Madison Ave vs. Silicon Valley

Remember when digital just meant doing your print ads in banner format? Our industry is primordial soup. Which is a fantastic place for the curious, adventurous and proactive people to be.

http://b.scorecardresearch.com/beacon.js?c1=7&c2=7400849&c3=1&c4=&c5=&c6=http://b.scorecardresearch.com/beacon.js?c1=7&c2=7400849&c3=1&c4=&c5=&c6=http://b.scorecardresearch.com/beacon.js?c1=7&c2=7400849&c3=1&c4=&c5=&c6=

Simplify.

That’s it.


OK, fine, I’ll elaborate. But just a little bit. No reason to overthink things here.

For the most part, traditional ads for TV and print are one-dimensional. They don’t require a whole lot of effort to understand. They’re like wide-eyed puppies sitting in the window, desperate for attention. No one struts down the block looking for puppies. But sometimes they’re just so darn cute or funny or meaningful that people pay attention. As a traditional creative, your job is to get people to stop in front of the window. That’s it. (Never mind if puppies have it easier than brands.)

You see a TV spot, you know what it’s for and what it’s trying to do. Sell yuppies more boat shoes. Get moms to upgrade their laundry detergent. Convert teenage girls from that shampoo to this one. Digital campaigns, on the other hand, are rarely one and done. Blame integration. A banner begets a Facebook fan page begets a web app begets a microsite begets an online contest that begets three web pages to register and enter. It’s tempting to figure out how to incorporate every social network and technology under the world wide sun. But that doesn’t make an idea better. It makes it more confusing. Every added step is another burden. An obstacle in the way of your message. Squeezing too many moving parts together doesn’t make a better-running machine. It makes a campaign that’s more likely to break down.

Digital campaigns need to be accessible. They shouldn’t require a bachelor’s degree and twenty minutes. When creative directors are flipping or clicking through books, they want to see brilliant thinking, writing and art direction. Not case studies. Take this Movie Maker for Sprite. It’s ridiculously easy and it’s fun to play with. It’s not intrusive. You can explain it in five words.

Don’t confuse complex with smart. And don’t mistake simple for dumbed down. It’s hard to do easy. In digital, it’s very hard to do easy and cut through the clutter at the same time. That’s what I like about this banner ad for Toyota. What it sacrifices in mindblowingness, it makes up for in effectiveness. Is it intrusive? Not at all. Fun? A little. Interesting? If you’re looking for an AWD vehicle, it is.

The best idea is one that has been boiled down to its most basic essence. Not watered down by whatever technology or social network is getting the most buzz. Just because everything on the web can be connected doesn’t mean it has to be. If people had to press a button and fill out a form to see puppies, pet stores would end up with a whole lot of dogs. What I’m trying to say is when in doubt, cut it out. Sorry that took so long.




This is the fourth in a series of guest posts by our pal Nate Archambault on his transition from traditional agencies to digital. Follow Nate on Twitter@NKArch.

It’s Time to Break Up the Team

(The latest in a series by Nate Archambault on traditional vs. digital agencies.)

After two large projects and a handful of smaller ones, I’ve seen what digital looks like beneath the surface. I’m always working with different people. With different skill sets. I’m not working with the same art director day in, day out. No one is. Creatives aren’t split up into teams. We’re all individuals, manning our own chosen specialty. Every project is a revolving door of pixels, wireframes, code, calls to action, looks, feels, copy decks and dark roast. Every project has different creative needs. Different creative wants. Calling someone my “partner” may be great for confusing my family at Thanksgiving dinner but it’s not great for executing digital.

It’s time to break up the team.

Teams have made sense for a long time. Lots of great work has come from an art director and copywriter concepting together, bouncing ideas off each other. That’s one way good ideas become great ones. But the traditional team has a few holes. Every digital project has a different scope, requiring a different set of talents. It doesn’t make sense to handcuff one creative role to another. Some projects are design-heavy, requiring multiple designers but only a few quick consultations from a writer. Others need to be populated with content, requiring little design but a boatload of words. Like this Snickers microsite. All it needed was a Snacklish translation for every word in the English language.

