Spooner on…what’s in store for us in the year ahead?

spooner 414Scurvy. That’s what 2019 probably has in store for us. SCURVY. Given that most of the UK’s fresh fruit and vegetables come to us from continental Europe through the ports of Calais and Dover, I foresee a nationwide outbreak of scurvy.
Which is why, each cupboard one opens in Spoon Creative Ltd’s extensive and sepulchral Brexit Bunker provokes a fresh, painful shower of Vitamin C tablets.
Spoon Creative Ltd plans to subsist for the foreseeable future on a diet of root vegetables, meat scraps and bottled Vitamin C. With perhaps a monthly egg from Lord McKelvey’s country estate.
How about you?
Well presumably you will be fine because you are no doubt working for one of the UK’s new, sleek, powerful, finely-tuned ‘Consulgencies’ or ‘Disruptancies’. Yes that’s right, you hear me CONSULGENCIES and DISRUPTANCIES.
I know about these things because I exist at the mysterious interface of marketing and technology. Yes folks, in order to prepare Spoon Creative Ltd for the post-Brexit, post-apocalyptic ‘United’ Kingdom I have become a MARTECHETER.
Now you may fear that my pretty, little head (see twenty-year-old photograph above) has been addled by the trauma of recent events, but no! I draw your attention to this website…to which my own attention was drawn by that ruggedly handsome, Orcadian, man-about-Jerez, aesthete, typophile and art director at AML, Stephen O’Neill.
This is the IBM website, home of ‘Watson’, the AI that will render us all redundant, sorry, enhance our martecheting capabilities ten-thousand-fold, in the very near future.
The most terrifying thing about this website and the predictions that it makes for 2019 is that I understand what they are saying and, doubly terrifying, they may well be right.
‘Watson’ firmly believes, for example, that ‘the greatest marketing advantage in the year to come will be technical marketing talent’. It’s hard to argue with that. Though ‘Watson’s’ language is, perhaps, a little opaque: “It’s this operational nimbleness combined with cross-disciplinary marketers that can support a growing ecosystem of purpose-built marketing tools to match the uniqueness of every business model and customer base.” If I said that in an afternoon meeting, an assumption would be made as to where I had spent the lunch-hour. But we see what they mean.
And it’s hard to argue with ‘Watson’s’ assertion that the head of marketing data role will be the most important in any business, nor that AI and machine learning will make ‘hyper-personalisation’ a reality. Good points are also made about that hideous, old jargon-hobbled pantomime horse ‘customer-centricity’ and ‘brand purpose’.
But where the whole gleaming, AI-designed, machine-learnt edifice begins to crack – and where we begin to see the little, old man behind the polychrome, booming wizard-mask of OZ – is precisely when ‘Watson’ begins to talk about ‘Consulgencies’.
Leaving aside the rebarbative hideousness of the port-manteau neologism, ‘consulgencies’, we need to look at what ‘Watson’ means by this.
In a quasi-venn diagram that looks like the representation of the parasitic invasion of a healthy cell, ‘Watson’ shows traditional advertising groups (the usual suspects: WPP, Omnicom, Publicis Groupe, Dentsu and Interpublic) apparently threatened, in an unconscious reference to the opening credits of ‘Dad’s Army’, by the quadruple prongs of IBM, Deloitte, PwC and Accenture.
It only takes a very little imagination to see where this is going.
Just as agencies are now following the US model (I have banged on about this before, see previous iterations of ‘Spooner On’, passim) by concentrating power among a very few handsomely-remunerated board directors (CEO, COO, CFO, ECD), while eliminating all middle levels and burning through hundreds of desperate, wailing graduates at the bottom of the corporate machine (‘there’s plenty more where they came from!’ they cry), so now the monstrous, faceless – and therefore shameless – behemoths of the corporate consultative and IT advisory worlds see the opportunity to remove the ‘middle level’ from the marketing process.
Why have an agency when you can have a consultant to direct your business and choose your channels and ‘martecheters’ to generate your spam, tweets, Instagram feeds, likes, comments, content delivery systems and the AI-identified (and possibly created) like?
Just as agencies are eliminating and downgrading their creative departments, so consultancies are seeking to eliminate and downgrade the agency itself, or at least to reduce it to a winsome sub-department within the ‘consulgency’ itself.
I blame planners.
Now don’t get me wrong, ‘some of my best friends are planners’ as the old saw goes.
But once the agency has stripped account management of both tactical and strategic responsibility, outsourced channels to its media partner and corralled the thinking of the creative department into ideas and ideas alone, what’s left for the agency to do except rely on its planners – or allow itself to be subsumed into a ‘consulgency’ and get on with coming up with pretty pictures and funny words to fill the various hoppers that AI tells it to fill.
But, as you are gnawing on your raw, post-Brexit mangel-wurzel and hoping your teeth will last long enough to extract the goodness from it before the bailiffs come for your Alexa, do not despair.
Somewhere in the dystopia we inhabit now there will be a tiny niche that we can inhabit, leading the old jargon-hobbled pantomime horse ‘customer-centricity’ and ‘brand purpose’ to water and hoping it will drink.
As ever, we must look to the young! Which ‘Consulgency’ arranged for central Birmingham to grind to a halt in order to witness a gender-fluid ‘brand influencer’ open a new cosmetics outlet? Which ‘Consulgency’ predicted the surge of interest from male under-25s in audio-books? Young people will do whatever it is that young people want to do whether the ‘Consulgencies’ want them to or not. And who’s to say that the grain mountain that the government is accruing in case of a no-deal Brexit won’t be raddled with ergot, provoking a flowering of psychedelic creativity unseen in Northern Europe since 1362?
People will continue to require diversion and amusement when being informed about their increasingly limited consumer choices. And AI and Brexit will not stop us from craving Vegan Sausage Rolls and Eyeliner Tutorials.
I’m off to hone my ‘martecheting’ skills at the coal-face of the cultural revolution. Remember, it’s never too late to ‘RENEW YOUR YOU’.

Jonathan Spooner is consulting creative director at Spoon Creative Ltd

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