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The New Creative Imperative

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, 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?"

One need look no further than advertising's newest innovation -- "addressable technology" -- to appreciate why it need be so. The "who" now needs to be as much a driver of creative development as the "what." Whether you call it "addressable," "geo-targeting," "ad tag/ad copy," or "adlink," the hyper-targeting technology developed by Visible World and available in 20 million-plus television homes has enormous implications on the way creative will be developed in the near future. Right now, that means we can create for an audience at the sub-DMA level. But, once digital set tops are available in all households, dare I say, the possibility of household targeting actually does go from fantasy to reality.

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

We refer to it as "scenario-based" creative -- meaning that different scenarios are required to be relevant to different targets. So, when developing a campaign for a brand, the more your creatives can expand their idea (and their 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 "whom" levels of relevance.

Consider the presidential race. Imagine if the politico know-it-alls in DC were smart enough to use addressable advertising technology to create different scenario-based spots for different states -- even clusters of neighborhoods. They could instantly target undecided voters in swing states at the sub-DMA level. They could even run specific local issue-related/endorsement-related spots -- all assembled on the fly through the set top box -- one version at a time, instead of cramming four or five issues into one :30 commercial that fits all. Single-minded advertising has never been their forte.

Whichever side you come down on, it's clear that this is untapped television territory for the poll-driven producers.

Back here in reality, the idea that creatives need to be retrained to develop addressable messages for multiple target scenarios is a big myth. Last week, I sat in with a room full of large-agency creatives on a major automotive brand to help assist them in expanding their creative brief across multiple scenarios to enable an addressable television buy. Not only did they get it right away, and saw it as cool (always important), but were far easier to win over than the media planners, whose lives in the world of sub-DMA targeting bring a whole new dimension to the phrase "spot buy."

Fallon's recent addressable TV campaign introducing Ted Airlines to Chicago was a perfect example of how well the Visible World technology works. Their ability to target frequent flyers and business travelers by specific neighborhood ("Hello Barrington, Meet Ted. Ted. Meet Barrington") by name, was like watching TV become direct mail. It was a clear example of hyper-targeted relevance wrapped in a very clever message -- the "who" and the "what" side by side across numerous geographic "scenarios."

For the creatives, the overall concept stayed perfectly in tact, while the versions simply increased on a neighborhood by neighborhood, first name basis. Bravo!

Over the hill, it will be interesting to see how the copy strategies of the power brand marketers will change when reasons to believe get re-prioritized by target scenarios, based upon income, geography, age, ethnicity, and even programming context. The craft of coming up with a great idea and compelling storyline to deliver the selling message will still be the same -- but the number of scenarios and shots is likely to increase. Which adds up to an increase in production costs at the front end, but with a massive potential savings in media waste at the other end.

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 PVR-enabled consumer, there is lots to get smart and excited about. In fact, the best offense against a PVR-enabled viewer may not be an industry-wide defense, but rather, more relevant, more targeted messaging that delivers both the "who" and the "what."

As for the creatives, not to worry. There's still going to be plenty of shoots left. Only this time, there will be longer shot lists.

Alan Schulman is chief creative officer of Brand New World, which specializes in strategy and creative for emerging media platforms.

Alan Schulman currently serves as National Director of Digital Marketing & Creative Content for Deloitte Digtial - a division of Deloitte Consulting, LLP.  A member of Deloitte Digital's Senior Leadership Team, Alan is responsible for...

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