What do you think when you read these statistics about teenagers and their mobile phones?

“Half of all teens surveyed said they couldn’t live without their mobile device for a week, while 36% said they weren’t able to go 10 minutes without checking their phones”. Via.

Do you think it’s sad and that teenagers are getting more anti-social than they used to be?

Or do you think wow, this is exciting. How could we you use it to make teenagers more social?

If you work in marketing and think the latter you are probably in the minority. This in itself is a problem. Over the years we seem to have become an industry of worrisome problem solvers rather than optimistic opportunity seekers.

Why does there always have to be a problem? What’s wrong with a more positive glass half full opportunity?

Perhaps it’s an age thing, a generational thing or just an industry convention that we have grown up with? I’m not sure, but I’d say 99.5% of the briefs I have ever received in the 10 years I have worked in agencies has a little box at the top of the page that reads, ‘what’s the problem?’


My wife gave me this great book by Michael Johnson earlier on in the year. It is a good read but it sums up the situation. We are an industry wired, or groomed, to look for problems rather than opportunities.

There are a few problems with the ‘what’s the problem’ question.

Firstly it automatically takes the process down a specific route – one that is retrospective, passive, has conventions attached to it and is quite often within the confines of advertising (depending on how well the client or planner has framed it).

Essentially thinking about problems in the context of advertising narrows the scope to explore and discover new things. You may say that opportunities stem from a well articulated problem, which is true, but it fundamentally starts from a different place.

I’m pretty sure I have never had a brief that has said something along the lines of ‘we want to reinvent INSERT INDUSTRY, go nuts’.

Secondly the problems that are often defined tend to be at best too shallow and worse not that real. You only have to look many of the APG Australia awards papers to see how generic the problems that brands face are becoming when looked at in the context of just advertising. This then leads to some very tenuous links between said problem, the insights and the solutions delivered.

We have probably reached a point where all communication problems have been solved. It’s just how we re-invent and reimagine them with new technology and media.

Agencies shouldn’t just respond to advertising problems

We have probably reached a point where all communication problems have been solved. It’s just how we re-invent and re-imagine them with new technology and media that wins awards, which is fine, but we also need to create agency cultures that are much focused on creating opportunities.

Having spent a lot of time last year researching the inner workings of innovative companies outside of advertising, it’s clear one of the main ingredients that make them different to many agencies is that they seek out opportunities as opposed to repeatedly solving similar problems. Whether it’s re-inventing industries or creating needs that people didn’t really know they had, they have a much more positive and pro-active take on business.

Here’s to a glass half full in 2013.