Looking at the fragmentation of communications brought on by digital technology today, I believe these new media will create considerable opportunity for advertising certain types of products in specific marketing situations-not necessarily supplanting but certainly supplementing traditional media.
The new media do have certain limitations. I cannot foresee a time when traditional advertising and its attendant creativity will not have a role in the increasingly complex marketing mix. Traditional advertising in mass media will continue to be appropriate in a number of situations: for certain categories of hedonistic consumption of foods and beverages; for behavioral persuasion based on human emotion; for news, cultural or sporting events that must be seen in real time; and for the mass efficiencies of global brands.
Traditional advertising and the new media will co-exist and, increasingly, complement one another. But what happens to creativity in the agency of the future if we accept the assumption, which I feel is unarguable, that future creativity in advertising will have to change significantly in order to properly take advantage of new media opportunities?
Advertising agencies will have to adapt their creative output to new technologies. Or put another way, if we in the agency business think that by the turn of the century we'll still be making the vast majority of our money doing mass media campaigns for the Super Bowl, the Grammies and network TV, then we're just plain nuts.
There is a clear need for agency creativity to take on new challenges. The popular notion among those who enjoy proclaiming the death of the agency business is that we can't do it. The bad news is so many people say it. The worse news is so many people print it.
The good news is that it's nonsense.
Recently, Martin Sorrell, group chief executive at London's WPP Group, gave an interview on the subject of interactive creativity. Martin is a smart man whose opinions I respect. He was asked, "Do agencies have anything to fear from interactive media?" He didn't equivocate: "Agencies could be rendered obsolete," he said.
Martin was then asked, "Is creativity a major factor in making ads for the interactive age?" And he responded that creativity was essentially the difference between success and failure.
Well, batting .500 in the prognostication league ain't bad. In my view, Martin was wrong in suggesting that agencies could be put out of business by interactive media. And, ironically, he was wrong for the very reason that he was right in saying creativity is the determining factor in the ultimate viability of interactive communications. If creativity is indeed the issue, then the source of that creativity will be-must be-advertising agencies. (The Creative Artists Agency experiment is over. The winners are a whole bunch of agencies.)
Of course, agency creative people can work in interactive TV and other new-media technologies. Creativity has always adapted itself to new tools, new technologies. It's really quite basic. If we agree that advertising agencies will remain the source of creativity in advertising messages-and after all, creativity is still the only communications discipline that marketers have never successfully done in-house-then we in the agencies should not fear obsolescence. Nor should our clients fear for our ability to adapt to new tools.
Creativity is a function of human ingenuity that exists independent of time and tools. Do we have a somehow higher quotient of creativity in the world today than existed in ancient cultures and civilizations? Is our literature more brilliant? Are our scientists more ingenious? Has the world of culture over the centuries become more expressive?
I believe over the centuries, creativity has always adapted to new and different creative tools. Could da Vinci have learned to use a computer to stretch his genius, to make it even more inventive and productive? Certainly he could-if I can use a computer, anyone can. Could Shakespeare have won an Oscar for screenwriting? Well, he certainly would have written great movies. In fact, he did. (An Oscar is another question.)
After all, we're still watching Shakespeare, listening to Mozart, looking at Rembrandt. I think the basic reason that literature and music and art have survived intact through the ages is that the tools of the writer, the musician and the artist have not changed materially. At the end of the day, new tools and technologies do not demand or produce greater creativity. They provide creative people with new forms of expression.
Returning now from the world of culture to the world of commerce, can advertising creativity adapt to new tools of communication? Of course. Will we work with them? Of course. Creative people in advertising do not find poverty ennobling.
A new world of global commerce has evolved in our lifetime, accompanied by the vast new potential of digital communications. And for me, the question of whether agencies are equipped to handle the demands of this new world, creatively and otherwise, is answered with at least a resounding "Why not?"
In any event, it will be quite some time, if ever, before the new media replace the old. Films didn't doom books. TV didn't doom radio, magazines or newspapers. Cable didn't doom the networks.
As it turns out, good old Gutenberg has more staying power than Chris Whittle. The end is not nigh. Our advertising world will not be buried under bushels of interactive couch potatoes.