Digital creative departments are stocked with more than ADs and CWs. There are graphic designers, information architects, experience designers and motion designers. Plus specialists in mobile, social media, strategy and tech. People are still bouncing ideas off each other, but it’s not a two-person match. Team chemistry has been reformulated. Now the creative department feels more like dodgeball. Everyone has a chance to be a gamechanger. In print or TV, stories are told through visuals (art direction) or messaging (copywriting). Art directors and copywriters have the monopoly on where ideas came from. But in digital, tech can drive the idea. Cool technology can be synonymous with great execution. Take last year’s launch of the Volkswagon GTI. AKQA created a mobile app to promote the car. That’s it. No paid media. Just cool technology. The launch was a huge success. And the two Silver Lions it won last week aren’t thanks to a CW/AD team locking themselves in an office for three weeks.

I still work with partners. But now I work with a bunch of them. Different ones every project. Monogamy isn’t always the answer. It’s time to embrace the creative orgy. Come prepared, ready to party and open-minded. The next big idea could come from anyone.

A Brave New Digital World: Part 2

Makin’ Ads has asked our pal, Nate, to do a series of guest posts on his transition into the digital realm. This is the second in that series. Read the first here and follow Nate on Twitter @NKArch

Last week I recounted how interactive freelance projects set me up for the switch to digital. The lesson, if any: you’ve got to be focused to land the job you want. This week I’m going to talk about how digital ads come from a different place than traditional ones.
Digital agencies start with a digital foundation. They’re not founded by general agency ex-pats who wanted to give the next big thing a shot. They’re start-ups founded by people who were born and raised digital. HTML is their first language. A true digital shop is not an evolution of the traditional agency. It’s a whole new model. There’s no age-old battle of Creative vs. Account. Work developed at AKQA comes from an equal combination of Creative, Account, Strategy, Information Architecture (IA), User Experience (UX) and Technology. Everyone works together like one big pixilated family, and each discipline’s expertise helps create stronger product for the agency.
The age of integration is far from over. Integrated agencies are great in theory, but the practice is far from perfect. We’re in the midst of the first generation of integration. There will be growing pains. Some can pull it off, but most efforts fall a little short. Traditional agencies try to build interactive work with a traditional toolbox, and the nuts don’t always fit the bolts. At the same time, clients are starting to trust digital agencies, giving them a chance to produce offline work. There will always be some agencies that focus on digital or traditional, while others adapt to do all things for their clients. One of the first projects I worked on at AKQA involved more print, billboards and POP than digital work. But what did all that traditional media do? Lead back to a mobile site. Our work isn’t limited to the computer screen. It’s limited to the best medium that communicates what our clients want to say.
Concept is still king, but tech is crown prince. While most traditional ad agencies outsource production, most digital ad agencies have in-house tech talent capable of pulling off amazing work, no outside vendor needed. If crowdsourcing has taught us anything, it’s that just coming up with an idea isn’t enough. If an agency is going to succeed, it must know how to actually do something. When I worked in general agencies, producing in-house was a last resort. It didn’t matter if I was recording radio, editing video or folding fitted sheets; top-quality production value wasn’t there. That all changes when tech gets a role in the creative process. Then the talent comes in-house and becomes a strength, not a weakness.
Pixels have more flexibility than paper. One of my favorite qualities of working in digital is that if I can dream it up, my agency can bring it to life online. Digital ads aren’t limited to predictable formulas like print and TV. There are expandable rich-media banners, site takeovers and microsites. Mobile sites and mobile apps. Social media strategies that span Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr. Viral, seeded, user-generated and branded content. Flash animation, video-tagging and augmented reality. These examples are already out there, and digital work continues to break new ground every other day. More often than not, the only boundaries of a digital agency are the creative team’s imagination.
Out with the obtrusive and in with the engaging. Content that hunts down and interrupts the viewer doesn’t cut it anymore. People have too many options of how to consume media. If content is going to succeed, users must choose to spend time with it. Good digital campaigns blur the line between ad campaign and product, like how this Smirnoff media player gives DJ Tiesto fans more of what they want. Interactive can be a tool, offering functionality and serving a purpose beyond pitching a brand. The ultimate goal of any campaign that lives online should be to empower the user. The digital process starts with the consumer, not with the product or media buy. That’s what makes it so effective.
These are just a few of the ways that digital agencies operate differently than traditional ones. If you’ve noticed others, drop a note in the comments. Next week, I’ll go over some things I’ve noticed about how the role of a creative in a digital agency is different from a creative’s role at a traditional agency. Until then, make yourself familiar with this list of the top 20 digital campaigns of all time.

