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June 4, 2012
Stop Whining. Start Inventing.
 
Some in the advertising community say that digital technology is rendering the craft of brand storytelling obsolete and that brands and marketers are now depending on digital platforms, apps, and games instead of conceptual ideation and disciplined creativity to influence audiences.

They are half right.

The folks who embrace this ever-changing digital palette to communicate through are the ones inventing messaging that touches audiences and motivates sales. They are the ones who consider technology an opportunity, not an obstacle. At McAnn Digital in Israel, Nir Refuah, the company’s VP Creative Director took what many viewed as a difficult challenge in Facebook to advertise with — the Timeline motif — and turned it into a canvas for a persuasive story for the Anti-Drug Authority by showing the visually dramatic effects of drug use on a person over time. Brands like Fanta have leveraged the nuances of Timeline and also used it to tell brand stories. Their concept was to actually go back in time to visit their old Fanta ads so users can rescue Fanta characters from danger. Three million people have liked this page so far, and they probably forced tens of thousands of conversations about the brand.

At our agency, Scarlet Heifer, we attack each problem by considering what we can do to invent an idea based on the delivery mechanism for the message, as well as the content within the message. In other words, the creative process considers the medium as well as the message. It’s not really new; in fact, many successful ad people have been doing this for years. I love it when people talk about “interactive” advertising as something that just burst out on to the scene. It’s been around for decades, actually, and Howard Gossage, a creative from San Francisco in the 1960s was amazing at drawing people into a brand through tactile interaction with newspaper puzzles and contests in ads. This was interactive advertising in the print medium. He saw a newspaper… as a place to invent a platform to engage audiences. And it was all based on interaction. Sound familiar?

The ones who complain about the so-called limits of digital advertising are the same ones who cannot see the possibilities it possesses. Or they are afraid to break tried-and-true formulas or just too lazy to explore places they’ve never been before. One thing is for certain, however. If they don’t start inventing messaging aligned with the new way people communicate, get their entertainment, shop, bank, and get their news, they will quickly become obsolete.

No one says it’s easy, mind you. When you’re trained to tell stories in 30-second increments on television, it’s not so easy to suddenly create persuasive stories using web or mobile-based mediums, which are not defined by time or one-way communication, but you must. And you have to tell them well. Our clients demand it. And if we don’t do it, they will give their business to someone else — probably a digital firm with a bunch of tech geeks who never wrote an ad in the first place.

And this is happening more and more. The level of quality television commercials has gone down considerably, due to the fact that many of the people writing and art directing them are not trained in that craft, but in the digital world. Recently, Lee Garfinkel, Creative Director at Euro RSCG, commented in mediapost.com that “G-d only made so many creatives” while referring to the dearth of great commercials running today. The lack of “creatives” came because of the rise of the “tech geek.”

So where does this all leave us? Tech geeks are writing TV spots, and the TV guys are chasing pixels and code.

Transition makes this a very exciting time to be in this business, that’s for sure. Things are changing in the blink of an eye. New mediums are being created every day. There are new ways to tell brand stories and traditional ways that need to be fulfilled. Things are fraying at the same time they are coming together.

It’s really about convergence. It’s the joining of old and new technology; the juxtaposition of old-school brand strategy with new-age mobile media, for instance. In fact, clients and agencies are even merging together more and more, as well. Client and agency are becoming stronger partners, intertwined in each other’s success.

Our company has recently been hired by a start-up social media company to help grow their brand and increase subscriptions, and we found ourselves so closely involved with their entire operation that we are now more than ad guys; we are business developers. And it’s fun creating from all angles, not just directly to a consumer. Not just living on the edges of the brand, but in its very core.

So not only are we inventing ideas for new mediums and technology, but at the end of the day, we are also inventing new roles for ourselves as well. New business paradigms, if you will. No time to whine about change coming. It’s here. It’s been here for a while now, actually. So, stop pontificating like I am right now, and grab your partner, close the door, and start inventing some killer ideas that change the way people think. 

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Steve Biegel develops transformative ideas through persuasive communications programs to help change consumer behavior, and has done so throughout his career. Steve is a battle-tested thinker with a broad perspective on the industry who can infuse others with creative energy while applying it to the details of the craft. Steve helped hatch some of the most effective campaigns for brands of all sizes and shapes. His ambidextrous approach to creative problem solving through digital, social, and traditional mediums is built on provocative ideation that surprises, informs, and rewards audiences. Steve is co-founder and Creative Director at Scarlet Heifer, a NYC digital communications boutique. Contact him here
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