Friday, February 27, 2009

The Interactive Creative Revolution Is Here!

Thanks to Advertising Age, I've had a chance recently to reflect on my favorite advertising and marketing books of all time. Alas, the book I believe is the best did not make the Top 10 list. It is Strategy in Advertising: Matching Media and Messages to Markets and Motivations by Leo Bogart.

First published in 1967, Strategy in Advertising remains the best single-volume work on the science of media mix modeling and allocation. That's not surprising, because its author was a brilliant and widely respected social scientist, who for years served as the executive vice president of the Newspaper Advertising Bureau and the de facto dean of media researchers in the United States. Bogart (who died in 2005) was of that generation of sociologists who saw both the bad and the good that managed communications can do. Born in Poland, his observations as an American soldier in Europe at the end of World War II -- his confrontation with the horrifying results of Nazi propaganda -- prompted him to become a sociologist. Among his post-war projects was the research that underlay the desegregation of the U.S. armed forces.

I mention Bogart's background and his grounding in science because the second page of his classic book on advertising strategy contains one of the most contrarian lines ever written by a scientist. "Advertisements," he writes, "may be evaluated scientifically; they cannot be created scientifically."

Leo Bogart no doubt would be amused that, some four decades after he penned his great book, we're still fighting the old art vs. science war in advertising. But we are -- and it's a war worth ending, because it misses the point entirely.

Two weeks ago, I published a clog titled, "A Bigger Idea: A Manifesto on Interactive Advertising Creativity." The observations and hypotheses -- that our direct response heritage has hindered this medium's hospitality to brand advertisers, that we must incentivize creative excellence, that we need to integrate technologists as full partners into creative teams -- apparently have resonated.

Ah, hell -- they became the talk of the clogosphere, and for that we're extremely grateful. The French Revolution began in salons and coffee shops, so no reason the interactive creative revolution can't begin here!

We furthered the cause subsequently at the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting in Orlando, FL -- the Ecosystem 2.0 conference, as we call it -- earlier this week. There,
I disclosed that, for the first time, IAB will invite creative agencies into the interactive advertising format standardization process. We also announced the formation of IAB's first Agency Advisory Board, with senior executive representatives from a dozen top creative, digital and media agencies, including:

• Brad Brinegar, Chairman and CEO of McKinney, and Chair of the Agency Advisory Board
• Tom Bedecarré, CEO, AKQA
• Jeff Benjamin, Interactive Creative Director, Crispin Porter + Bogusky Advertising
• Alan Cohen, CEO of OMD USA, OMD Los Angeles.
• Colleen DeCourcy, Chief Digital Officer, TBWA Worldwide
• Brian DiLorenzo, Director of Integrated Production and Executive Director of Content, BBDO
• David Droga, Founder and Chairman, Droga5
• Sarah Fay, CEO, Carat North America
• Maria Luisa Francoli, Global CEO, MPG
• Jean-Philippe Maheu, Chief Digital Officer, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide
• Benjamin Palmer, Co-Founder, CEO, Barbarian Group
• Steve Wax, Partner and Chief Narratologist and Co-Founder, Campfire

But this is not a revolution against science, as some have characterized it. It's a war against the mismanagement of marketing communications by people who don't have the background or experience to help marketers use all the tools and services available to them to grow profitably. In that war, as IAB Chair Wenda Harris Millard put it so eloquently at our conference, both art and science have a place.

It's important for all of us who would offer our services to marketers and consumers to know how to arrange the seats at this table.

A Great Debate

I've loved the debate generated by our rants, diatribes and importunings. My special favorites include the passionate back-and-forth instigated by Adweek's Brian Morrissey on his @BMorrissey: thoughts on branding and advertising blog. Videoegg's Troy Young did a funny, heartfelt, and wonderful analysis of the online creative crisis on his company's blog. Silicon Alley Insider joined the fray with some terrific commentary and links.

But my favorite response was from Paul Seward, a senior interactive application engineer at the Martin Agency in Richmond, Virginia, and an inventor of the creative technology program at the VCU Brandcenter, one of the institutions that will save advertising -- and make interactive media hospitable to it. The Martin Agency is part of that core class of ad agencies that are and will be at the forefront of the interactive creative revolution: Its people understand not only what builds businesses, but what motivates clients, creatives and consumers -- and how those motivations must be aligned for advertising to succeed. The subject of my first "clog," Martin and its longtime president and creative director, Mike Hughes, were among the first to break down the walls between their direct response division and their "brand advertising" division, setting the stage for the agency's reinvention as a leader for the interactive era.

The Martin Agency and VCU Brandcenter are intertwined; Mr. Hughes is a founder and the chairman of school. So when one of his team wrote about the need to bring technology and creativity closer together, I listened. And what I heard from Paul Seward was a passion to lead a revolution that is grounded -- as he is, personally -- in both art and science. Here's what he wrote me:

Mr. Rothenberg,

I am one of the original contributors that helped Rick Boyko, Bob Greenberg, and Nick Law create the Creative Technology curriculum for the VCU Brandcenter. Mark Avnet and I have been working together to craft the new track to make it become something very special. I am teaching my second semester of classes and I am completely blown away by what the students are coming up with. Their thinking is amazing. Thinking beyond the tactical execution with their ideas and developing platforms that are seated in the idea of the experience. It really is extraordinary!

