The New Creative Imperative

  • by July 29, 2009

It has been said that "media is the new creative." To clarify, the idea is that in this age of hyper-audience fragmentation, the "who" you're speaking to is now as important as the "what" that's being said.

As a creative director who was once employed by a media agency (Universal McCann), I couldn't agree more.

In fact, I once asked a major agency new business head if they'd ever consider having media planning lead a new business pitch instead of account planning or the usual grand set-up to the creative "big idea." The reply I got was, "We would never do that! Why?"

As any smart connections planner will tell you, with the array of targeting tools and technologies now available to us, the "who"  -- and for most brands there are several  now need to be as much a driver of creative development as the "what." Whether you call it "addressability," "re-targeting," "versioning," or even "canoe," targeting technologies developed by companies like Visible World are now available in 50 million-plus television homes.  And that has enormous implications on the way creative could and should be developed -- while still delivering the kind of reach and impressions that so many advertisers and agency models are addicted to.



But few have seen the light.

So what's involved creatively if you can now target your messaging to multiple configurations of "whos," like zip codes or neighborhoods -- not just by age or income?

This suggests the need to develop "scenario-based" creative -- meaning that differently shot scenarios are required to be relevant to different targets. So, when developing a campaign for a brand, the more your creatives can expand your idea (and your shot list) across different scenarios -- lifestyle, ethnicity, age, geography, and even program context -- the more likely your campaign will score at both the "what" and "who" levels of relevance.  Sure, it will take your production cost up -- but the efficiency of targeted reach and frequency on the media side should actually drive media cost down Mr. Procurement Officer.

But back here in reality, most creatives just aren't thinking that way.  In fact, I would suggest that the need to develop addressable messages for multiple target scenarios is the last thing on their minds.  It's sadly still more about Cannes and will my hilarious commercial get made?  That's the currency of creative our industry still clings to. 

Just over the hill, it will be interesting to see how the new procurement and copy strategies of the power brand marketers will change the scope of creative storytelling.  The craft of coming up with a great idea and compelling storyline to deliver the selling message will still be of paramount importance  -- but in my view, the number of scenarios and shots will need to increase if we expect to demonstrate the value of these new technologies to our client marketers.

Which might add up to an increase in production costs at the front end, but with a massive potential savings in media waste at the other end.  It just depends on your mindset.

For some creatives, this is an exciting time of new technologies and new possibilities. For those of us who are tired of all the doom and gloom surrounding the DVR-enabled consumer, there are lots to get smart and excited about. In fact, the best offense against a DVR-enabled viewer may not be an industrywide defense, but rather, more relevant, more targeted messaging that delivers both the "who" and the "what."

As for my creative colleagues, not to worry. There's still going to be plenty of shoots left. Only this time, hopefully procurement will see the value of not only letting you shoot with whom you want -- but also see the value of longer shot lists to better target the WHO you need to reach.

4 comments about "The New Creative Imperative".
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  1. Tilly Pick from Development Practice 360, LLC., July 29, 2009 at 6:10 p.m.

    From what I recall, the "who" has always been the heart of a good idea, not the "what". (Lisa Fortini-Campbell's "Hitting The Sweet Spot" from the very early 90's is proof of that -- I'm not sure it's as earth-shattering as you present it. And, it has long informed how you connect with audiences both in message and medium.

    Two things I don't get about your post.

    One is the undertone of creative versus media or media versus creative, depending on where you sit. The two need to work in harmony, and good marketers recognize it and do it.

    Two is the oversimplification of shooting more situations, scenes, takes etc. to cut more targeted ads. Reality today is that we could probably customize messages until the cows come home. Customization needs to be balanced with the practical reality of cost as well as the effectiveness of the message, effectiveness having both a rational and emotional component.

    The opportunity and challenge in our business continues to be connecting the two sides of our brain with our ideas and solutions. Helps us figure that out.

  2. Joan Van Tassel from National University, July 29, 2009 at 7 p.m.

    While the "who" has always been the key to creative messaging, the nature of the "who" has changed.

    In traditional creative development, the who has been defined by 1) demographics; 2) psychographics; 3) lifestyle. But today (although this post doesn't explicitly argue this point), media use is the new identifier. Before you can address 1) - 3) characteristics, you have to figure out how to reach them. In this way, you need to target your audience by their media use first, and then secondarily by the other variables, as needed.

    Media use is more important than the other variables in some product categories, but not all. For example, not much sense targeting red nail polish to men -- the old M/F demo will do fine. But if you are selling software, Net services, and Democratic candidates, then media use is likely to be far more important than any of the other variables.

    The success of the Obama new media campaign is very instructive in this regard. The method of reaching out resonated in very special ways that worked to the advantage of the campaign. I would say that the church-based phone trees the Bush campaign used in 2004 worked similarly, but the tech was too familiar to make the example clear.

    In the Obama campaign example, the audiences who used social networks, blogs, and wikis were flattered and empowered by how the campaign contacted them. iPhone users were proud of their specialized apps -- and these feelings gave them motivation to use them.

    In this way, I agree with the points made in the post -- the new media channels target certain audiences in a much more meaningful way than traditional defining variables used in the past.

    I wrote a white paper on the Obama new media campaign that discusses some of these points. You can email me at if you'd like me to send you a copy.

  3. Jason Davey from @www Digital, July 29, 2009 at 7:43 p.m.

    Nice discussion point that highlights the essential requirement for User Experience Architecture and strategy to make sure the creative elements are set off and pointing in the right direction - to achieve the clients/customers business objectives...and not just to potentially get a jaunt to Cannes.

  4. Jeff Bach from Quietwater Media, August 17, 2009 at 6:12 p.m.

    This could even reach in to usability. For example, if doing video for a crowd that has its share of people wearing glasses (aka baby boomers aka "people with all the money"), font sizes could be bumped up. Subtitles could be added, if one concedes that the same crowd that can not see as well as they used also cannot hear as well as they used to. This same video could also be repurposed for in-store viewing where there is often no audio playing.

    It's not just "emotionally engaging concepts" it is recognizing differences in the ease of consumption by those targeted groups of viewers.

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