Real Integration and Broadening Scope
Bastholm: Everything from home appliances to every other gadget will have some sort of interactivity. The whole idea of digital has left the computer. Recently, we were looking at what we had delivered in 2007 and we counted up to 14 different types of things, from websites to online marketing to even radio. So the spectrum of what a digital agency is expected to deliver has already expanded. We're becoming less digital delivery boys and more strategic partners.
Kuster: Although digital agencies mainly concentrated on the development of websites in the past, they now have to learn to develop overarching ideas that can also be used in TV, the event-business or illuminated outdoor advertising.
Boku: The biggest change will come with the transition from the PC as the main device to connect to the net to cell phones or other mobile devices [becoming primary ways to go online]. Output will change accordingly with changes of the input interfaces.
Gardner: We are finally getting some mobile devices that allow us to deliver high quality advertising to people on the go. Especially when GPS or other mobile positioning becomes more widespread, so we really know where they are in the city, we're going to see a major wave of digital advertising innovation. Hopefully within the next few years we will see the tipping point where a big enough group has high-speed networked media machines hooked to their living room screens to allow us to start doing large scale advertising for that audience. When that happens the convergence which has been going on for the past decade will be fully realized—TV will be the web and the web will be TV.
Kelso: There was a movement a while ago to separate the creative agencies from the media companies and now, I think it's important to work closer together. You're not just doing a banner buy on CNN, you're doing an integrated experience on a YouTube site, or your own channel, and it's probably a media buyer who makes that happen. That can work as a way to make smaller budgets stretch further, partnering with these media companies who have the relationships. The key is just making sure that the creative team maintains control of the message. The future of advertising lies in the increased collaboration between the two.
New Formats and Open Channels
Price: There's much more pressure on us to give people solutions that can work on multiple formats. It requires a better understanding of how people are using media, which is constantly changing. I came from TV, and what's exciting about the interactive space is that it's always changing. For example, the last few jobs we've talked to people about, they've mentioned using Papervision3D, which is a technology that didn't even really exist last year.
Mazzariol: What we do will get less authorial. The digitization of traditional media such as TV and radio, together with digital media itself, opens a huge variety of channels. Keeping connected with different niches is getting harder everyday. More and more we will have to stay aware and in touch with cultural niches, acting more like curators than artists.
Bajwa: There's a lot of "We need to do digital because digital's the future," but some things are not right. So many companies just fall back on creating microsites for every ad campaign without thinking, How are people going to get there; what are they going to do when they get there; why are they going to come back? To keep relevant is to see what's the most interesting strategically—not haphazard technology or digital for digital's sake. People will start to question why are they spending half a million dollars on a big microsite that maybe 10,000 people go to.
Meena: In the past, interactive people always wanted to do motion graphics or animation that was going into TV spots. A lot of the people coming through Transistor's doors were big in the interactive space; like GMunk and DForm—they were all web designers before getting into 3D and all that stuff. Now, years later, I'm starting to hear the motion graphics guys chiming in asking to get more into interactive. So it's flipped a bit and the lines are definitely blurred between the two.
Gardner: Within five years I don't think there will be much difference between us and what used to be a creative film production company. They will have morphed in our direction and we will have morphed in theirs. We are continually working to develop our creative skills and add to our ability to deliver intelligent ideas for our clients. Otherwise we're quite happy with the mix of skills we have today.
Long Term Thinking
Gardner: As advertisers search for new, more effective models for two-way communication, some of them are finding that a focus on long term conversations rather than short term one-off campaigns is more effective. Long term conversations must be built on honest communication and real value for the stakeholder. I'm not saying the campaign is going away, just that it will hopefully be caught up in a broader context, at least when it comes to the best brands. For us it would mean a shift away from creating short term productions to thinking more in waves over a longer period of time.
Tait: We hear all kinds of stories about big agencies that have Draconian firewalls. If I'm an 18-year-old now and my life is spent online using instant messenger and various other pieces of technology, the last thing I'm going to want to do is work for a bank where I'm shut off from those things. I think for young kids right now being without instant messenger and sitting in front of a computer is just going to feel really unnatural. It raises all kinds of questions about what the workplace of the future is going to be like.
