There’s a refrain I’ve heard repeated, oftentimes on the media seller side: digital creativity sucks. The idea is the Internet hasn’t found its Bernbachs, Ogilvys and the rest of the advertising canon. That’s why the Internet has failed to attract much attention for brands.
Recently, IAB CEO Randy Rothenberg weighed in. In a lengthy blog post/manifesto, Randy decries the state of creativity in interactive media. This is the real problem, he says, not whether display ads are sold like pork bellies. To be sure, the state of creativity in banner units and microsites probably is regrettable. Yet I wonder if Randy is missing the point when he thirsts for an online equivalent of classic outbound ad campaigns like Doyle Dane’s “Think Small” campaign for Volkswagen. This is general fighting the last war, not the next one.
The problem is this assumes digital will work like TV. I can understand this viewpoint from the side of ad sellers. Brand marketers have never found the Internet a particularly great place to build brands through online media. That last part is quite important. The IAB is premised on the notion that the Internet can do brand advertising at scale. I remember how often it flogged those McDonald's flat-bread sandwiches case studies. What if that’s not the case? A digital agency CEO I met this morning confessed he doesn’t think it’s possible to do large-scale brand building through Web media. If you want scale, you need to standardize, which then leads to commoditization. The Web’s strength is its niches. What’s the answer to covering niches at scale? The sketchy ad networks that are driving the price of online media to nearly zero.
The question then remains whether creativity can change that. It depends. "Creative” comes in many forms in digital. Some of it is the online equivalent of TV’s talking animals and slapstick humor. It’s things like “Whopper Sacrifice,” a very smart gimmick that got people’s attention for a little while. Or it’s those Mac vs PC “talking” banner ads. Clever stuff. But digital creativity isn’t simply an imitation of TV. What if it’s a blend of design, utility and technology that goes into what Ana preaches: brand systems. That means digital creativity might look more like software than TV spots. Sure, it’s hard for these things to win awards and aren't as easy to admire as singular objects of "commercial art." We touched on this during a panel I moderated last week at The Rubicon Project. Andrea Kerr-Redniss, an executive with Optimedia, noted digital creativity can be quite different. It can be a useful application, not just a viral piece of entertainment people pass around. Often, they don't involve much paid media. Randy mentions "Subservient Chicken" as the paragon of digital creativity, but you could argue something like Nike Plus is a better example of where creativity is going.
I've written before about how digital is changing the entire notion of creativity. This is something that's just starting and requires the industry change a mindset that seems still very tied to old structures built in a bygone era.