomorrow's marketing will be precise, deep and continuous."
The most interesting presentations, according to Wight, were those that showed how a creative idea can be delivered in a whole range of new ways - such as the "trans-media storytelling" concept described in the opening session by Jonathan Mildenhall, vice-president of global advertising and creative excellence at Coca-Cola.
Working with a Hollywood agency, Starlight Runner, and an ad agency, Wieden & Kennedy, Coca-Cola created an ad that was set in a virtual world represented by the Happiness Factory - the highest-rated ad in Coke's history - to be spun off into books, films and comics.
Mildenhall said: "We have to be prepared: we know that consumers are looking for entertainment, not consumer brand messages."
Another campaign that successfully "punched through the borders" of a traditional media plan was the Cadbury Dairy Milk Gorilla ad, which has inspired around 120 spoof versions of the original 90-second agency ad.
Laurence Green, chairman of Fallon, said: "The campaign was a clash of a venerable, 100-year-old brand with new media. The meeting of old and new is like the dad at the disco or the vicar wearing trainers - but perhaps this is what all vicars should look like."
Media thinking supported the creative idea from the start, using the theme of anticipation to get people talking about the gorilla, on or offline.
Howard Watson, group account director at Starcom, said: "We placed the gorilla into moments that were highly anticipated, such as the Big Brother final or the Take That reunion gigs. Given that much of this conversation now takes place online, we could monitor, measure and react to it as the campaign progressed."
Online - in particular social networking sites - allows new connections with consumers, as media moves from the age of engagement (in the 1980s and 1990s) to the age of dialogue, which is about "initiating conversations with the consumer", according to Blake Chandlee, commercial director of Facebook UK.
However, brands that venture into the digital space must be careful about loss of control, as "brand anarchists" get their hands on advertisers' content. Stefan Bardega, director of digital strategy at MediaCom, warned of the "Barbara Streisand" effect: when aerial photographs of the singer's house were posted online, Streisand took out a lawsuit against the anarchists rather than keeping quiet, prompting online communities' speculation about the issue to reach fever pitch.
If advertisers do choose to surrender control to the consumer online, they must make sure that their brand has credibility with the audience, and they must give the consumer something of value in return for allowing the brand into their conversations. Chandlee cautioned brands about creating applications on Facebook, pointing out that only 2% of all Facebook applications have more than 2,000 users.
Staying on the theme of the consumer, Andrew Rashbass, publisher and managing director of The Economist, focused on the changing patterns of media consumption. Just as consumers are mixing and matching prestige and mass brands - an EasyJet flight with Prada luggage - in a show of "selective extravagance", they are consuming both elite and mass media in the new age of "mass intelligence".
For example, a typical consumer might watch intelligent but popular US imports such as The West Wing and House, read The Guardian but occasionally look at The Sun, and choose literary fiction on the back of recommendation by Richard and Judy's Book Club on Channel 4. Rashbass said: "In the era of mass intelligence, people move between mass and more challenging media quite happily. They are a great target for advertisers, both because of who they are and how they think."
However, as consumers move more fluidly between different forms of media and have a greater choice of products, it is hard for advertisers to engender brand loyalty.
Picking up on this theme, Steve King, chief executive worldwide, ZenithOptimedia, spoke of the phenomenon of "disintermediation": how swift audience fragmentation requires a "multi-faceted" approach to marketing.
He said: "We can no longer rely on traditional mass-marketing methods. The very neat silos between media will disappear, and individual distinct functions between agencies will go, replaced by a seamless marketing continuum."
The challenge of breaking down "the huge amount of complexity" and finding "a better compass for the client" means that media agencies will have to evolve. But this will not be a return to the full-service model. As King said: "We cannot put the toothpaste back in the tube." Instead, agencies will have to build new communications structures, housing a range of marketing disciplines under one roof.