A Brave New Digital World: Part 1

As I mentioned in a previous post, Makin’ Ads has asked our pal, Nate, to do a series of guest posts on his transition into the digital realm. This is the first in that series. Follow Nate on Twitter @NKArch


A few weeks back Makin’ Ads asked me if I’d be interested in writing a guest piece. The subject: what it’s like to be a copywriter at a digital agency. I leaned back and pondered. It sounded like a worthwhile subject and a useful read for anyone coming out of portfolio school.

Suddenly my head cocked. It actually sounded like a relevant topic to anyone in advertising. The industry has been changing at such a rapid pace and I’d only recently joined a digital agency full-time. I’d never really stopped to consider the differences. My philosophy had always been that a writer is a writer is a writer.

Uncocking my head and glancing around, I had to admit that Greg and Jim had a point. There are major differences between how digital and traditional agencies operate. Not just in the work produced but the process. In the people. And in the philosophy.

I agreed to cover the story for Makin’ Ads, but only if they met one condition. Instead of writing a guest piece, I put together a guest series. For one thing, there was too much material to squeeze into one article. For another, every time I gazed beyond my laptop I caught a glimpse of another difference between digital and traditional.

Let’s kick things off. Here’s the play-by-play of how I got into digital.

I started out doing traditional work at traditional agencies. There wasn’t much digital going around. They were very good agencies and their formula worked. They had no reason to tinker with a medium they didn’t own and they focused on what they were great at. Agencies can’t escape their DNA – that goes for both traditional and digital shops.

Two years ago I started freelancing and digital was everywhere. But as my book was making the rounds I kept hearing the same rejection. I didn’t have enough interactive experience. The old chicken and the egg routine.

Gigs came and went, and enough places liked my print and TV work that they asked me to take a shot at their digital projects. It was mostly boutiques that did a little bit of everything or traditional agencies tackling digital. After a few projects, I realized the latter was like a linebacker lacing up skates and playing hockey. I pursued interactive hoping it would lead to more interactive. Which would lead to an interactive portfolio. I started small, but that’s exactly what happened.

Taking a roundabout path into digital is one way to do it. As I can vouch, it’s been done. A better way is to choose which pill you want to swallow, traditional or digital, and gulp it down. Just don’t end up in that murky grey area of having too little experience in either.

That’s all for this week. More background than foresight, I know. But everyone has to start somewhere.

Guest Poster: Nate

For the next couple months, we’re going to have a guest blogger who will be posting on Mondays. His name is Nate, and the reason we’ve asked him to lend his insights is because Nate is making the jump from a “traditional” agency environment to that of a digital agency. Of course, lines have blurred and it’s getting harder and harder to distinguish the two, but Nate’s new gig is at AKQA, a shop that is decidedly digital and decidedly good.

So we thought we’d ask Nate,
Nate, what’s it like to be a copywriter at a digital agency?

A little about Nate:
Syracuse Ad Program >>>>
Chicago Portfolio School >>>>
TBWA/Chiat, NY >>>>
Publicis, NY >>>>
Freelance >>>>>
AKQA.

He looks something like this >>>>

Welcome, Nate. Thanks in advance for your insights.