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April 24, 2009
The Digital Jump
 
There was a time I was all about TV spots. I loved making them. I loved watching them. I loved the fact that it was the easiest way to describe my job, especially to my parents. Print and radio was great too, but nothing gave me career satisfaction as cranking out the big spot. My art director Julie and I made our share, too. We shot on other continents. We worked with the occasional celebrity. We tried to make our client’s brands stronger.
 
So when the call came to go digital in 2007, it was something to ponder. At the time, it seemed the right thing to do. Youtube was on the rise; the iPhone was just months away from its debut and Facebook was continuing its exponential expansion. The writing was on the wall, or the Facebook wall is more like it.
 
When the call came, from Atmosphere BBDO, I told Julie: I’m making the jump, you in? She was. Fantastic, we became a digital team. It was a bold move. It may have saved our careers.
 
I say that because many of my colleagues in traditional advertising are looking for work now, sadly. It’s hard to make a blanket statement about the state of the industry, but here it goes: having digital work in your “book” (is it still called that?) can only help. Two years ago, having digital work was recommended but optional. Now, it’s a must. That means digital experiences. That means iPhone and Facebook applications. That means web pages and microsites. That means less NBC and more hulu.com. Yes, there’s a difference.
 
Going digital meant totally changing my media consumption habits. Getting an iPhone wasn’t a luxury – it was a necessity. Spending hours and hours on line – reading blogs, interacting with banners, farting around Facebook (well that’s what my wife calls it) and pouring through websites is all required. It’s what watching hours and hours of MTV meant, say, if you were a creative looking for a certain video style. And if you’re doing that still, please say hello to 1985 for me. Seriously, if you’re still doing that, it’s a good chance you’re on mtvmusic.com rather than watching MTV.
 
Making the digital jump doesn’t mean I’m forever living in happy pixel-land either. I miss the art and rhythm of TV writing. I miss the search for the right director/editor combination. I miss the beauty of making a well-crafted TV spot. I miss…Shutters on the Beach.
 
There, I said it. I miss that amazing Santa Monica hotel that my art director partner has named “the ad dorm,” given its popularity among advertising executives. I miss my jogging path that winds through Venice and Marina del Rey. I miss those days of travel and expense budgets. I know it’s getting bare-boned everywhere nowadays, but in the digital world, it’s done faster and leaner. TV is still commands the larger budgets, however, digital is knocking at its door, with its hand out.
 
That’s not to say digital advertising is less satisfying than a great 30-second spot. Digital advertising at its best is a participatory experience. The ultimate goal of TV advertising is to make a spot everyone talks about. The digital/interactive goal is to get people to play with it. Join its world. In traditional they talk of getting consumers to “join a movement.” Yet consumers are asked to do so in passive mediums. Interactive is nothing but active. Its ultimate purpose is to get people to do things besides sit and watch. Banner ads can be fun like that. It amazed me how many people click around on banners and microsites – to play with a product demo, a simple game, blasting aliens. Yes, people really do these things. I know because digital media is completely quantifiable. Results of user involvement are way more accurate than the antiquated Nielson estimated TV ratings or “passalong” print results.
 
 
Did a user interact for 10 seconds? For 30? For 60? The results will tell you. One thing I personally love, interactive media is completely engaging. You can’t vacuum the floor and play with a banner at the same time. Unless your vacuum has a touchscreen. Now there’s an idea…
 
Youtube only recently entered the world of interactive video. I think that day will come very soon when TV spots will be ones users can click through. And TV content will be something users can click through too. Imagine watching an episode of your favorite show and asking, what kind of sunglasses are those? CLICK. Where can I get a pair? CLICK. Can I get a better price? CLICK. That’s coming. And it will be amazing for advertising. Can you imagine watching a car commercial, or a James Bond movie featuring a really a cool car? And then, CLICK. You’re driving the car with your Wii wheel. CLICK. You’re over a mountain terrain. You can feel the handling. CLICK. The bad guys are chasing you. That technology is probably coming too. If not, then I just gave away a great idea.
 
The beauty of working at a digital agency is that we’re approached with new technology all the time, and then we try to apply it to our brands. It’s really cool to have a creative department where that’s encouraged. Clients are always appreciative of this, whether they buy into the idea or not.
 
Meanwhile in 2009, the media world is still messy and ad budgets continue to shrink. Even the Superbowl is having trouble selling out its commercial timeslots. It’s hard for brands to justify that kind of spending nowadays. This is where the digital world finds itself at yet another advantage. It’s easy for a brand to go “dark,” meaning, no TV, no print, no radio. Online there is no “dark.” A web presence is a must. Brands need creatives to manage their official web presence. Digital experiences, microsites and social media applications are great ways to do this.
 
Otherwise, the only way consumers may hear of your brand are from unsolicited fan pages, and unsolicited “I hate (your brand) pages.” Need an example of the latter? Google Wal-Mart.
 
Here’s the better news, in the digital ad world, just like the traditional ad world, is always in need of good ideas. And storytelling. And creative thinking. When it boils down to coming up with ideas, a traditional team is equally qualified as a digital team. As we move closer and closer to those worlds merging, brands will need the best of both worlds – an engaging TV-like story, catchy interactive nuggets from digital – amazing graphic design throughout – and I’ll say it now, simplicity, simplicity, simplicity.
 
Nail that and an amazing creative you’ll make. Brand managers will be forever grateful.
 
Now if only I can get back to Shutters. I need another squeaky rubber whale.

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Brad Mislow is a New York-based ACD in both traditional and digital media. He has worked on Citibank, Toyota, AT&T, Mercedes-Benz, the U.S. Army, American Express, Hershey Foods, Unilever, DHL, Kraft Foods, Kodak, Amtrak, Miller Lite, and Post Cereals. For a look at his work and more articles like this one, go to bradmislow.com.

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