Collins: It's not about advertising an idea, but ideas that can become advertising. We have to start using our communication skills to come up with new services that can leverage more value to the consumers. Nike+ is a perfect example of this. It's not just going to be the R&D department's job in the future to come up with products or services that generate new revenue stream and more value to the consumers. This burden is equally ours to bear.
WHAT WILL BE YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE AND OPPORTUNITY?
Clients: A New Approach
Park: Clients who understand media will be our challenge and our biggest opportunity in a way. These are clients who want to go beyond and want to try something new that no company has ever done before. Every time we get a project, of course, everything is new and an opportunity, but we need clients to understand what they're doing and interact with us on ideas.
Bastholm: Certainly it's to become a full partner with our clients in all kinds of marketing that they do and not just what is determined as digital today. The digital industry needs to get a few more brand strategists on board to take care of the brand, which hasn't exactly been its forte. That's easier for us to do than, say, a traditional agency to build an entire new service offering, which is what digital is. It's a craft. A lot of traditional agencies are outsourcing the work to digital production companies and the problem with that is the scale. Those production companies are swamped, they can only take on so much work. So you need to have a certain level of production capability and expertise (in-house) and that's where some people will fail if they think they can simply work that outsourcing model.
Gardner: Some agencies we know are trying to internalize all digital creative production and cut people like us out of the equation. Others see how well we can complement each other, and that is the model we believe in. On the flipside, many end clients are maturing to the point where they don't feel like they need a lead agency to handle everything. They engage special teams for some of their best work, and that also creates some interesting openings for us. Our recent work on the global launch of the Samsung Armani co-branded phone is one example.
McGinness: I think smart advertising in some instances can really help inform the way our clients do business. Retail environments, product design and basic business practices are all within the scope of a good agency. The challenge will be to continue to expand into new realms with enough caution to not wear out our welcome.
Appelblad: Our biggest challenge is to keep our creative focus in a world that is to a greater extent than ever, driven by syndicated media networks. For better and for worse, they will to an extent set the conditions for how a marketing effort can reach its audience. Our whole philosophy is based on "big ideas are better than big budgets," so in order not to be limited to marketing resources we will keep on trying to make campaigns that stand out by themselves. Look at the Ikea "Dream Kitchen" campaign for example. When we first launched in Sweden, for long periods of time over 75% of the visitors were from the U.S. and Germany.
An Active Audience
Mazzariol: The greatest opportunity that digital media offers is the active participation of the audience. We can have the privilege of having people participating with and distributing branded content over channels to more people of the same type—thus hitting again and again the targeted consumer. The challenge is truly remarkable and is as rewarding (once it succeeds), as it is big.
Collins: [Our challenge will be] adjusting our agency model so that it supports a media agnostic approach to the way we advertise. We've worked very integrated, we've got a traditional art director and copywriter and I work with them in a triangle. Even if you work in an agency where everybody's sitting in the same place, you still have holes you can fall into. You never get the stringency through the campaign if the proper agency is not on the digital as well.
Tait: The hardest thing that we're about to see is a massive amount of competition. There are so many great things that people have made on the internet that you are competing with, and the people who are creating these things are not playing by the same sets of rules that you have to play by when you're building things for clients. Their job is to purely to produce something that is entertaining and compelling. Our job is to do that but also to ultimately deliver value for a client.
Doing More For Less
N. Lindstrom: The biggest challenge for the whole industry is a better budget, so that we can do better work. We're getting better, but it's far away from traditional commercial and film budgets.
Bjurman: With Fallon's Tin Man [Infinite Oz] project, we were creating assets 25 times bigger than the traditional TV spots beccause it's in high-def. In interactive production, there are a lot more assets to develop, so you'll have 100 different versions of each loop within the user experience. That means we have to do something 100 times more and we still only have 20% of the budget.
WHO WILL BE IMPORTANT TO YOU?
Bajwa: Creativity now is not limited—it's now technology too. I think you need people who are tapped into that tech world, but able to make it relevant and real for people. I think you need creative people who are going to understand this other world. It should be less about the art school, advertising major, and more about people who are innovating in other areas. Technology people have an advantage because that's where innovation is happening right now.
Appelblad: We've always had a strong focus on strategy, concept and ideas and that's not going to change. We will of course keep the creative focus, but today technological complexity increases so fast that we also need to staff up with smart and creative people who fit our company culture and can teach us new technologies, opportunities they offer, and new ways of working together.
