TBWA chairman Jean Marie Dru gave the term disruption a positive spin almost 25 years ago, forming a creative methodology around the term. A quarter of a decade later, he believes the word is still as relevant as it ever was.
The negative connotations of the word, which he’s always rebelled against, are perhaps tougher to battle than ever. High profile troubles at famously disruptive businesses, such as WeWork, only add to mixed perceptions of the word.
“The word has been overused, with a lot of different meanings and even denigrated. In many countries, starting with my country, people say they don't want to hear that word anymore. Which is a change for us because TBWA is called the disruption company. We do care about this but we decided to still stand for disruption for many different reasons. One key thing to remember is that you have two ways of talking about disruption; disruption as a methodology, which is the TBWA way, or disruption in the modern sense,” he explains.
It is the methodology that’s been the premise for Dru’s many books and is the centre of TBWA’s creative planning processes, including ‘disruption days’ in which clients hack ideas using the disruption methodology.
In 1991, when TBWA started talking about disruption, it was not a term widely thought about in business, let alone in marketing. The key with TBWA’s use of the word, he says, is in its positivity.
“The big difference is that when other people talk about disruption, it's usually to talk about something that happened before. It's a great way to explain what happened, the disruption has happened, the market has been destroyed, or whatever. For us, it's just the opposite. It's before. It's something that we do before to try and imagine disruptive strategy, disruptive ideas, disruptive business model. It's something upstream, and for the other guy, it's something downstream,” says Dru.
The methodology has not changed a lot in 25 years but he admits that different parts of the methodology are more important now than they were in 1991. Specifically, a part of the methodology focuses on ‘vision’, which, in a time of quick pivots and new products, is becoming core to a brand’s ability to survive.
“Companies move from one market to another, or from one design to another, very fast. They pivot, and if you do that a lot and if you don't pay attention, you can lose your brand. You have to know what your brand stands for. The second reason why vision is important is because of digital and social media. You have so many opportunities to talk that quite often brands can lose their way. You can have a great, fantastic idea, but it's not really on-brand,” he explains.
Examples of brands with strong visions are Standard Chartered, which has had the ‘Here for Good’ messaging for many years, while Dru also used the Singapore Tourism Board’s ‘Passion Made Possible’ as a more recent example.
“You need to have a clear vision, a beautiful collection of words to explain what it is and it can last forever. The Standard Chartered Bank’s ‘Here For Good’ started 15 years ago and I still believe it's very strong. That's the disruption methodology and it has a big goal. The goal of it, at the end of the day, is to come with these kinds of visions and brand statements,” explains Dru.
Jean Marie Dru and TBWA may have more of a challenge in presenting disruption in a positive sense now but understanding the methodology as something that cuts through one of the industry’s biggest challenges of short-termism - shows its relevance.
The term disruption may have been marred as a term in the digital age but brands still need to think about its meaning in order to create strategies that are more future-proof.
TBWA previously launched Disruption Consulting, a business unit that will use the disruption methodology to look at business problems for brands.