Traditional Agency Creatives Confront Online Challenges

by , , Sep 24, 2004, 12:00 AM
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While more marketers are integrating online advertising into the marketing mix, traditional creative heads say there are plenty of challenges in executing successful programs.

The potential for Internet media to deliver brand messages effectively is "definitely there," but the implementation process remains complicated, according to Chris Wall, co-head-creative at WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather, New York. Wall--known for his creative prowess on the IBM Corp. account, and earlier in his career, on Apple--said that traditional creatives and agencies have been slow to embrace online: "It's a slow burn ... It's too slow for me, personally. People aren't willing to throw it all away; they've been too invested in the old model," he told an audience assembled during the Interactive Advertising World Conference and Expo last week.

The proliferation of new technologies is another factor that impedes traditional creative departments from embracing online media. Many agencies are constantly playing catch-up, according to Craig Markus, group creative director at Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann-Erickson, New York. Markus said that in the time it takes to master a single discipline, agencies could wind up a year to 18 months behind the next big development. He suggested that agencies should instead focus on "figuring out what a brand stands for, and find ways to articulate that across all media."

Ann Hayden, executive creative director at WPP's Young & Rubicam, New York, says her agency is "not anywhere near where we need to be" in terms of creating multidisciplinary creative teams and cultivating online creative talent. "We have people who are brilliant craftsmen at one media. It's tough," Hayden noted. She added that at Y&R, online advertising is centered around client businesses, and that some online talent is being co-located on a client-by-client basis, depending on the project. The proximity, Hayden says, "will help because we need to speak a common language."

Eric Hirschberg, managing partner and executive creative director at Interpublic's Deutsch, Los Angeles, said the future of advertising will be about choice and customization, and that creative departments will be charged with engaging consumers, no matter what the media. "Advertising has been changing forever; it's all about salesmanship and making human connections in a new way in a new medium," he said, adding: "There's no traditional. There's no online. It's true at Deutsch."

While agencies and marketers continue to grapple with TiVo-ization and escalating media fragmentation trends, Hirschberg said today is really no different than when the VCR first came to market. "There was the VCR, then cable, then satellite--and they were all supposed to kill the 30-second commercial. TiVo could be the Napster of our industry, but the way to stay ahead of it is to embrace it," he said, continuing: "Our skill set will continue to be relevant, but it might turn into something new."

Alan Schulman, partner, chief creative officer, BrandNewWorld, believes that "TV is still the elephant in the room. I would argue that creative directors' skill sets must be broad enough to be platform agnostic."

McCann's Markus agreed, saying that while silos within agencies and clients remain, "if you're a thinker, you can solve a problem in any media."

On the client side, advertisers' reluctance to allocate funds to interactive creative departments has often led to poor consumer experiences with online advertising, according to Mark Beeching, executive vice president and global executive creative director of interactive shop Digitas, Boston. "We've betrayed the Web and what it meant in the promise," he said, noting that creative shops will need to work to regain the trust of consumers as well as advertisers.

Despite technical and bureaucratic hitches, more agencies are porting TV creative over to broadband video formats with some success. Bob Greenberg, CEO and chief creative officer at Interpublic's R/GA, New York, said he foresees more re-purposing of existing TV creative assets in the near future. He also sees agencies like his shooting projects in a different way, saving video footage in a database or archive for future use. "This will force us into coming together rather than coming apart," Greenberg said.

Beeching said that the re-purposing of video "worries" him. He said he would rather see agencies produce timely, disposable creative that's more relevant to the medium.

Dorian Sweet, vice president, creative director at Agency.com's itraffic, San Francisco, noted that clients aren't necessarily ignorant of this process, but they don't have time to delve into the nitty-gritty of creative or media issues, so they don't realize the huge time constraints. Sweet said development cycles also are a problem because in many instances the Internet is brought into planning too late. "Getting air-time early in the process is an important step," he said.

R/GA's Greenberg said that 18- to-24-year-olds will drive creative--no matter what the media--noting that this generation is growing up with the ability to switch easily among various media.

"None of us, traditional or online, have understood the nature of interactivity--we're just in the foothills of it," concluded Y&R's Hayden.

With Kate Kaye

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