Time to explode old creative boundaries

By Published on .

Most Popular
By the year 2002, more than 500 million people will use it. It's now growing faster in the rest of the world than it is in the U.S. It's become the primary source people and business turn to for information. It's the most powerful communications medium ever created. And it's changing the very structure of our time.

It's changing the way people work. It's changing the way people live. It's changing the way companies do business. It's changing the way our economies work. It's changing media and the way media forms work together. It's structurally changing every company and every industry.

It, of course, is the Internet. And revolution is simply not a big enough word to describe its impact.

And if our business -- the business we still call advertising -- if our business and our value remain the art and science of connecting people and brands and media with the brilliance of strategic wisdom and the magic of creative ideas, then the fundamental structure of how we work and how we think has to change as well.

EARNING A REPUTATION

A generation ago, TV created new rules and a new structure for advertising and for advertising agencies. An agency could earn a creative reputation on one brilliant campaign, become a great agency with two and become immortal with three.

Today we still most award and most value TV creativity. Most agencies speak about their work and think about TV spots, and show their reels and the business results these TV spots are connected to.

Of course, we've all moved to integrated campaigns that combine advertising and direct marketing and sales promotion and interactive. But the world's creative community still relies on TV reels to get new jobs and to create personal value.

With all the possibilities of media, all the possibilities of digital TV, all the possibilities of new media and new content, with all the possibilities of integrated marketing services, with all the strategic planning we are all prepared to deliver, with all the interactive connectivity and one-to-one marketing finally a reality, we should be in the midst of a new creative revolution. But we are not.

We should be awarding and valuing creativity not based on "reels" of work but on the brilliance of creative business ideas that transcend advertising; ideas that lead to brilliant execution across the business itself, as well as advertising and media; ideas that move to the very heart of business strategy.

BUENOS AIRES' BRIDGE

So it warms my creative heart to hear the story of a team from an ad agency in Buenos Aires that had the creative challenge of advertising a new riverfront real estate development. They could have opted to try and cut through the clutter by creating an innovative advertising campaign. Instead, they recognized that, unlike many of the world's major capitals, city landmarks were something lacking in Buenos Aires. So instead of building an ad campaign they decided to recommend building a bridge.

A bridge designed by a famous architect that would become a focal point for tourists and residents alike; a creation and tribute to the city's culture and people and pride. A bridge that at the same time would become a beacon and draw people to the riverfront, and generate publicity and become the focal point for advertising.

That's creative thinking. That's a high-level creative business idea.

It warms my creative heart to see how film marketing is being reinvented beyond the traditional blitz of TV advertising and fast-food tie-ins. Thecell.com is a Web site promoting a movie about a psychologically disturbed killer. Instead of relying on film stills and video clips, the site conveys the thriller's sensibility through a series of elaborate, effectively disturbing animations. There's a database of information on serial killers, and even an interactive psychology test.

It's a compelling online experience created by people who understand the creative and multimedia possibilities the Internet allows and how it can be used to differentiate brands and businesses, and to define them.

The rules are changing. And the possibilities for engaging consumers are so much more powerful. Powerful if we stop thinking of the Internet as an advertising medium and realize we should be using it to deliver powerful business ideas and brand experiences in combination with increasingly interesting forms of communication across all media.

IDEAS AS BUSINESS STRATEGY

You could say we've always done that; we've always delivered big ideas. For sure, we've brought great research and insight and strategic thinking to our clients. For sure, we've moved from strategy to a creative idea. But we've thought about creative ideas as advertising strategy and execution of advertising strategy, not as business strategy.

The impact of the Internet on how we need to think about advertising is just beginning; the Internet itself is changing and how it's used will change even more. Just as we have begun to adjust to the reality that PCs outsell TV sets, the post-PC age is upon us in the form of a new generation of wireless services.

