Kevin Proudfoot Stays On His Toes

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Kevin Proudfoot
Kevin Proudfoot
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With Wieden + Kennedy/New York's classic "This is SportsCenter" ESPN spots recently making the move to downloadable media via iTunes, longtime creative director Kevin Proudfoot waxes philosophical on the challenges of emerging technologies and new media models—and how ultimately none of these changes should affect the core mission of the creative team.

AdCritic: What's your take on the advent of podcasting and broadband internet usage, and its effect on the evolution of the 30-second spot into new formats and new platforms?

Kevin Proudfoot: Although it's made for interesting conversation fodder the last few years, the delivery of longer format "branded" executions or immersive "branded" puzzles through paid media isn't really all that innovative. All you've done is changed the form of the content; you haven't really changed the media model. We've always believed in creating work that has a cultural impact. Cultural impact, once measured by water cooler chatter and traditional news media coverage, is now being determined by technology-empowered consumers who find, consume and share interesting work on their own. So the real opportunity is creating content that is so incredibly interesting or funny or shocking or entertaining that consumers ask for it. Instead of paying for media, you earn it.

We accomplished this a few months ago for Brand Jordan. Our team worked with Paul Hunter on a music video featuring Brand Jordan athletes, rap artist Common and Jordan's new line of lifestyle apparel. We didn't pay a dime for broadcast media. But because the video was something consumers wanted, something they called in about and requested, it ran for thirteen straight weeks on BET's 106th and Park as one of the top videos of the week. And now it's happening with our long-running "This is SportsCenter" campaign on Apple's iTunes store. For the first time on Apple's site, consumers are downloading agency-created communication as content. Again, each download isn't an impression we've paid for; it's one Wieden + Kennedy/New York and ESPN have earned.

AC: So should the focus only be on the creation of content, with no other consideration in mind?

KP: I'm definitely not advocating content creation for the sake of content creation. There's already too much self-indulgent bullshit in this industry. The sole focus should always be on the development of a compelling solution for a client's business objective. If you don't start there, you're wasting everyone's time.

AC: Beyond the creation of compelling content, how aware of new technologies and their capabilities do you need to be at the beginning of the creative process? Have these emerging technologies affected the way a project is tackled on the front end?

KP: "Creatives" definitely need to know as much as possible about potential innovative technologies and media opportunities. Often this is more than any one person can know—which is why I put "creatives" in quotes—because as far as I'm concerned, being creative and developing interesting ideas applies as much to media planners, strategic planners and producers as it does to art directors and writers.

As far as the best way to tackle a project? Only by bringing all of these people together early on in the process and allowing them to not only contribute, but challenge one another, are you able to get past the traditional model where the brief and concept are passed like a baton from one department to the next.

AC: Paying for media vs. earning it—are the two mutually exclusive? Is the old "pay-for-exposure" model still effective in generating buzz, or is it simply too limited to compete with the word-of-mouth potential inherent in formats like iTunes downloads?

KP: From a media buying perspective, earned media and paid media are mutually exclusive. You've either paid for the impressions or you haven't—it comes out of your client's budget or it doesn't. But when you talk about the content itself, that distinction disappears. There's no reason why the same content deployed in paid media can't earn additional media impressions. Right now that's the most common scenario. Content is created for paid placement and then, if it is valued by consumers, it earns additional media value. And certainly the pay for exposure part of that scenario is useful for generating some quick buzz. But even more interesting are the clients and agencies who have realized that if the content is good enough, it's no longer necessary to purchase mass exposure at all.

AC: How do you see the shift in advertiser spending from TV/print to online/mobile playing out in the immediate future? Are advertisers buying into the potential of broadband and downloadable media, or are they still reluctant to throw big money into these areas?

KP: To me the distinction between "old" and "new" isn't necessarily based on the media vehicle itself. A magazine idea that has the potential to earn additional media value can be more innovative than a mobile phone execution. That said, I think it's inevitable that advertisers are going to increasingly move money into interactive media environments. Mainly because in addition to delivering content, these platforms provide the detailed consumption feedback clients need to hold their agencies accountable. If you and 30 other companies place your Super Bowl spots online, and the number of times your spot is downloaded isn't anywhere near the number of times many of the other spots are downloaded, then you've not only paid a fortune to produce and run a Super Bowl spot, you've also failed to earn any incremental media value. This type of accountability is not a bad thing.

AC:What are the creative challenges you face in a world in which consumers have more and more power to selectively choose what advertising they want to consume?

KP: While everything else seems to have gotten more complicated, the creative challenge has become a lot clearer: Create compelling content. In an environment where people choose what they consume, nothing—not even a sizable media budget—is more powerful than truly compelling content.
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