Nicholas Negroponte declared the digital revolution over in 1998. The ad industry didn't get the memo. It was too busy completely reworking its basic creative, technological, philosophical and procedural assumptions to survive a revolution that, in brand world, was very much in bloody progress. With great effort, the industry made a mighty shift. Perhaps the best indication that the marketing business has finally, really, embraced the spirit of the digital age is that it's doing a lot of work that's not so... "Digital."
The best companies have harnessed the digital mind-set and taken the shareable, ongoing, interactive, participatory nature of digital and created brand experiences that matter to people where they ought to--in their real, everyday, flesh and flood lives.
This is, of course, not to suggest that digital doesn't matter anymore. Quite the opposite. Grokking the digital ethic and understanding technology are not steps that can be skipped. The point is that digital underlies everything, is everything. As Negroponte said back in 98, "like air and drinking water," digital would be noticed only by its absence, not its presence. Or, as planner/pundit/Really Interesting Group founder Russell Davies wrote in an essay on post-digitalism on his blog last year, most people have integrated digital into their lives, "to the extent that it makes as much sense to define them as digital as it does to define them as air-breathing. I.e., it's true but not useful or interesting."
So this is not exactly a new development. The most compelling brand ideas of the last decade have had a digital heart but have manifested themselves in meaningful ways in people's fleshly lives--see Nike+ and Fiat Eco Drive. And, an increasingly digitized world means the internet is already all around you. The internet of things--the growing number of networked, everyday objects from fridges to pill bottles to cars--is a reality. But it seems that the idea that digital has transcended something experienced from beginning to end via a keyboard and on a screen has finally gripped the mainstream brand world.
A glance at some of the big award winners so far this season seems to reflect the shift to real-world experiences. The Grand Prize winner at the One Show Interactive was a digital idea that literally played out on the streets--Nike Chalkbot from Wieden + Kennedy (see below). At the Andys, the big winner was TBWA/Chiat/Day's Replay for Gatorade, an idea that started as a live event and online content venture and spilled over into broadcast.
"In a way what I think is happening is that online behavior is affecting most other areas of life at the moment," says Andreas Dahlqvist, ECD of DDB Stockholm, the agency behind the real-world-leaning Fun Theory Campaign (see below). "We see interactivity and social components everywhere now. There is huge potential in using digital to enhance 'real life' experience, and I think we are just seeing the beginning of that. It's adding a new layer of value, a fourth dimension if you like. Looking at it the other way around it's about making digital tangible. I think there is a need to add 'real-ness' in an increasingly digitized world.
Below, some of the digital-meets-real-world campaigns that mark the industry's post-digital evolution. Also, make sure to check out some of the brains behind the work discuss the topic live at CAT New York on June 10.
Nike Chalkbot, Wieden Kennedy, Portland
A robot walked away with Best of Show at the One Club's annual One Show Interactive, as well as top honors at other industry shows like the Andys and ADC. Wieden + Kennedy Portland teamed with mobile software design company Deep Local on the street-painting Chalkbot, which imprinted messages of hope straight onto the course of the Tour De France-as part of the ongoing Nike Livestrong campaign. Fans could send messages via the campaign website, online banners or Twitter, and Chalkbot would then spray their words of encouragement onto the pavement eight hours before the bikers hit the road. Well-wishers would later receive a link to a bot-captured photo of the chalked message along with GPS coordinates, as a record of their digital words of inspiration made physical.
Pepsi Refresh, TBWA/Chiat/Day, L.A.
