Advertising agency TBWA Worldwide chairman Jean-Marie Dru is considered the father of “creative disruption”. He introduced the concept to the world in 1996, with his best-selling business book, Disruption: Overturning Conventions and Shaking Up the Marketplace. The book demonstrated the value of challenging the status quo when differentiating brands. The goal is not to create a “good ad” but a “big idea” that is true to the soul of the brand. The result: disruptive ideas for global TBWA brands such as Absolut, Adidas, Apple, Beiersdorf, Henkel, Infiniti and Mars.
In 2002, Dru’s second book, Beyond Disruption: Changing the Rules in the Marketplace, demonstrated how these same principles and methodology could be applied to bigger business challenges.
His latest book, published late 2007—How Disruption Brought Order: The Story of a Winning Strategy in the World of Advertising—is part memoir, part playbook. It is the story of the role disruption played in building TBWA, and its impact on some of the world’s most recognized brands.
Dru speaks to Mint on the role of disruption in today’s media and market milieu. Edited excerpts:
What is creative disruption and how has its role changed?
Disruption is about creating changes, but in a controlled way. It is impossible to build brands by thinking of them in mere linear terms. You must imagine greater futures for them. You need to call upon your imagination in order to achieve this. Which is where disruption comes into play and its role is in the discovery of new futures.
Winning strategy: TBWA chairman Jean-Marie Dru says he has always believed that a brand has to evolve. It cannot remain motionless.
Over the years, our method has gradually evolved, although its fundamentals remain the same. When disruption first appeared at the beginning of the 1990s, the markets were flooded with “me-too” products. Techniques of major manufacturers had converged so much that we spoke of a “sea of sameness”, (which was) gradually wiping out all tangible differences between products.
In such a monotonous world, we had to use communication to highlight, or even create, differences. Disruption is not about managing change. It’s about creating it. Creating it in your favour.
Which brands and companies are creative disruptors?
Since its beginning, Apple Inc. has been one of the most disruptive companies on the planet. What started as a computer company quickly became a “product” company — changing the world forever with innovations such as the iPod, iTV and the iPhone.
Not too long ago, Fortune magazine paid tribute to the success of (Apple chairman and CEO) Steve Jobs with an article titled Steve Jobs, The Master of Disruption. It became clear that the “shift” was happening. There are many others — Carlos Ghosn of Nissan Motor Co., Google Inc., Starbucks Corp., Pixar Animation Studios, Adidas Ltd—but their success, I believe, can be attributed to one thing: their culture. They have all built a corporate culture that instinctively inspires disruption. This is invaluable.
Brand differentiator: TBWA’s disruptive ad campaign include those of (from left) Absolut Vodka, Adidas, Pepsi One and Nissan Motor Co.
How are new and digital media and the emergence of the consumer as content co-creator impacting creative disruption?
The market has changed. The business world has embraced new opportunities and adapted to the Internet age. Everything can now be questioned, and a company’s destiny can be radically changed overnight. Both Apple, with its iPod, and Sony Corp., with its PlayStation, proved it possible to move from one market to another with lightning speed, and the likes of Amazon.com Inc., eBay Inc. and Google have turned our daily lives upside down.
In this turbulent world, the role of disruption has pivoted. Today, it is more about creating a rallying point for a company or brand, a focal point, and this despite the increasing tribulations of the market—or rather, because of them. We need to create a reference point that we can constantly look back to, whatever unexpected directions the market may have taken us in.
I have always believed that a brand has to evolve. It cannot remain motionless. The same, of course, applies to companies. They are alive and they are organic. But shifts in strategy and decisions must be made in a disciplined way. Disruption does that. Disruption can help a company or brand get to a new, better, more competitive, and more lucrative place.
We are no longer in the advertising business, but in the business of “media arts”. It is about optimizing the many touch points between a brand and its audience. We believe we should be involved in everything—from advertising to packaging, to blogs, and so on—and that these elements must be equally creative.
But, it is not enough to simply bring together specialists from different horizons. There must be a clear sense of direction. If everything is based on a strong central idea, usually a brand idea, then it is easier to express it in every way and shape imaginable. That is how disruption and media arts inspire one another.
We’ve created several media arts centres around the network—in Los Angeles, in Berlin, in Paris—to test this new way of working.
What is the position of creative disruption today?
Ten years ago, when we first published an ad in The Wall Street Journal to promote disruption, some people told me that we should not use this word because it is far too negative. Today, it might have a negative connotation at first, but it is a methodology about creation, not chaos or demolition. Disruption is creating something dynamic to replace something that has become static, and about organic growth and doing more with what you have.
It makes me very happy that in the past five years the word is being used in headlines to describe visionary companies, new product ideas and business leaders of the future.
The On Advertising page next week will feature an excerpt from Dru’s new book, How Disruption Brought Order: The Story of a Winning Strategy in the World of Advertising.