Tait: I think there are a lot of surface assumptions that people make about how/why people are using [social networks]. I think we need to get much deeper into those relationships to really understand them and start to develop them and work with them to create better things. Digital anthropologists, people who really understand what cultural change is happening as a result of people adapting to ubiquitous digitalness—will help agencies stay ahead of the game.
Tait: Content experts—in producing video online there are people doing it right and people who are trying to transfer the skills from creating successful :60 TV spots. And the way they are telling stories is quite different. If you look at things that have been really successful like Lonely Girl 15, where they have really gotten under the skin of how storytelling works online, it's very different. I'm not sure it exists all in one person. It just feels like a very new set of rules. There aren't that many people out there who have good quantifiable experience.
Passionistas, Crossover Artists and Media Agnostics
R. Lindstrom: People with passion! Creative people who understand all kinds of digital media, people who understand new technology but also classic branding marketing. Good designers and art directors have become more and more important as well. Personally I think they are hardest to find.
McGinness: There's a big difference between people who come up with the idea to use innovative media and the people who come up with really great ideas that leverage new media. Those creative thinkers who have the comfort and familiarity with a non-linear approach to advertising, who feed from a smart conceptual framework and work outwards are the people I look for.
Boku: For employees, a producer who is able to create a project/business that never existed before and a programmer with planning ability. With collaborators, we want creators from different fields who take the power of the net positively.
Kelso: To be well-versed in talent and SAG and business affairs, all the way through to coding, HTML and Flash is a lot to ask of anybody. I think the best you can do is find people who are willing to figure it out. They're willing to push themselves into uncomfortable places and figure out the solution to a problem.
WHAT TECHNOLOGY WILL AFFECT YOUR JOBS IN THE FUTURE?
Touch Screen and Targeting
Park: Touch-screen technology like Microsoft Surface and the iPhone and also outdoor advertisements. For example, in a mall in Korea, there's a touch-screen advertisement on the floor and when you walk over it, it interacts with you. These days, people don't want random advertising in front of them. Websites like Facebook and MySpace are starting to do more customized banners for people. TV should definitely go that route. If I'm watching VH1 or MTV and if I'm into music, the commercial should start with music stuff, like music jackets or music videos. It's not bothering in a way, you want see it, it's more customized and better for advertisers.
Park: I've read a lot of research about interactive TV and it says IPTV is going to come pretty soon. But the web and TV will be merged into one. If you're watching TV and you're seeing this drama, and you like this coat an actor's wearing, you can just buy it right now. Click on info and you can just buy it there. You're seeing a multi-view of HD footage in a way.
Kuster: I think IPTV will take on a much more important role than ever before because interactive advertising offers improved possibilities related to targeted user communication with personalized content and therefore can presumably demonstrate a higher acceptance rate than that of television advertising. Consequently, digital agencies are tasked with using technology to create advertising material that allows interaction with users via this communication channel.
The New Networking
Bajwa: Social networking is a big buzzword, but you always thought about it in terms of Myspace and Facebook. I've just spent some time with this company called Ning. It's kind of the exact opposite of Facebook. Instead of [being a] one template social networking site, you can create your own social network based on what you're interested in. What will be more important is stuff like that. Instead of getting a bunch of people who are sort of interested in your thing, you get a smaller group, but they are much more interested. I look for things like that, that are more personal, more bespoke, more customized.
Mazzariol: There are tons of promising technologies today, but a simple and old one is still badly explored from my point of view. I believe the good old cell phone reinvented along the lines of the iPhone is about to become a strong environment for brands. Apps and games connected to the web contain a vast territory for ideas.
R. Lindstrom: I guess we will see more campaigns integrated with our mobile phones. The last year new models with bigger touchscreens and Wi-Fi and 3G (I am very impressed by my iPhone) have already enabled us to use our phones in new ways. Here we have lot to develop which will be very fun to take part of. I also think digital posters will be an important component of that.
