Lately I have been thinking a lot about ecotones. It's a bit more biological than my normal interests, but there is a reason: ecotones are more relevant in South Africa than anywhere else.
The word ecotone was coined from a combination of eco(logy) plus -tone, from the Greek tonos or tension - in other words, a place where ecologies are in tension. Defined as a transition area between two biomes, it may be either local (the zone between a field and forest) or regional (the transition between forest and wetland), essentially indicating a place where ecologies are in tension. Simply put, an ecotone is the place where two environmental landscapes or areas overlap. This means that the ecotonal area often has a higher density of organisms of one species and a greater number of species than are found in either.
The ecotone is nature's creative hotspot, bubbling with new ideas, new species and new creatures. It's here that a blue forest lizard can fall in love with a red wetland lizard and create a new species of purple lizard. The ecotone is where nature is creating and inventing new things in a prototypical and organic way, and coming up with never realised before responses and ideas.
But how do ecotones and society link up?
I believe that ecotones exist all through our society. In fact, when looking at our day-to-day life from different angles, we can see ecotones all around us - for example the space between a city and a township, between technology and education, between consumerism and green thinking. Some are physical, some theoretical, and some philosophical.
If we are able to identify these ecotones, or even better, challenge ourselves to see unexpected ecotones throughout society, we can use them to create new solutions to real problems. If we can put two seemingly opposing areas together, to create a kind of natural tension, we might be able to create a completely new solution. A solution that previously wasn't possible. Like a purple lizard.
This phenomenon is an interesting concept in a complex country like South Africa, which is already naturally full of contrasts. Here we are faced daily with a multitude of problems, or as I prefer to see them, opportunities. I believe that identifying these ecotones can help us to create new kinds of solutions and ideas. Ideas that could allow us to leapfrog existing solutions that aren't working, into ones that are based on deeper insights, are more locally relevant, more effective, more powerful and thereby more useful. Ideas with purpose.
Now, I work in marketing, not biology. I'm in the business of creating unique and compelling solutions to complex problems. And I don't see how those problems are any different to any other problems we choose to solve. All of them have KPI's, clients, naysayers and believers. But the best ones always have a purpose. And the ecotones can help to identify what that purpose could be.
Personally I believe that ideas within advertising can improve our country and the lives of everyone in it. The people who are best at coming up with simple solutions to complex problems in advertising, could also be using their time to solve some real problems or at least incorporate them into projects they are already working on.
Ecotones can provide us with a new way of looking at solving important problems. It's now more about building the idea around the people that experience it through a deep understanding of their lives and needs rather than just sending the right message at the right time.
Brands that already do this resonate so much more. Insight, communication and commerce can be used together to forge a country of empowered, educated, excited thinkers all aiming towards positive change. And now more than ever, the digital landscape has the power to help unlock that, and create a system where everyone wins.
Identifying ecotones all around us not only helps to create deep insight driven responses, but helps us to really think about and understand who we are talking to and why. It makes the message that much more resonant, and includes real people in the solution. But most importantly it can help to create more purpose driven work. Work worth doing. Ideas that have a real reason for being in the world.
In a country like South Africa purpose has to be more than just a catch phrase for brands. It should be a prerequisite.