Sunday, December 04, 2011

Branding and Digital: Part 2

+Part 2: The birth of digital

About 13 years ago when I was just getting into the business, I would have never thought really about doing what I do today. If someone had asked me in an interview for my first job if I ever thought I'd be creating campaigns where users used a app on a branded Facebook page to control a water gun as part of a game to melt ice and free a cup of a client's product to win a prize, I'd have thought it would be awesome and cool, but possible? No way. Nor would I have thought that I'd ever need to come up with an idea like that.

What was happening then was that people were building websites. In fact, one of my first projects at my first agency out of school was working on redoing the agency brochure and website. Soon there after, we were also getting into banner ads. Good old 15K gifs. Oh yeah. Super sexy. But I was at a traditional agency where those were asks of clients for whom we were also doing radio, TV, print and collateral. The approach to digital was as it was for any other project. There was a brief. There was a copywriter/art director team that brainstormed ideas together. Comps were boarded up for presentations.

After that job, I continued working on digital as it grew and became more of a staple. But, a lot of it was also being done by folks with more of a tech background. It wasn't about the idea. It was about repurposing the TV spot or print ad for the web that the "branding" agency created. Digital or interactive shops weren't seen as having the talent to create something new. And, at the start of digital only shops, that might have been the case.

Thank god things have changed.

I'll be honest. It bothered me a lot that I had clients and even employers who didn't think that it was OK for a good idea to come from the digital shop. I've heard things like "That's branding. Our broadcast agency handles that." Really? So you'd lose out on a great idea, just because it didn't come from the right people? Now, that takes us down a different path, but seriously, this is the kind of thing that has been going on. You also had copywriters and designers working separately, even though Bernbach's efforts showed how much better the work tends to be when you team them up together.

So, what's changed and why?

Well, for one, digital shops are actually seeking out conceptual thinkers. They're looking for the storytellers. They're looking for more well-rounded creatives, technologists, and even account people and then designing better ways for them to work together. That's a huge piece of it.

I think the other is a function of integration. With that there has already been a couple trend cycles of agencies trying to do everything/be full-service or being very specialized. There's a sway back and forth over time as clients think they want one or the other. But what they really want is integration. No matter which agency comes up with the main idea, they want all agencies playing nice around that big idea so it is seamless to the consumer. Well, sure, great. We all want that. Unfortunately, in order to get there, a lot of times it forces agencies to compete against each other. This has caused those digital only shops to look outward and try to learn from the bigger agencies who may at one time be winning more accounts than them depending on where in the cycle we are. Rather than trying to create a new structure, they've looked to the way in which traditional agencies have set themselves up. They also started bringing in more people who had started at those agencies, brought the ideas with them and implemented them because that's what they knew.

And then there's the agencies who were full service to begin with, and remained that way and added digital as just another offering, like GSP and W+K.

With only about 15 years under its belt, digital is still new. It's still figuring out what it is and what it needs to be...and what it wants to be.

Go back and read Branding and Digital: Part 1.

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