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THE CREATIVE CHALLENGE OF INTERACTIVE MEDIA ANA FOCUS: HOW BRANDS WILL BRING THE MESSAGE

By Published on .

The new frontier of interactive creative-and its potential impact on the way agencies and marketers approach consumers-was a hot topic at the Association of National Advertisers' annual conference in San Diego last week.

"We're all used to shouting with our mass-media messages," said Rishad Tobaccowala, VP-account director and head of the interactive marketing group at Leo Burnett USA, Chicago. "But when you get this close to these consumers, you don't shout, you whisper .*.*. and you listen."

Mr. Tobaccowala said among the first half-dozen challenges Burnett has faced in dealing with interactive media is the issue of intrusion vs. invitation.

"What we've learned is that brands, instead of being obsolete or irrelevant, are the ultimate navigators for consumers and for our creative," he said-pointing out that when McDonald's Corp. made its debut on America Online, "the auditorium completely shut down [because] so many users were attracted to that brand name."

Donald E. Graham, chairman-CEO of the Washington Post Co., agreed.

"Consumers want to see your interactive ads. Our surveys show that every one of our subscribers looked at advertising in `Newsweek InterActive."'

Pointing to "Myst," the nation's top CD-ROM title, Mr. Tobaccowala said a key creative challenge will be providing top-notch production values in interactive applications.

"People will invite you in because of great production values," he said. "They also expect it."

New-media products are "getting better all the time, more salient to customers," said Cella Irvine, VP at Hearst New Media & Technology. The accompanying advertising, therefore, must match the product's quality.

"You can't just reproduce TV ads for interactive TV," agreed Meredith Flynn, head of content strategy for U S West Communications' Multimedia Marketing group. "Discrete segments of information must make sense on their own since there is no beginning, middle or end in interactive TV."

At Burnett, the traditional ways of creating advertising are becoming irrelevant in interactive situations.

"Increasingly, consumers are writing the ads," Mr. Tobaccowala said. When client Oldsmobile launched its new Aurora sedans using Prodigy, Burnett monitored the subsequent online conversation but found it mostly only could intercede with a few pertinent facts.

"What we got was word-of-mouth support from consumers-the ultimate advertising," Mr. Tobaccowala said.

In many interactive applications, the marketer's response to a consumer interaction sends a message more important than the initial ad, he said: "The tail may just be more important than the dog in this world."

Getting creative talent into marketing companies or agencies will be tough, Mr. Tobaccowala said. First off, talent is in short supply and mostly very young, under 25 years old.

"And the innovative talent won't let you buy them out, at least not everything; they'll keep the source code, the intellectual rights," he said. "It's just not going to be like employing a creative director of old."

Overall, Mr. Tobaccowala said, agency creatives are excited by interactive prospects.

"When I visit creatives, I have to take a drool bucket because they love what they see. But we have to be careful; let's not try to define ourselves by what we have been doing-but rather by what we can now do."

BBDO Chairman-CEO Allen Rosenshine maintained in his presentation that even in an increasingly interactive world, "the source of creativity will continue to be agencies"-though he freely admitted that "I don't know what we'll be expected to do."

Believing that "technology merely provides creatives with new forms of expression," he said the issue isn't whether agencies can provide appropriate creative product for interactive media, but "will agency creatives work in interactive?

"I mean, how are you going to get them back on the farm once they've been on TV?" he asked.

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