Don’t forget about the big idea

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In the world of advertising and marketing, emerging platforms often take center stage before the idea. As we create new, targeted marketing techniques, our message to clients focuses on the difference between innovation and invention. Many of us tend to eagerly rally around the tactic before we know the why. The latest mobile phone (which by the way isn’t a phone: it’s a computer/camera/mp3 player/communication and commerce device) or any other data-capable technology enables “the message to be pulled rather than pushed,” as Lori Schwartz of the IPG Emerging Media Lab challenges us to think. And in our world of direct marketing, what better way to solicit an action than to have consumers “pulling” our messaging? Because content can be used across many digital platforms, direct marketing is no longer just about mail or just about DRTV, it’s about reaching the consumer in the most targeted and inviting way, with an ultimate goal of changing consumer behavior—across many media. Since the first popular narrative film, “The Great Train Robbery,” emerging media has inspired change. The cinema was born during a time when people believed in the power of invention. We thrived creating never-thought-possible platforms. The definition in the Encarta World English Dictionary for technology includes “the sum of a society’s or culture’s practical knowledge, especially with reference to its material culture.” That sounds like big ideas lead technology, not the other way around. How has our approach to the story changed in 100 years? In preparation for an upcoming presentation, I Googled video clips of Charlie Chaplin’s 1917 “The Immigrant.” As I watched, I realized how little our desire for a good story has changed. It starts by showing a large, bound book with hand-written script. The pages turn, leading the viewer to the next scene. Then cinematic action quickly drives us to a laugh. The movement between music, text and Charlie Chaplin tells a story that doesn’t require the viewer to have a particular device to understand. This is strikingly similar to experiences in a Web browser, as invention still keeps us from “hearing” the synced voices. The metaphor indicates every generation’s plea for higher technical-quality content. Digital technology allows us to create stories with highly endurable messaging. Am I suggesting more messages or more effective messages? We evangelize creating better content and pushing the limits of the “digital theaters” we have currently to communicate. Some of these devices are your television, computer, mobile phone and storefront window—even a piece of mail. We carry the idea across channels to change behavior and evoke response. But what happens when we do let technology lead our ideas? Creativity becomes limited by the constraints of the device’s “version.” With each version or update, we are enabled a little more to increase quality and capture more data. This rings true as Web 2.0 is born: Your TV and PC will truly need each other, but that’s a story for another day. The world of b-to-b marketing is often the first to experience “version” roadblock. Not because marketing to businesses takes less creativity or passion. But often the channel and device can’t keep up with sales innovation. One of the most painful examples is not being able to distribute higher-quality content to all mobile devices. Not everyone can see it yet, so innovation is again looking for invention. Ten years ago, we couldn’t have predicted that more than 33,000,000 views of YouTube’s “The Evolution of Dance” would be streamed to your screen. How could we have known that Facebook, which started as a small social network for friends, would become one of the most effective ways to gain consumer insight for the 16-to-25-year-old demographic? Just as in early cinema, communities were built around the quality of the invention. As the platform becomes more sophisticated, so does the “sum of society’s practical knowledge.” This is really the crosshairs between content and contact. So for now, we are emerging together; but I don’t see anyone coming up with a better invention then “the story.” My instincts tell me the shininess of the bobble may not be as important as the quality of the message.
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