As big data has reduced the stature of the creative agency, the big idea has yielded ground to the "always-on" campaign. As a result, the creative "services layer" now finds itself at risk of being supplanted as the crucial marketing partner to large brands. Who is doing the supplanting? The list includes consulting firms (McKinsey, IBM, Accenture), enterprise software stacks (Adobe, Google, Oracle, Salesforce.com), digital agencies (SapientNitro, AKQA) and media agencies.But the big idea still needs to remain. Even with "always-on", there's a bigger idea at the core. Shouldn't "always-on" be tasty nuggets that come from that? Yes (I know, I'm answering my own question.)
Perhaps the bigger problem is that too many creative agencies have lost their way, going for new and shiny instead of smart and effective. We have confused trendy with interesting.
According to Matt Britton, CEO of Publicis agency MRY, "CMOs are looking for people who can create business strategy – who can translate their brand into a consumer-need state and build content around that. Creative agencies are investing in creative talent, but not necessarily talent that can sit across the table from the CMO and have a tough discussion."But isn't this what agencies used to do? Even creative ones would leverage insights to find brand truths, then execute on that in a creative way.
Like some other creative agencies (AKQA, R/GA), Goodby does offer media strategy, and clients like Adobe have used it for "the full buy," but such campaigns are rare. Media agencies still control the vast majority of media spend, thanks to the bulk-buying efficiencies and negotiating leverage clients can realize through them. That spending clout, combined with client confusion about media strategy, has played to the advantage of media agencies. Many of those firms are even staffing up small creative and content departments of their own.And the sad thing is, more often than not these days, the media is what drives the creative, not the other way around. Not only does media control the dollars, they can, at times, control the way in which the ideas come to life. There have been many instances where I've worked on projects where we have had to fight to get the media buy changed to better support the concept. Which seems so backwards. Perhaps back in the day when buying air time was going to be on X channel or in Y magazine, it made more sense. But in many ways, this limits the creativity of the ideas as well. Placement can play a huge part in the execution of a concept (but please remember it should never be *the* idea).
"I know the financial reasons, but it's crazy that we as an industry spun those units off. It was greed. It was absolute greed, and it may come back to bite us at some point," Kay says.
Don't get me wrong, media is important, especially to digital campaigns. It's essential awareness. The "build it and they will come" mentality is completely ineffective. But, in many ways, this is also where all those espousing "integrated campaigns" make things fall apart. You need to use your mass media to create awareness of digital engagements if you want them to be successful. But if you look at overall budgets, rethinking how they are divvied up will have to be part of the future.
Brad Rencher, who leads Adobe's digital marketing business unit, says, "What's driving change in marketing and advertising is data, but we don't believe that data is going to replace creativity ever. A highly targeted message that's poor will be outperformed by a great creative message with no targeting." Rencher adds, "Today we're hindered by a lack of creative, or the creative we need. We're awash in data."Or is it because too much creative is being dictated by data? Or is it that if data is now "king", we're drowning in it to the point of not being able to see clearly through it and how to apply it? I've had clients who wanted tons of data, but then do nothing with it. So what's the point? I will say that some of the most interesting, smart media and analytics people I've worked with also had a creative spark in them. That's to say they were able to make interesting connections and observations about the data and how to best apply it for change for the better. For creative change. All those creatives who think of themselves really as novelists, artists or something other than people in business could be what Rencher is talking about, for they are less likely to want to leverage the data to help drive their creative ideas. And, that is a shame.
Which begs the question: If the automation of creativity is still science fiction, what's preventing creative agencies from capturing digital opportunity today? Put another way, why is digital-ad creativity so often seen as a wasteland? Part of the answer has to do with the economics of digital ads.But why should ad creativity be valued at less than traditional? If you look at the numbers, the data points and the conversations happening in the industry, we have allowed clients to think that if it's digital it should be faster and cheaper to produce than traditional communications. But why? Doesn't it take just as long for someone to come up with the ideas? Doesn't it take a writer just as long to create outstanding copy? Doesn't it take a designer just as long to come up with the layout? Doesn't it take just as long for a developer to make something out of nothing as a director, editor and production crew? In some ways, with digital, you should say you should be paying more, especially if you're creating something that is brand new, which unlike traditional doesn't fit neatly into a template. Code is much less forgiving than FinalCutPro. Resizing a print ad is a lot easier than cross-platform development or responsive design. And yet there is the perception that it should cost less.
And, I agree, the model is broken. But we have also set ourselves up to fail in some regards. We, as an industry, allowed ideas, strategy, and the talent it takes to produce excellent experiences to be devalued through perception.
The fact is that we've always had data. We now just have the ability to have more of it. The bigger question is whether or not that is a good or bad thing. It's definitely a bad thing if we let it overrun creativity, instead of working together. Because, the the reasons people like and buy haven't changed, we've just increased methods and locations.