The Delicate Balance of the Campaign Ecosystem and Why You Should Save the Wolves

By , Creative Director, Hanson Dodge

In the advertising and marketing industry, we like to name things. We brand them. We make them sound better, more interesting. We make them—I would argue, at least most of the time—more meaningful.

Whether it’s a campaign, a new technology or even a term used to describe a new process, we just can’t seem to help ourselves with the naming. But can you blame us? After all, it is kind of our job. More importantly though, naming things properly is extremely important. It creates new meaning and changes the way we think about something.

Because of that, whether you believe it or not, we come up with all of these names with intention. This Active Insights is a quick study on why some names—even the ones that seem like buzzy, marketing terms—can help you think about your campaigns in a new way. That is, only if you stay true to their meaning.

The “Ecosystem”: Marketing Jargon or More?

The Ecosystem. The new(ish) term for an integrated marketing campaign. No doubt you’ve heard it by now. And yes, it sounds like a creative team came up with a fancy name to call their marketing plans (and that’s because they did).

But the chosen name, ecosystem, speaks to the complexity—and I would argue, delicacy—of the multi-faceted campaigns of today. No more one-time TV and print ad runs of the Madmen era. Now, on a regular basis, we work with intricate campaigns in which several elements work hand-in-hand, some even relying on each other’s existence, to create a synergistic result.

In theory, I think clients and agencies alike can agree that this term makes sense. It’s the next logical evolution of how to talk about, think about and create great campaigns. Yet, as much as the word gets thrown around, when it comes down to it, it seems the true meaning of an ecosystem is rarely used in practice.

Yes, marketers are definitely out there creating ecosystems for their campaigns, initially. But at some point, usually as the launch of the campaign nears, and sometimes for valid reasons, things quickly get shifted around, budgets are reallocated and elements of the campaign ecosystem get completely cut.

Then, after all is said and done, everyone wonders why the campaign wasn’t quite as successful as they originally thought it could’ve been when it was first cooked up. In my estimation, this happens for one reason: most people don’t stay true to the name. They don’t treat their campaign ecosystem like an actual ecosystem.

It’s for this very same reason, as I sit in the meetings (both with internal teams and then with clients) leading up to campaign launches, I find myself thinking, please don’t kill the wolves this time. I’ll explain. Or better yet, I’ll have someone help me explain.

Saves the Wolves, Save the Ecosystem.

Forget campaign ecosystems for a moment. Start thinking about the real ones. The ones that make up the world around us.

During a TED Talk from 2013, George Monbiot, a writer known for his environmental and political activism, provided an example of what happened in the Yellowstone National Park when wolves were reintroduced into the ecosystem in 1995 after several years of absence. (Because he can do it much better than me, below are excerpts of him telling the story.):

“Before the wolves turned up, they'd been absent for 70 years. The number of deer, because there was nothing to hunt them, had built up and built up in Yellowstone Park, and despite efforts by humans to control them, they'd managed to reduce much of the vegetation there to almost nothing, they'd just grazed it away. But as soon as the wolves arrived, even though they were few in number, they started to have the most remarkable effects.

First, of course, they killed some of the deer, but that wasn't the major thing. Much more significantly, they radically changed the behavior of the deer. The deer started avoiding certain parts of the park, the places where they could be trapped most easily, particularly the valleys and the gorges, and immediately those places started to regenerate.

In some areas, the height of the trees quintupled in just six years. Bare valley sides quickly became forests of aspen and willow and cottonwood. And as soon as that happened, the birds started moving in. The number of songbirds, of migratory birds, started to increase greatly. The number of beavers started to increase, because beavers like to eat the trees. And beavers, like wolves, are ecosystem engineers. They create niches for other species. And the dams they built in the rivers provided habitats for otters and muskrats and ducks and fish and reptiles and amphibians.

The wolves killed coyotes, and as a result of that, the number of rabbits and mice began to rise, which meant more hawks, more weasels, more foxes, more badgers. Ravens and bald eagles came down to feed on the carrion that the wolves had left. Bears fed on it too, and their population began to rise as well, partly also because there were more berries growing on the regenerating shrubs, and the bears reinforced the impact of the wolves by killing some of the calves of the deer.

But here's where it gets really interesting. The wolves changed the behavior of the rivers... and the reason was that the regenerating forests stabilized the banks so that they collapsed less often, so that the rivers became more fixed in their course. Similarly, by driving the deer out of some places and the vegetation recovering on the valley sides, there was less soil erosion, because the vegetation stabilized that as well.

So the wolves, small in number, transformed not just the ecosystem of the Yellowstone National Park, this huge area of land, but also its physical geography.”

Moral of the Story.

Your campaign ecosystem is just like the one Monbiot described. When all the right elements are there, and everything is working together, things will truly hum in a way you might never have imagined. But remember, if you truly built an ecosystem, it’s arguably just as delicate.

As you reallocate, shift things and even completely remove others, it has far reaching effects and serious implications on the long-term success of your campaign. Worse, you may not even realize it. Because just like Monbiot’s example, things will still work, but almost certainly not as well. That is, your ecosystem still may function, but you’ll just end up with too many deer running around. And you will never know what could have been.

Changes are inevitable, it’s the nature of this business: stuff happens, budgets get cut, new information arises and we have to make decisions. But remember, every major element of your campaign ecosystem—from the PR stunts, to the digital video series, to the television spots and so on—could, in theory, be your wolves.

If you’ve committed to the concept of an ecosystem, then I urge you to make sure you ponder the effects of your decisions while keeping the true meaning of the word in mind. You never know, next time you just might end up saving the wolves.

Joe Ciccarelli, Creative Director, Hanson Dodge

A brand strategist turned creative director, Joe Ciccarelli blends his background in understanding people, culture and trends with an ability to get the most meaningful ideas used in the most creative ways. Otherwise, he’s a writer, storyteller, avid reader (of both treasure and trash), a musician, a learner and a teacher. Holding degrees in Communication and Sociology as well as Master’s degree from Marquette University, Joe also serves as an adjunct professor in the school’s Advertising Department.

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