'As someone who has always looked at cross-discipline and new models a positive experience worth exploring, it is amazing to look back on my career and ever imagine where I would be today if I didn't embrace change and adapt and redefine. If you don't adapt, you get left behind. Will the landscape look the same 5 years or 10 years from today? I think not. Will the core principles of storytelling remain? Absolutely."
Advertising Agency Speaks
From someone in the advertising industry for nearly three decades – starting out as a storyboard illustrator in 1981, then a writer, and then an art director in the 'traditional' advertising agency model – and then writing and art directing in the 'interactive' advertising agency space beginning 1998 – I may have a different perspective than most. Before the emergence of the "Internet", life was a happy simple place in the world of advertising – a continual pursuit of the big idea, create a campaign, and throw it up in the air hoping your creative mojo "sticks" with your intended target. Oh, the glory days!
When I first made the decision to jump over to the 'interactive' side, many of my peers felt strongly that my move would be a career killer. Hey, this was right after the big 'Dot.com' implosion and a 'banner ad' didn't hold up too well to a broadcast spot. Yes, while all signs pointed to the possibility the premonitions of my peers could have been dead-on, I saw something else, something rather compelling – a new platform in its infancy just waiting to be molded like a piece of clay. My first observation was this new advertising called 'interactive' was anything but interactive – so my team and I immediately set out to change that. And we broke every rule. Hey, Creatives are rebels by nature – so what a perfect place to put your footprint!
Real Conversations and Brand
Web 2.0 - Defined
Over the past several years I have seen so many people misuse the term or describe completely out of context – not just creatives, but industry leaders in the online space who are charged to deliver the definition to big Brands. The answer is quite simple – regardless of widget, feature, function, technology or platform, Web 2.0 simply defines tools that allow 'authentic dialogue' between consumer-and-brand – and consumer-to-consumer 'about' brand. And big Brands don't need to implement all of them – they only need the ones that are specific to their brand to effectively initiate real dialogue. Reach in your Web 2.0 bucket and only pull out the ones you need. It's really that simple.
The Full 360o Evolution
Even with new technology, traditional advertising is far from dead – it has simply evolved over the past decade. For example, Nike use to concentrate all of their focus on broadcast television campaigns with annual media spending in excess of $600 million – and now they don't buy T.V. space – they focus nearly all of their ad spend online – still producing broadcast spots, but airing them on their website, microsites and video sites like YouTube. Other things impacting the traditional media platform of television include the technology of TiVo and other DVR systems, because consumers can now 'skip' past commercials. Even magazine publications have had to adapt to new technologies because of the easy-access content source online. Even mobile phone technology has dramatically changed with direct affinities to the online space. So where is our 'captive' audience? They're online. They're mobile.
Evolution of the Agency Model
Traditional Agency – Even with mind-boggling technologies and digital evolution over the past 10 short years, traditional agency campaigns are far from dead. They still happen. There's still a market on traditional media platforms. It's also a matter of the same media execution adapting to new platforms of delivery. It has been quite unsettling over the past decade to witness the behemoth agencies dwindle in size/power and struggle in understanding what to do next. The smart ones created digital arms and broke them off into separate functioning entities. Others have viewed the digital and technology evolution – first with denial, and then not knowing 'how' to adapt.
Digital Agency(s) – The second group is the interactive agency now more commonly referred to as the 'digital' agency. But it is important to point out this – there are two (2) very different entities formed in the late 1990s and early 2000s – 1) digital arms created from traditional agencies, and 2) website companies formed from design companies. The first thinks 'campaigns' and the latter thinks 'design'. Two very different things – but big Brands are not aware of the differences and simply bucket them as one (1) thing – the "digital agency". This was simply their way of differentiating from the original advertising agency model – which they began immediately referring to as the "traditional agency".
The problem here is they are not the same – while many of the two different digital agencies have evolved over the past decade, with creative types moving from one digital type of entity into the other, there are still many very obvious identifiers that expose the difference – starting with 'titles'. Digital arms formed from traditional agencies maintain the same titles as their original parent agency – CD, ACD, Copywriter and Art Director – while design company start-ups use titles like UED, IA, Writer, Designer, and Brand Strategist. And if you take a closer look at the highly successful online campaigns, you will find they mostly come from digital arm agencies formed from their traditional parent agency. When you see a big idea campaign come from a website-company-formed digital agency, a closer look will almost always reveal a traditional agency creative that moved into the digital space. So when you understand there is a difference in the two different types of digital agencies – one "campaign" focused and the other "design" focused, the big difference is obvious – especially if you're an advertising purist.
Integrated Agency – "Digital" and "Traditional" – seems simple enough. Right? Well, to confuse things even further, some traditional agencies present themselves as 'integrated' or a 'full service' agency – meaning they offer both traditional AND digital services. But big Brands generally view these agencies as not particularly great at traditional or digital – so as a result, integrated agencies now tend to only attract small to midrange clients, rather than the big Brands.
And The Evolution Continues
So where will this end up? I don't know the answer to this – but it seems more likely that the title of "digital" and "traditional" will simply evolve into something else. How about "advertising agency"? Now there's a novel idea. So simple, it may just work.
A few years ago I began thinking about how animation studios could be leveraged in the digital space – seemed to make sense because of their ability to create living, breathing digital assets – from photo-real product renderings, 3D animation and live-action filming. What if you could bring in those campaign-based, storytelling writers and art directors from the shrinking traditional agency model and create something truly revolutionary? And that is where I am today – 29 years after I inked my first storyboard. But I can't help but wonder, with the excitement of a child, what the advertising world has in store for us over the next decade. I don't think any of us have a clue.