Webcams and Widgetry
Kelso: There's a site called Oovoo that allows for group webcam chats. It's great to have these smaller companies experimenting with it because they are so agile on the development side. I also think the idea of "if you build it, they will come" is dissipating and it's more about going where people are already gathering and participating. Embeddable data, with widgets and gadgets, that are content related—it's agnostic to where you are. There's a company called SplashCast that makes this gadget that can be imbedded into Facebook, MySpace or your blog, and there's a chat functionality that is useable across the platforms. There's a lot of opportunity for brands to play in that kind of space.
Collins: "Useful advertising" is all I can say. We can't keep on rolling out advertising using the old sender and receiver model. We can't expect people to listen/watch/interact anymore if there is no value offered. I'm becoming more skeptical of the way I work in the digital space. However, I still get happy when I see Farfar's Diesel Heidis piece and Nike+, not to mention the new Absolut Machines site by Great Works. All of these projects are going to shape our industry over the next years.
Appelblad: It's really hard to predict any specific technology. I think that very much depends on which markets you operate. Take Russia for example. They've had difficulties with their broadband infrastructure, so for many years internet penetration was really low but the mobile penetration was huge. They don't access the internet through their computer, they use their cell phones. I think that the kind of iterative way of working that e.g. eBay and Google have will be more important.
Bajwa: In mobile, there's a lot of innovation, but there are still barriers. Take, for example, bar codes, or QR codes (see p. 36). Very popular in parts of Europe and in Asia, but it's never picked up here in the U.S. Conceptually it's really great, but in order to get it you have to download software onto your phone, it has to be activated, you have to have an account. It's a lot of extra work. If they get over some of those barriers, then that kind of thing will take off. That's why I think the iPhone was so incredibly interesting, because it made so many things so simple. Simplicity has to happen in mobile before it will really take off. People are trying to innovate, but there are still a lot of obstacles.
Digital and Physical
Bajwa: I think a cool trend to see is how digital and physical connect. Take Google Streetview. Google maps is all online, but it's so much more real. I can see Rich Silverstein's porch and the license plate on the back of his car. And then offline you've got things like those QR codes or bar codes where you're tagging physical things that you can access using your phone and your computer. How do you make digital things more physical, and physical things more digital?
Gardner: Digital is reaching into essentially all of the old analog spaces. I was in London recently and in many of the Tube stations there they have taken away the old print ads you used to see on your way up the escalator and replaced them with LCD screens. But with all this digitization going on it is easy to get caught up in discussions about the fantastic new places we will be able to put advertising next: animated condom ads above nightclub urinals. The interesting thing to me is not how we can bomb people with more advertising messages, but how we can use technology to sort out the messages and give them real value. Imagine a web where all of the brand communication is just for you and built around your interests, with your control and consent. Now that would be fun.
Wahlquist: You can use Flash forever today. If you look at what we're doing today on campaigns, you can have Flash be more of a utility. You can move the commercials from the web to the desktop, or even out in life, like Nike+ did. It's so much more of a utility and a grand experience you'll have over time.
McGinness: I'm still banking on the world of gaming to bring virtual reality to the consumer. Real VR with headsets and crazy immersive photorealistic environments—that's when concepts like Second Life and Facebook will really get interesting.
Bastholm: I was in Japan last year, and I was looking at what they're able to do with the broadband speeds they have, which run 100 megabits, and you can do video streams within video streams. You can have full–screen video with slivers of video communicating with each other. It's just some crazy shit, but broadband in the U.S. isn't there yet. But once we get over that hump the scope of what is possible will certainly expand.
Bajwa: YouTube's planning to come out with high definition. Imagine that. If people start creating better content, the door's now open for them to do more. That platform could really evolve pretty quickly and you could do a lot more fun and cool stuff on it that you couldn't do now.
WHAT WERE THE MOST OVERRATED DIGITAL PHENOMENA OF THE LAST FEW YEARS?
Kuster: Completely overrated. With the launch of more elaborate projects the influence of that community on brands and business evaporated into nothing. It wasn't actually possible to reach an effective mass audience for campaigns and projects via Second Life.
Tait: I think what the Second Life guys have done in terms of creating a community with its own currency, and the ability for people to be entrepreneurial, creative and social is just absolutely phenomenal. I just think that people were led into it with false promises and not completely with their eyes open. I don't think we've seen the end of virtual worlds, by a long way. I just think the hype around it was overrated.
