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DON'T TALK ABOUT 'CREATIVE' WHEN YOU TALK INTERACTIVE THE WORD TAKES ON NEW MEANING IN 500-CHANNEL ERA

By Published on .

Peter Sealey had come to praise creativity, but the interactive age he was heralding may bury it.

In a recent speech before a group of marketing executives, the former Coca-Cola marketing chieftain, now a partner in an interactive start-up venture, claimed that among other things interactivity would bring "a rebirth of creativity." He also said the mass media was dead. If you're an agency creative, you don't need a weather vane to see which way that wind is gonna blow.

Image making-what Ad Age readers mean when they use the word "creativity"-is a product of the mass media. It was born to ride national magazines that spanned the country, radio waves that were heard everywhere and TV networks that held court in the living rooms of tens of millions of Americans.

Advertisers gleefully jumped on these continental communications vehicles, which were ideal venues through which to persuade. The mass media were brand-building behemoths. Hard sell was left to the trench fighters, to hangtags and sales promotion and local media.

The mass media were the majors; everything else was the bush leagues. And people who could write dazzling broadcast commercial copy or create breathtaking storyboards got all the glory, not to mention salaries that would shame a sheik. Juniors did the point of purchase and the quarter-page newspaper ads, went home to their one-bedroom walk-ups and dreamt of writing dazzling commercial copy and creating breathtaking storyboards of their own.

Throw that scenario on the garbage heap of history when the interactive future arrives. Because if marketers don't need to cast a wide net, if they can identify and reach every individual who is a bona fide prospect or ready to buy, and reach them right away, one on one, through their television set, mailbox or telephone, they don't need to persuade so much. They can get right down to the business of selling.

When was the last time a direct mail campaign won the One Show? Or the first time, for that matter. Anybody ever see an infomercial win the Palme d'Or at Cannes?

When one listens to the interactivists, one theme predominates: In five-then at best 15-years, the traditional marketing pyramid is going to be turned on its pointed head. No longer will media advertising drive the communications machine and direct mail and merchandising follow like infantry after the air force has bombed the countryside. Now the direct marketers and the interactivists, with their bleeping electronic information boards and their personalized letters, will sweep in first. Image advertising, while still part of the campaign, will be ancillary.

No more "1984," no more "Bill Heater." Anybody in the market for a personal computer or life insurance is more likely to get live on the Prodigy network to make their buying decision than rely on a broadcast network TV commercial-if they're even watching broadcast TV anymore.

So where do you think the marketing dollars and the big salaries are going to go first (and in ever-increasing percentages)? When interactivists like Sealey talk about creativity, they don't mean what Bill Bernbach or Helmut Krone meant, or what Lee Clow and Pat Burnham mean. Because TVs that talk back eliminate the need for the kind of communication that made all those twentysomething art directors and copywriters wealthy. Creativity to an interactivist means a diabolically clever infomercial.

In the Interactive Age, the truly valuable "creatives" will be the people who write the direct mail, hard-sell across 500 channels, and sneak up on people through their home PCs. If the fiber optic prophets are right, and there's no reason to believe they aren't, ad agency creatives might be well advised to forget about that dream of doing a breakthrough shoot with Pytka and start worrying about what kinds of set would best suit Susan Powter.

Mr. Feuer is a free-lance writer working out of Los Angeles.

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