I also work at The Martin Agency. Currently I am one of those guys that are “working in a different room” as George Lois once said. I am within the interactive department and currently act as a Information Architect, Producer, Programmer, System Administrator, Software Architect and sometimes even graphic designer. See, I am one of those graphic designers that saw the power of the Internet as a medium and left the practice to pursue programming in 1994. Prior to that I was a lead graphic designer of a national magazine and before that a graduate of VCU’s acclaimed Communications Arts and Design, Graphic Design school. But, as a programmer, I excelled very quickly. Going on to become a enterprise developer with the J2EE language. I then moved on to become a Software Project Manager/Architect. It was the advent of advertising starting to take the deep dive into technology that lured me back to my creative roots. At the Martin Agency, I get to experience the best of all of my worlds. I can intermingle my extensive technical experience with my creative side. It really is a unique marriage. But, it is this unique type of individuals that we are looking for at VCU’s Brandcenter. And I am happy to say, we have found students that fill this bill.

Like you, I believe that the Creative Technologist should have a seat at the creative table Throughout the complete ideation stage. But, I think there needs to be some level-setting done before that happens. First, I am not talking about these creative technologists as traditional strategist, programmers, information architects, or even digital designers. Mark Avnet and I believe that they are more closely defined as “experience managers”. They have a understanding of traditional branding and advertising. But, they also have a deep understanding of personal interaction. How the tribe interacts with each other and how a brand can quickly adapt its messaging in response to user actions and responses.

These new principles are easily defined by saying words like adaptive design, information design, data visualization, etc. But, look deeper at the core of what this new creative team member brings to the table. A deeps sense of how people interact with each other. Thinking of the brand as “within the community” (please do not confuse this with having a brand play within Facebook), talking, listening and reacting to the needs of its community. But, this thinking is what separates this type of individual from someone who may recommend the latest technological animation tactic. This kind of tactical ideation is not what a CT does. They understand what may be possible, but they think and concept in a much more generalized fashion.

Take Nike+, R/GA was able to take the idea of recording pedometer results and create a platform that allows many different forms of communication to flourish. A platform based on uniting “like minded” individuals within a experience brought to them by the brand. Allowing them to become apart of the brand and living within its experience. But, it is the value of this type of engagement that is so powerful. TV, online, events, OOH, all tactical executions that evolved easily from the initial platform idea. To me, that is what is so revolutionary about the Nike+ campaign. Not the piece of tech that goes in your shoe.

The industry is at a crossroad today. What we do in the next couple years is going to redefine our work and culture for the next 60 years. It really is an exciting time for us all.

Thanks, Paul Seward

I can't be any more eloquent than Mr. Seward, but I can try to summarize his thinking: Whether their medium is the written word, the designed image, the produced event, or the software application -- whether their grounding is in science or in art -- great advertising people share a common trait: They know what moves people.

Or as the late, great advertising scientist Leo Bogart wrote 42 years ago: "The Great Idea in advertising is far more than the sum of the recognition scores, the ratings, and all other superficial indicators of its success; it is in the realm of myth, to which measurements cannot apply."

Viva la Revolucion!


  1. As a fellow professor in the CT track at VCU I couldn't agree more. Ideas can come from anywhere. It make sense that some of the most resonant ideas are coming from those that understand the culture, the brand, the customer AND...what is technologically possible. The resistance will come from those that believe that ideas are are the purview of the "creative" only. It is time for an expanded and more inclusive definition of who is "creative" and to welcome the "new idea generation".

  2. As you’re probably well aware, even the strategists are now distinguishing between the intuition and creativity required to discover/create strategies and the analytical processes required to validate them.

    One of the early discussions of the was Robert Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance", where he explores the issue of where hypotheses come from.

    The best recent book on this is William Duggan’s Strategic Intuition.

    From my '07 review of it in Strategy+Business last year (link below):

    "Columbia Professor William Duggan explains that Michael Porter’s classic Competitive Strategy Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors (1980) “tells you how to analyze your own strategy in light of your industry and your competitors. But it does not tell you how to come up with a strategic idea: that’s a ‘creative step’ Porter leaves out.”"

    The real, more interesting question which both Pirsig and Duggan explore is how to educate people to be better able to have that 'spark' of creativity. The argument is that theory isn't the way, rather it's close examination of prior creative acts in their context -- i.e. more like history than like science. Writers learn to write in part by reading closely. Artists observe and musicians listen. The self-critical faculty is essential, and it is developed in a very different way.

    David Newkirk

  3. Hey Randy – I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that you and the IAB have taken up the gauntlet to promote / demand greater creativity in digital, particularly Online, advertising. Without great creative Online advertising will never realize it potential no matter how well it can be measured in terms of audience. On the other side of that coin, crappy creative will drive the audience away.

    Keep up the good work.

    Cheers – Jerry
    Jerry L. Gibbons, Principal
    A-Team Advisors

  4. I'm a long-time follower of Edward De Bono's "lateral thinking" school of creativity. Said De Bono: "The purpose of thinking is not to be right but to be effective. Being right means being right all the time. Being effective means right only at the end." This, I think, is an affirmation of Bogart's statement that ads can be evaluated scientifically but not created this way. While one has to think strategically during the process of creating ads (for print, TV, radio, the Internet... hell, for painted rocks), intuition has to be part of the equation. Let's say a researcher/planner tosses a stack of research on top of your desk. You read it because you're hungry for information. Once you've read it, though, intuition helps you cut through the clutter and get right to the stuff that really matters.