"Don't talk about `creative' when you talk interactive." That was the headline on a recent Forum piece suggesting that image TV advertising, the sole repository of creativity in most advertising people's minds, was on the way out, and a gray new day of uncreative infomercials and interactive, integrated, direct media was dawning.
If there's anything I believe, it's that clever advertising people entering these new media will turn them into something that genuinely deserves the name "creative."
The proof of that is in fact the history of the TV spot itself. Forty years ago, TV was a terrible creative medium. Talking heads clutching a box of Miracle-Grip and repeating the USP eight times; miniature butlers magically appearing with each spritz of Atomo-Kleen, to the amazement of bubbleheaded housewives. If you wanted to be creative-if you wanted to build your brand's image-you got yourself a nice big color spread in Life, not 60 grainy black-and-white seconds on "Texaco Star Theater."
Quality, image-building TV didn't really develop until the '60s, and then only because creative people saw that it could be done, and fought for the chance to do it.
When a 30-second spot really hits the mark, it's wonderfully simple and impactful-like a great short story or haiku. But as with haiku, it's easy to fill the precise space, but tough to be really good within those rigid limits.
The 30-second spot, even the :60 (wow, 60 whole seconds!) is the dominant form for advertising because of commercial and practical considerations-not because it's uniquely suited to showcasing creativity.
And that is where the creative opportunity with these new media lies. They'll be much more targeted than broadcast TV, targeted to people who have a genuine interest in your message-people who will sit still for longer than 30 seconds or one page if you find a way to hold their attention. Creatively.
Many infomercials are certainly banal today. You couldn't hold my attention with them, and I'm not sure I want to know whose attention you could. But you could certainly keep my attention for 30 minutes with an introductory primer to home theater technology full of Sony plugs, or an interactive software demo for my Mac, or a video travel brochure that shows me all the wonderful things to see and do within 15 minutes of the Hilton in San Francisco or Budapest. As a writer I find very appealing the opportunity to explore those subjects-indeed, any subject-at a level deeper than 30 seconds.
How many writers do you know who have written a screenplay or a novel in their spare time? (No, wait. How many do you know who haven't?) How many jingle writers have a Broadway musical in their drawer? How many art directors go home to work on 10-foot canvases?
The reason is that sooner or later we all want to see how we will do at a different distance, with meatier subject matter, with the chance to actively engage an audience on many levels. And I believe audiences are ready to be engaged in more complex ways, too. Look at the last presidential election, won not by 30-second spots but by 30-minute infomercials and two-hour debates.
Interactive TV and integrated direct, info-TV and magalogs and everything else-these new media may be in their talking-head-and-magic-butler phase right now, but they won't be for long. Give genuinely creative people a crack at them and they'll prove the truth of the heretical notion that you can do even more in 30 minutes than you can do in 30 seconds.
Mr. Gebert is acting creative director at Leo Burnett Co. in Chicago.