Back in the golden age of advertising, the one romanticized in "Mad Men," the traditional creative ad agency was focused on a copywriter and an art director working in tandem to convey a brand message and make it interesting. That's how it went for years, and it's that process that gave us memorable brand messages like "Where's the beef?" and "Mentos: The Freshmaker."
Today, campaign development has evolved to include much more, especially for interactive rich media that crosses multiple platforms. A standard creative agency could realistically utilize an art director, copywriter, print designer, interactive designer, and a developer. But you start to have the problem of too many cooks in the kitchen.
Now throw in another variable: Media agencies. I'd say that 80 percent of the meetings I've been in over the last few years ended with some head scratching when we realized the media agencies aren't even thinking about the new creative process at all. I won't name any names, but there are still agencies that don't even have an online initiative ramped up. This is 2011, people! Come on.
The problem is that many media agencies haven't evolved their strategy, and a lot of campaigns get muddled as they are passed along from one group to the next, resulting in creative that isn't designed to support the original campaign goal. In this equation, it's often the interactive designer who gets pushed aside and curtly told to "make things look interesting," and that's really where the biggest problem is introduced.
In these situations, I'll try to get access to some of the designers and developers to ask about the intention of their design and build. I start with simply asking "What is the goal?" Often, they'll stare back blank-faced and say something like, "What do you mean by goal?" For an interactive designer to not understand a campaign's end goal is absolutely crazy, and it's probably why consumers ignore their campaigns.
With interactive advertising, everything needs to be designed and developed with the end goal in mind, whether it's a completion rate, call-to-action, or even a (prehistoric) click-through-rate. A huge portion of achieving that goal relies on the designer and/or developer, but they are oftentimes left in the dark.
Why? Because while media agencies have evolved to include digital teams, they're still running everything in a siloed approach. Sure, you could boil everything down to a one-man show and have one employee design, animate, and art direct your entire rich media or video campaign. But the truth is, there aren't many people out there who can do everything well, and they often come at a price.
If "Mad Men" has taught us anything, it's that if you lock two people in a room for long enough, they'll emerge with a groundbreaking idea. One of them might leave with a black eye, but at the end of the day everyone will sip Scotch and laugh about all those billable hours getting passed on to the client.
The best way to develop campaigns that hit your end goal is to keep everyone involved in the loop. You don't need four or five people all sitting in a room to brainstorm the campaign because that could be a long, grueling process. But because interactive creative teams must contemplate copy, design, usability, development, pricing models, and technical expertise, you need get everyone involved early.
Truly empowered creative and development team members are the new warlords of advertising strategy. The concept of functionality relies on design -- if your copywriter and art director aren't working with a digital designer, many items are lost in the mix. Don't force everyone to sit in one grueling meeting, but keep constant contact and bounce ideas off different team members. Once you have a concept, talk to the developer. They can tell the art director very early on that a campaign execution is not possible, but it's also likely they can take the original idea in a new direction.
When everyone on the chain is aware of the campaign's end goal, you start producing digital advertising that actually takes advantage of the medium. Digital strategy is evolving, and creative agencies had better follow suit.
David Sanderson is director of creative services for Tremor Media.
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