It's happening in Europe and Japan faster than in the U.S. And for a glimpse of what's coming look at the country that has declared itself the world's mobile information society: Finland, where mobile penetration is at 67% of the population. Among teens, the penetration is an astounding 100%, giving rise to a society that uses mobile to send messages, to do personal banking, to shop for apartments, to order gifts, to download hit songs. You can even charge a Coke to your phone.

The sales of easy-to-use "smart" devices and appliances are projected to soon outstrip PC sales. In the not-too-distant future, there will be some 1 trillion smart devices connected to 1 billion users around the world.

The revolution has begun and, to some degree, many of us are experiencing the result of it with great growth from new kinds of clients. Not the dot-com explosion, but the effect of the dot-com explosion on all other businesses, the effect of globalization and deregulation that's created a new class of major brands and business leaders.

In 1990, Exxon, Philip Morris, IBM, GE, Wal-Mart, Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Coca-Cola, AT&T and Johnson & Johnson made up an exclusive top 10 list of the companies with the highest market capitalizations. Today, only two of those companies remain in the top 10. The others were replaced by Cisco, Intel, Microsoft, Nokia, Oracle, Deutsche Telekom and the great convergence of pharmaceutical companies.

But while the Internet is changing the very nature of virtually every business on a global scale, why is the advertising industry an exception?

We need to abandon the assumption that the Internet, in all its permutations, is just another ad medium. Having separate interactive companies isn't the answer. Providing our clients with full integrated services isn't enough. If clients are changing in revolutionary ways, if consumers are changing in revolutionary ways, and if the media are changing in revolutionary ways, and if our work is about connecting all of them, we need to change in revolutionary ways, too.

BARRIERS REMOVED

The Internet has given rise to waves of new businesses because it's removed the barriers that once denied them access to the marketplace. For old-economy and new-economy businesses alike, it's about the promise of increased productivity and less capital and enormous b-to-b cost savings. It's leading to shorter product cycles, increased online transactions and reduced product differentiation.

While branding has always been crucial to companies, it is rapidly becoming the difference between success and failure. Branding has moved from an executional imperative to a strategic necessity.

The role of communication is no longer to simply communicate brand image or brand value. It now defines the brand and, in some cases, is the brand. That demands a level of creativity that goes far beyond great advertising execution. Creativity is needed at the very center of the business process where it can help define the journey and the primary business idea. Where it can be used to invent and define both brands and businesses.

STRUCTURAL CHANGES

In the next decade, on a global basis, analysts are predicting a double-digit growth rate in advertising expenditures worldwide, nearly double what it has been for the last decade and a half. That growth is being fueled primarily by structural changes in our economies created by the Internet.

It's bigger than a revolution and we have great opportunity, but we need to do some things. I won't pretend to have all the answers, but let me end here with 10 ideas:

* We need to be first to put the Internet at the center of our business, for our clients and ourselves.

* We need to be first to abandon the belief that Internet advertising is the province of technocrats while TV, press, poster and other traditional media remain the province of real creative people.

* We need to be first to understand that we are in this together.

* We need to be first to create partnerships with other kinds of companies and partnerships with each other.

* We need to be first to recognize creative brilliance in new ways, not with only TV awards and press awards and media awards and interactive awards, but with something bigger. We need to be first to find the 21st century version of a book or a reel.

* We need to be first to recruit, as much for our industry as for ourselves.

* We need to be first to create extraordinary demonstrations of the art of the possible, and in the act of doing that, inspire people to be part of it.

* We need to be first to rethink creative groupings as innovators did a generation ago when art directors and copywriters worked together for the first time as a creative team.

* We need to break down the barriers and the separation between technology and creativity, and tear down the walls in agency organizational charts -- and within our own heads -- so that creativity can be harnessed and used in bigger and more innovative ways.

* Most importantly, we need to be first to lead and first to love the extraordinary opportunities of the times we live in.

Mr. Schmetterer is chairman-CEO, Euro RSCG Worldwide, New York.

In this article: