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Why advertising needs to be more like a botanical garden.

By Rupert England, executive creative director, Draftfcb Kuala Lumpur

Maybe I'm getting old. These days, one of my favourite pastimes is to visit a city's botanical gardens. All are magnificent – in their own unique way. My interest in botanical gardens led to the purchase of a book dedicated to the subject. The Tropical Garden by William Warren covers a number of public gardens in SE Asia. A line in the introductory essay got me thinking about the similarities between great gardens and a brand’s digital space:
"They enhance the reputation of their sovereign states… create venues for citizenry to bond, interact socially and forge ties to the homeland."
Let’s pretend, in a marketing context, that the “homeland” is the brand and the "sovereign state" is the product or service. Let’s define a “digital space” as a brand-specific destination on the www: a website, a microsite or a Facebook page. And with apologies to the author, I state my hypothesis:
“A great digital space is like a botanical garden: they enhance the reputation of the product or service… create venues for citizenry to bond, interact socially and forge ties to the brand."
I’ll continue with the garden analogy and say that visiting most corporate websites is like going to a party in someone else’s yard. You feel like you are the first to arrive (I mean, nobody else is there). Soon you get bored because the host is only talking about himself. Of course, you can’t actually have a conversation with the host. For that, there are email addresses, telephone numbers and even fax machines. When you take a stroll around the garden, you begin noticing a lot of dead leaves, broken links and info that is out of date. When you finally find a forum and have chat, you get unwarranted abuse from a person named psychocrazy_666. That’s it; you’ve had enough.
You’re still with me so I’m going to take you further down the path, over a clearing and through the woods, to a brand’s secret garden: the microsite. Often botanical-esque, the microsite can be a lot of fun. Yet after exploring for a while, you begin to get lonely. After all, you, me and we are social creatures; we like to hangout where other creatures hangout. And that’s why we end up back on Facebook, our great botanical garden of the Internet. In fact, it’s probably the world’s most popular public place – albeit in a digital space.
Without a doubt, brilliant traditional advertising enhances a brand’s reputation and, at best, changes behaviour. It is only the digital space that can successfully create a platform for mass social interaction – with meaningful engagement. This is why I believe that at the heart of every truly integrated advertising campaign should exist a digital space: an online botanical garden that serves as a venue for citizenry to bond, forge ties to the brand, and so much more. In an era when getting closer to consumers is a top priority for CEOs*, at the very worst, a Facebook page is a way to potentially start a million comments, likes and shares.
The bottom line: A Facebook page is an opportunity for a brand to interact with consumers in a myriad of potentially deep and profitable conversations.
* “Capitalizing on Complexity: Insights from the Global Chief Executive Officers Study.” IBM Institute for Business Value. May 2010.
Illustration by Steve Ooi, art director, Draftfcb Kuala Lumpur