User Generated Content
Bajwa: Let consumers create the ad for you! You need to think about marketing beyond that—what can you give them, how can you shape it, how can you add something to their experience online? It's not a strategy. It's just a small thing that gets overrated because it's new.
Bastholm: Let's face it, if half the advertising industry can't make enough amazing things. How can Joe Schmoe from Alabama be any better? I think it works in rare cases but it's far from a savior.
Facebook and Myspace
Bastholm: No one wants to be bombarded with ads on MySpace or Facebook. People are leaving MySpace because of that, plus the design looks like shit. There's not a good quid pro quo there. You put in your time but what you get back isn't necessarily as valuable as what you put in. On the other hand, it is great to get in touch with friends quickly, but it's not quite as important as people have been making it out to be. It's a great tool, but that's about it.
Collins: Facebook, which has gone from a great online community communication tool, to a pain in the ass application that keeps on wanting me to install new applications that do absolutely nothing for me.
R. Lindstrom: Most overrated phenomena must be all communites like Facebook, etc. that have been economically rated so amazingly high. It is a little bit crazy rating a company so high after the amount of users; what happens when the users start using another community? It will happen, sooner or later.
Kuster: An over-hyped phenomenon. This buzzword has been floating around for years and you can't really place a value on it because it reflects too many different ideas.
Appelblad: The concept of virals in the sense of short video clips with a URL at the end is the most overrated phenomenon of the last few years. There has been some really good stuff like Droga5's "Ecko" campaign, but other than that most efforts have been quite bad really. The whole idea of a viral is to create something unique but when you do it based on a formula, I can't see why you do it.
Mazzariol: I think rich media technologies for banner ads were a good attempt to increase the appeal of those formats, but instead of that, they have been used to share and place traditional spots and extremely heavy content on the web. It's amazing that it's still being used. One of the worst uses of technology since the page peeling ads.
LESSONS LEARNED...AND TO LEARN
Beta Is The Way
Bajwa: You have to experiment. It's sort of a dumb phrase, but perpetual beta. Borrow a page from the tech world. Google does this very well. They put something out into the world, they start editing it, learning what works and what doesn't. I don't think we've been so flexible in the past, creatively. We've always been like, "I'm going to spend six months producing this amazing campaign and then move onto the next thing," instead of doing a few things along the way, learning from those and making a bigger splash. I think if we start to think that way, maybe we'll be more creative.
Kelso: Traditional software development is done under this idea of waterfall, where you write down all the requirements, then it's handed off and designed and built, and then you test, so it's this whole segmented process and you don't have any overlap. So if you decide to change something in Phase 2, you have to start over. That works well for NASA or big banking systems, but when you're talking about something more dynamic, you need a different way of developing. One model is this concept of extreme programming where there are two developers sitting side-by-side, constantly working together and collaborating. I think that's interesting because it's very iterative and agile and I think it might be interesting to explore that kind of development in the agency space. I think it will happen where they might take a certain brief and decide to experiment with the creative model by, say, briefing a robotics expert and an installation artist. And overall, I think that sort of experimenting would be helpful for agencies.
Authenticity And Honesty
Collins: I can see what's happening in the digital space. It's simply not enough to create a well-executed site with a shallow idea. We are now breaking out through the digital world and into a physical world. Great Works pulled it off with the Absolute Machines project (see p. 12). We can expect to see a lot more of this type of work coming from agencies in the near future. In fact the same principals apply in the analog world—if it's real it will have a completely different impact. Sony "Balls" and Guinness' "Tipping Point" are a perfect examples of this. I don't know why more agencies don't apply the viral rules/principals in a traditional space. Review the idea and ask yourself, "Will this ad spread on YouTube as well as being a great 60-second spot?
Gardner: One thing I hope is that major brands get more self-confidence and accept that they simply have to be more open and honest with their stakeholders. You can't engage people in a long term conversation if you're trying to bullshit them. You have to be authentic from end to end. It's a long lesson for marketers who were breast-fed on carpet-bomb-them-into-submission advertising. If you've got a product with flaws it's better to either invite your customers to help you improve it, or shelve the thing. This is a smart audience with the tools to strike back, so if you try to sell them something that's sub-par, you're in for it. People finally have tools to leverage their numbers to hold big corporations and bureaucracies accountable. It means better products and services and hopefully a more authentic experience for everyone.