Gary Wolfson INTERACTIVE MEDIA'S DRIVING FORCE IF TECHNOLOGY IS THE ENGINE, ADVERTISING CREATIVITY WILL BE THE GASOLINE

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Let's get one thing straight right away. Creativity is still the fuel running advertising agencies even in this era of emerging interactive media.

I don't understand those who say it's not possible to be creative with CD-ROMs, online services and interactive TV systems. Advertising agencies can't afford to turn their backs on new technologies.

Let's think logically about this. I submit that those who fear interactive media are too comfortable with the status quo.

Even the chairman-CEO of Procter & Gamble, one of the world's largest advertisers, is urging advertising agencies to embrace new technologies and take a creative role in their development. At the recent Four A's conference he encouraged the advertising industry not to fear these changes, but to see them as new opportunities.

It is, of course, perfectly natural to be apprehensive about change, especially when technology is involved.

Think back to the days when Hollywood was afraid if it used sound in a motion picture it wouldn't be successful. And I'm sure in the early days of TV commercials, producers thought that there was no room for creativity, that a commercial should just be someone from the program praising the virtues of a refrigerator.

With change comes evolution. We saw it in TV commercials. Gone are the days of pure talking-head testimonials. They have been replaced with a higher level of creativity and cutting-edge technology.

The same holds true for interactive videogames. Remember Pong? We sat mesmerized for hours on end while an electronic dot moved back and forth across the screen, with the only variable being the speed of the floating dot.

It was technology at its greatest at the time, but Americans soon grew tired of the monotony and moved forward with more exciting graphics and action, leading up to today's virtual reality games. But it is this evolution of technology and creativity from which we can learn where our challenges lie as advertising professionals.

While advertising executives are scurrying to comprehend the latest about interfacing, digital interactivity, CD-this and that and other techno-mumbo-jumbo, we should not lose sight of the fact that new interactive technologies are simply tools in our ever-expanding advertising toolbox.

In other words, it's not the technology that is going to sell the client, it's the idea-the creativity. You can have all the technical knowledge in the world, but without a creative idea behind it, you don't have a chance of moving your client's product.

Just because we offer the technology doesn't mean that consumers will take interest and remain captive. Our challenge is not only understanding these new tools, but more importantly, how we will entice customers to participate and how we will keep them engrossed in our message.

Because interactivity offers a plethora of options, consumers will have increasingly more control over what advertising they choose to review and spend time with. It is the creative's responsibility to keep consumers tuned in.

Interactive messages must be engaging for them to be effective or we risk having our messages clicked off with a remote control or a mouse. Consumers must be rewarded for spending their time reviewing our messages with something that is important to them: entertainment, information, humor-something creative.

Before developing an interactive campaign, agencies, especially those having little interactive experience, must understand the capabilities and limitations of each interactive medium to be truly creative. This is necessary to maximize their impact, creatively and strategically.

Creatively, we must use the medium's potential to tune in to consumers. Strategically, we must use the right medium to reach the target audience. Again, interactive media are tools in the toolbox-don't let all the hype cloud the issue.

I'm amused when I hear some of my colleagues ponder the question: "Are interactive marketing communications advertising or something else?" Just as it is with traditional media, the answer depends on how the medium is used.

We as professionals need to realize that the textbook definition of "advertising" is being redefined and, therefore, we must accept the ways in which new technologies will fit into the new descriptions of advertising and marketing.

We can utilize interactive techniques with advertising campaigns through any of the traditional avenues-TV, radio, magazines, newspapers. We've all heard and read about the 500 channels and have only begun to imagine the possibilities for advertising. But interactive capabilities also can be applied in the "something else" category that encompasses point of sale, direct mail, telemarketing and more.

Creative interactive communications build relationships between customers and advertisers by facilitating dialogues between them. The information customers provide in the dialogues can be used to create databases that enable advertisers to follow up with more personalized communications. It's all about getting closer to the customer. By embracing these media, agencies can learn more about what to say and how to say it to individual customers.

It all comes back to creativity-to the big idea. Agencies should not lose sight of the fact that creativity will continue to be paramount in an interactive advertising campaign, just as it has been in more traditional forms of media. We shouldn't allow the current and future technical geniuses of the advertising world to forget that it's the idea, not the technology, that ultimately makes a campaign successful.

In summarizing my thoughts on creativity and interactive media, I'm reminded of a quote I heard recently, "Be innovative or be gone." With my apologies to the author, I'd like to amend it slightly. Be creative or be gone.

Gary Wolfson is exec VP-chief creative officer of Ross Roy Communications, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

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