Pepsi decided to opt out of the Super Bowl this year for a a socially-minded social media campaign. Foregoing the likes of Britney, Justin and Cindy, the brand teamed with TBWA/Chiat/Day, digital developer Huge and Good Magazine on The Refresh Project. Over the course of the year, Pepsi agreed to fund ideas that would make the world a better place. Potential do-gooders submit their underfunded, world-changing ideas to the Refresh site. Each month, one thousand applications are accepted and the general public votes on who gets the money--a total of $20 million dollars in grants. Rob Schwartz, CCO,TBWA/Chiat/Day, L.A. says, with Refresh, the agency "didn't set out to create a 'digital idea.' We set out to make our our brand idea "Refresh" an action. That manifested itself in the Pepsi Refresh Project. It's a brand idea that let's you take action to do some good in your world, your neighborhood, your street. It's a brand idea that lives where it needs to live: in outdoor, in print, on tv and oh, yes, online. Digital is certainly the the hub of this idea living at refresheverything.com. But we utilized digital because that was the most natural place for an idea of this kind to live. The online space is where people from all over the country can interact, submit ideas and vote for the ones they care about most. (And of course, remind themselves that a little can of Pepsi that they buy actually makes a difference in the world.)"
VW Fun Theory, DDB, Stockholm
DDB Stockholm launched Rolighetsterorin, or "The Fun Theory" campaign, an initiative to get people to change their lazy behaviors--and ultimately, how they feel about driving environmentally friendly cars--by allowing them to see the fun side of acting responsibly. Videos of "experiments"--like the popular Piano Staircase or a trash can that delivered cartoon-style sound effects when it received a deposit--were seeded online through various channels and on The Fun Theory website. Part two was a contest that invited others to submit their own Fun Theory ideas. The top prize, 2500 Euros, went to the U.S.-based Kevin Richardson, who came up with an idea to reward drivers who mind the speed limit with the Speed Camera Lottery. A camera like that which catches drivers speeding gets shots of the limit-observers as well. The latter are then entered into a lottery to earn the fines paid by the speeders.
"I think digital should be the centerpiece," says Dahlqvist. "But there is a whole new eco-system for brands to relate to. Suddenly people are the most important media, and the power of recommendation has never been of greater importance. I think the key word is 'involvement'. Inviting people to participate. It's about being the 'lubricant' or 'fuel' for social media channels. We call it identifying the 'multiplier' in everything we do. It's about adding new value and increased depth to old situations and products. It's to a large extent about not only asking yourself what you want to say but how you can create some new value. Not thinking in terms of digital and non-digital but merging the two. Doing away with silo thinking in terms of media. Ask yourself how do you extend a digital experience into the real world and how do you add the digital component to real life situations? There is also huge potential in digital going increasingly mobile. The possibilities of tracking consumers will be almost endless and opens up for a whole new tool-kit for making offers and brand messages more relevant through behavior targeting."
Daffy's, Johannes Leonardo
For its client Daffy's New York agency Johannes Leonardo recently sent commuters on a subway scavenger hunt. The agency displayed cryptic pieces of an apparently NSFW image throughout subway stations in New York, directing the curious to the Twitter hashtag #undergroundbillboard. Players could pool their pieces online to complete the puzzle. The campaign was promoting the retailer's one of a kind "finds." Johannes Leonardo's past work for the client also hinged on digital-real world connections: one effort recruited shoppers online to tell their Daffy's savings stories at local stores, in a contest to win the ultimate discount: a year rent-free in a lux Manhattan pad. The agency also worked with production partner Freedom + Partners on the Daffy's Truck Tracker feature on the retailer's new site--so shoppers could find out when the latest haul of discount goods were coming to their local store and via Twitter. Johannes Leonardo also turned a cinema ad for the brand into a live event, bringing performers from the spot to reenact their moves off the screen and onto the stage during a movie screening--the film of which ultimately became a shareable piece of online content for the brand.
"Most of our campaigns utilize digital media as an enabler medium, having both on and offline components, because the truth is most of our lives and emotions we share take place in the real world," says Johannes Leonardo ECD Leo Premutico. "Digital media has created a new potential for brands because it presents the ability for its consumers to share information like never before. But a lot of the effect of that takes place where it always has, offline. The most powerful ideas for us are the ones that turn the people we're talking to into the medium for the message, rather than just the destination for it. So determining the sort of work that will do that, is always more important to us than whether we should do a digital, outdoor or TV campaign."
