June 8, 2016

The Sponge Advantage


In a recent keynote speech, the controversial and celebrated architect Rem Koolhaas (who’s company designed the infamous CCTV building in Beijing) complained that far too many architects only talk to other architects and share the same views. The negative result being that they were becoming increasingly irrelevant and architecture as an industry is not keeping up with the “revolutions” that are shaping the modern world. Koolhaas said that “architecture has a serious problem today in that people who are not alike don’t communicate, I’m actually more interested in communicating with people I disagree with than people I agree with. We’re working in a world where so many different cultures are operating at the same time, each with their own value system,” he added. “If you want to be relevant, you need to be open to an enormous multiplicity of values, interpretations, and readings.”

You could say that the advertising industry suffers from a similar problem. Too many people looking for inspiration from what other agencies are doing. Creative teams scouring the award annuals to see what the best work is right now and looking for ideas how to do even better. If we could be more like sponges then perhaps our work would be more relevant and more innovative. I’m not talking about the kitchen or bathroom sponges but those still alive in the wild where coral has not yet been totally bleached.

According to Wikipedia, sponges “are multicellular organisms that have bodies full of pores and channels allowing water to circulate through them.” We should try being more open minded and let all kinds of elements flow through us. From pop culture to the high arts, youth movements or culture trends, science, politics etc. – the more we are aware of what’s happening out there the better we’ll be at transforming this information into communication strategies that will truly connect with the people we want to reach.

Another aspect of sponges that we can inspired by is their wide range of collaborations with other organisms. Shrimps set up whole colonies on the surfaces of sponges while green algae acts as an endosymbiont organism to help feed sponges in exchange for providing shelter. Before you sound the geek alert, consider how being much more collaborative could feed your agency with new ways of thinking or new technologies that will allow you to evolve, changing with the times.

The advertising industry is becoming increasingly competitive so we have to find a competitive advantage. Just battening down the hatches and protecting what we have might not be the best solution. It might be just the opposite. Being open, collaborative and adaptable to the sea of change could be the answer. Sponges have been around for at least 580 million years so maybe they’re doing something right!

This post was inspired by reading this article on Dezeen. Thanks for the (non-advertising industry) inspiration.