ZenithOptimedia has expanded its core product into disciplines such as communications planning and branded content, and has acquired companies such as mobile marketing agency Phonevalley. Meanwhile, WPP this month announced a deal with Yahoo to enable its agencies to buy ads on Yahoo's Right Media ad exchange, brokered through WPP's 24/7 Real Media arm, which it acquired last May. And Engine Group's new premises, operational from this week, will house 600 people and 12 different businesses, from search engine optimisation to sponsorship.
However, although King described media as "a vibrant, confident, dynamic" industry, there is one discordant note on the horizon: the economy.
Here, Dennis Turner, chief economist at HSBC, looked back to the recessions of 1999 (oil) and 2001 (dotcom) to put the current credit crisis into the wider economic context.
Turner said the problem was that although the "fundamentals" of the economy are in good shape - inflation has been at 3% for the past 15 years and the UK enjoyed its 63rd consecutive quarter of growth in Q1 this year - we have had, as British Rail might say, the "wrong sort of growth". The GDP is £1.2tn, but the collective national debt is £1.4tn: we have achieved sustained growth by excessive spending and borrowing.
Add to the financial mix subdued earnings growth, a rising tax burden, a strong euro, rising oil prices, and - of course - the crisis in financial markets, and the future looks pretty bleak. But the biggest threat of all, in Turner's opinion, is SARS (Severe Acute Recessionary Syndrome). He concluded: "The numbers say we don't have to have a recession, but if you have your heart set on one, you can have one."
Other themes that emerged over the two-and-a-half days were the rise of automated online media trading systems such as MediaEquals, and the way in which media owners with a technology heritage such as Google, Microsoft and Lastminute.com are "coming in from the cold" to take a closer look at their brands' relationship to the consumer.
If there was one criticism of Media 360, it was that media agencies were too thin on the ground. Delegate James Penfold, business development director at Etv, said: "I'm hoping the lack of attendance on the part of both creative and media agencies is not a general reflection of the state of play between client and supplier. The issues and opportunities of media fragmentation are a collective challenge to us all."
Concluding the conference, chair of day two Stevie Spring, chief executive of Future Publishing, added her own call for collaboration. "The real creativity in communication sits fairly and squarely with all of you. We are all on the same journey - and that journey is a rollercoaster, and not for the faint-hearted."
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VIEW FROM THE FLOOR
Laurence Green, chairman, Fallon
"Not sure a gorilla playing a Phil Collins drum solo wins us the Dairy Milk account"
(Text message to creative director Juan Cabral)
Simon Danker, director of digital media, BBC Worldwide
"Three months since the launch of the iPlayer, we have seen that people do want to watch video on their PC. This is the start of a journey: people love our shows and want to watch more of them"
Kevin Brennan, UK marketing director, Kellogg's
"Advertising is a very easy scapegoat for politicians for society's ills. The pressure for a pre-9pm advertising ban on foods high in fat, sugar or salt, is intense. Advertisers have to persuade the Government that their arguments are more worthy than those of the British Heart Foundation"
Bob Wootton, director of media and advertising, Isba
"A self-regulatory system online is essential: everyone recognises the need to protect the vulnerable. We need to find a system that works in the digital space before milk is spilt everywhere"
Dennis Turner, chief economist, HSBC
"The British housewife likes to live within her means - even if she has to borrow to do so"
Andy Jones, chief executive, Universal McCann London
"Media agencies and their parent companies have become their own worst enemies. Pressure to deliver shareholder value has resulted in an inability to say ‘no' to any new business, almost at any price... we can't expect to be treated as though we are McKinseys if we act like Del Boy Trotter"
Mark Howe, country sales director, Google
"As Spiderman says, ‘with great power comes great responsibility'. We are delivering tools to the agency community to encourage them to become more profitable. The harmony between media makes us all more powerful"
Robin Wight, chairman, WCRS and Engine
"After two-and-half days at Media 360, I feel like a born-again media person"
This article was first published on Media Week