What the nature channel taught me about competition

Studies of primates, birdlife, crocodiles, even plant-life, all reveal competitive behaviour that eerily parallels the advertising industry, writes Sarah Vincenzini in this crossposting from Gabberish.

New business pitches. Creative briefings. Titles. Awards. Competition is built into the advertising ecology. There are limited amounts of resources available to us in our respective adland habitats, so we must compete for our share of resources in order to survive. Not everyone thrives in these conditions, but like it or not, it’s the nature of the game. And, as it turns out, the nature of advertising? Rooted in actual nature.

Let’s start by taking a look at our closest primate relatives, chimpanzees. They typically tend to forage alone, preferring individualism over cooperating as a team. Duh, said every creative ever.

In Uganda, however, chimp communities have been observed assembling in single file to work as a team, scoping out neighbouring territories to then stage a siege in hopes of winning new territory. The agency pitch process? Same.

Likewise; in the crowded rainforest market, small plants compete for sunlight amongst towering trees, so ferns developed broad leaves as a strategy to compete for their share of energy. In the advertising ecology, this explains juniors hanging around the agency drinking beer ’til all hours, hoping a senior team leaves a copy of a decent brief lying about on their desk.

The more resources there are, the more competitors that will flock to the area. Big cats are generally solitary hunters, but African lions work as teams to control their prime grassland real estate. They are forced to be social and work together, because the biggest team dominates the other big cat competition. And when there’s an over-supply of predators for resources, lions compete for literally the lion’s share of the prize.

Similarly, when the prey is a juicy brief with a proper budget, creatives too are pitted against each other in an agency-wide creative shoot-out that employs the same strategy.

When it comes to defending the territory in which you depend for resources, fighting is often not the best option. It uses up a lot of energy and is generally likely to end in serious injury. (See re: agency Christmas parties.) Instead, most animals rely on various threats, either through vocalisations, smells, or visual displays, to give notice to challengers of their territorial dominance. (Again, see re: agency Christmas parties.)

When they are threatened by another alpha, competing Bison males pumped up with testosterone will show off their strength by walking in parallel, assessing one another, and then spraying the earth with their urine and rolling in it so that they reek of their own hormones. Although historically there have been visual reports of such behaviour occurring in the advertising wild, more typically these ritual displays of territorial dominance today are known as “press releases”.

Lastly, if you’ve run out of strategies to compete, then you need to adapt.

Many animals have mastered behavioural adaptations such as the use of tools in order to overcome their own limitations. For example, fresh water crocodiles have been observed using tools to lure out-of-reach prey such as birds into their grasp.

With a mouthful of twigs, crocodiles lay in wait until birds searching for nest materials fly directly into their jaws. It’s like Uber Eats for crocodiles.

This strategy of luring prey to the predator has been replicated by the rise of consultancy-owned agencies, as well as holding companies pimping platforms such as AI or “horizontality”.

Competition can be exhausting, and often the playing field is unnaturally skewed to favour certain species over others.

Fortunately, employing savvy competitive strategies helps us adapt to an evolving ecosystem, and thrive. Survival of the fittest really just means survival of those best adapted. And as the industry should note, whole species that don’t adapt do become extinct. So take a leaf from nature, and start adapting. The survival of our industry depends on it.

Sarah Vincenzini is associate creative director at Marmalade Melbourne.


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