This year, the MTA decided to park itself right outside the front door of New York steakhouse (and Omnicom hangout) Maloney & Porcelli for a major construction project. Working with New York shop Walrus, the restaurant turned the potential threat into a golden opportunity and launched the Maloney & Porcelli Construction Club online. The club site featured a live webcam of the construction work and a schedule of proposed project completion dates. By joining the club, consumers and construction workers alike would be invited to open bar nights throughout the summer, as long as the construction crew remained on schedule.
VB Pop Up Pub, Droga 5 Sydney
Droga5 launched an online contest asking beer drinkers to submit photos of their "knock-up" VB home pubs on the VB Facebook page. The prize? One of 450 real deal pop up pubs; created by industrial designer Alex Ritchie, the home bars stand 2.5 meters tall, 1.6 meters wide and are equipped with a wooden countertop, a canvas sun shade and a VB sign. And they can be set up in under a minute.
Dominos Pizza Holdouts, CP&B
Its latest campaign for Dominos had CP&B stalking "holdouts," bombarding the subjects with outdoor media and stunts in their own hometowns until they agreed to try the chain's new recipe; a Facebook contest asked people to hunt down their Dominos Pizza virgin friends. The friends got free pies in the process, while the person with the most "captures" would get free Dominos for an entire year.
Is it a post-digital campaign? "I've used the term before, but I don't think about it all that much," says CPB partner, Winston Binch. "What I think more about is being in all the right places for the evolving connected life and making sure that we're creating marketing solutions that people need, enhancing the tools that they already use to interact, making their lives more convenient and fun, and that our brands and clients get credit for it. The charge doesn't change based on the marketing era. It just means that more of our solutions will happen in the mobile and physical space and all of them will be socially connected. It also means that there are more people around the creative table. Technology becomes a bigger part of the upfront ideation process."
Stop and Smell the Billboards
Digitally-enabled out of home has been one of the more exciting creative areas over the past few years. DDB Stockholm recently erected a playful billboard for McDonald's that displayed an array of dancing menu items, inviting passersby to shoot the food on their mobile phones. Whatever food they "caught" they could then get for free at the restaurant. Leo Burnett Toronto also pulled an innovative digital coupon stunt for James Ready beer. Billboards featured coupons with discounts to goods or services offered by local retailers. Pedestrians could shoot the boards and redeem at the nearby stores, all in the name of saving up for more of the brand's brew.
While those efforts save the consumer some dough, a recent effort from Austin agency T3 combined mobile and outdoor to find someone a home. The shop's campaign for homeless nonprofit Mobile Loaves and Fishes put a homeless man named Danny atop a billboard for two days. The message on the sign prompted people to take immediate action to help find Danny and his wife permanent shelter by texting "Danny" to 2022, which would send a $10 donation to the couple through MLF's Habitat on Wheels program.
And then, there's the outdoor you want to take home and put in your mancave. ESPN and Wieden + Kennedy invited 9-to-5ers to let off some steam with a virtual game of catch. As part of its "Is it Monday yet?" campaign for Monday night football, W+K installed interactive and gesture-recognizing touch screens on various storefronts in New York, Boston and Chicago that challenged pedestrians to catch footballs thrown at them by a virtual quarterback.. Players could even choose their quarterback opponents and, if they're good enough, eventually compete for first place on the national leaderboard.
48 Hour Magazine
Can digital resurrect the very media - print - that it ostensibly destroyed? That's what a team of journalists, developers and designers form the likes of Wired and Dwell decided to find out with 48 Hour Magazine, an experiment "using new tools to erase media's old limits." After announcing the magazine theme online, within a weekend, the team gathered and sifted through more than 1,500 editorial, photographic and illustration submissions and produced a glossy magazine based on the theme of Hustle (the group recently received a cease and desist letter from CBS claiming ownership, apparently, of everything having to do with "48 Hours.")