Why Interactive Agencies Need to Be Better Storytellers

R/GA's Nick Law Says some Shops Haven't Gotten Past the Technology

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Since he joined R/GA in 2001, Nick Law, executive creative director on the agency's Nike account, has been associated with some of the most innovative interactive work in the world. For instance, NikeID, the customizable sneaker concept, has picked up just about every available honor. Mr. Law recently moved into the role of North American chief creative officer, previously held by Bob Greenberg, who remains chairman-CEO and global top creative. Mr. Law, 40, talks about his new role and the rapidly changing digital marketing world.
R/GA's Nick Law: 'Where we're better than interactive agencies is that we know how to tell stories in an emotional way and build experiences.'
R/GA's Nick Law: 'Where we're better than interactive agencies is that we know how to tell stories in an emotional way and build experiences.'

Ad Age Digital: You've put in time at agencies as different as the design shop Pentagram and the late great ad agency D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles? How does that relate to your interactive career?

Nick Law: I started in design and it's the most craft-driven discipline and there's the most amount of systematic thinking there. Then I moved into traditional advertising, and it's there that the brand storytelling became important. It's less about the craft and less about the business and more about the punch line. Then I moved to interactive, where I learned about data and interfaces. It was logical three-act progression for me. R/GA is probably closer to a traditional agency in the way that we steer the voices of our brands more than a lot of interactive agencies. But we also do think deeper in the interactive space than a traditional agency.

Ad Age Digital: That said, do you see R/GA moving more into that territory and doing the things ad agencies do? Such as TV spots?

Mr. Law: We've already done a little. The question is whether those narratives should be 30 seconds long or appear on TV or elsewhere; that's a question about the way consumers are consuming media. We're less interested in format and more interested in content, which is the way the industry is going. We don't start with a list of media or channels that need to be ticked off. It's different from a traditional agency starting with a TV spot and print ads.

Ad Age Digital: Just about every kind of agency is converging on the interactive world, where R/GA has been a top player for years. How to see R/GA keep that leadership role?

Mr. Law: A key difference is that traditional ad agencies don't have technology in-house and a lot of our creative ideas come from tech people. We create applications to make people's lives easier. You often can't define it as advertising and you might not even define it as marketing. That stuff isn't even in the minds of traditional agencies. Where we're better than interactive agencies is that we know how to tell stories in an emotional way and build experiences. There are a few interactive agencies that have tried to dip into that narrative space with some pretty mediocre results. There was a recent viral video you may be familiar with that's a good example of this.

Ad Age Digital: I assume we're talking about Agency.com's now infamous pitch video for Subway. Why does that not work for you?

Mr. Law: It's the mirror image of the dysfunction of traditional agencies. The legacy of the short history of interactive agencies is that they were born out of technical understanding. Some interactive agencies have never gotten out of that. I don't want to say they're too geekified but there's an inability to simplify things. When you build a website you build a destination, and that's an additive process because you're building value and depth. That's fine, but there are different ways of thinking when you're telling a story. Both ends of the agency spectrum have failed to adopt the other attitude.

Ad Age Digital: When you say creative ideas can come from tech people what do you mean?

Mr. Law: NikeId is a great example. The beginning of the creative process for the Reuters Building sign [Nike has purchased a build-your-own-shoe media placement on the 23-story-high Reuters sign on the Reuters Building in Times Square in May 2005] couldn't be decided between a print ad and TV spot or a website, because it's none of those things. We invented the media.
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