Future of Advertising? It's All About Branded Products, Services

Amusing, but perhaps trivial online ad campaigns like Burger King's "Subservient Chicken" are a flash in the frying pan, according to "Ad Agency of the Future" panelists at ARF's Re:think conference on Tuesday.

In their place will increasingly be campaigns that offer value and branded services, said Clark Kokich, worldwide president of aQuantive's Avenue A|Razorfish.

"Entertainment will always play a role, but user relevance, utility and value are what attract consumers to brands in a lasting way," Kokich said.

No one is saying the "Chicken" was not a success. The viral campaign, created by Crispin, Porter + Bogusky generated roughly 500 million hits.

But rather than a cheap laugh, brands hoping to leave a lasting impact on consumers have to start thinking of their brands as product offerings, explained Nick Law, R/GA's chief creative officer, North America.

"They're far more interested in telling jokes than engaging people in a meaningful way," said Law of certain brands.

What sort of services or products can a brand offer?

"Content can be a product," said Torrence Boone, president of Digitas, Boston. "We're thinking less about messaging today and more about content.

"I think the market is moving towards consumer advocacy, but the key is giving consumers a broad range of options through digital so they can get exactly what they want from a brand," Boone added.

Offering an example of his own doing, R/GA's Law pointed to the Nike Plus campaign, which he spearheaded last year. To build a closer relationship with the runners, Nike Plus gives them the ability to record workouts on their Apple iPod Nano using a chip in their Nike running shoes. Users can then instantly upload and view their workouts on an illustrated graph online.

"That is not an advertising idea, it's a technology idea," Law said of Nike Plus. "We are delivering a product, an application."

Going even further, Steven Marrs, vice chairman and global head of digital and branded content at Nitro, said agencies need to become part of the product development process for clients.

"Coming up with product innovations," Marrs said. "That's what we're setting out to do."

Another issue raised during the panel was the "weirdness" level of brand campaigns, and its effectiveness as a marketing tool.

"Weirdness gets in the way of clarity," said Law. "Sometimes you just need to tell people in a simple and elegant way what something is."