Last summer I was asked to write the advertising column for this month’s Communication Arts. I submitted the piece in August; it only appeared this month. In the print world, space is limited and deadlines can significantly precede publication date. So below is a slightly modified version representing what would appear if I wrote the piece today.
A year ago, if you went around espousing the value of social media you probably found few listeners. Twitter had barely two million users. There weren’t enough participants for any but the most forward thinking clients. And while plenty of bloggers championed conversation marketing, the majority of advertisers were not asking you to engineer their social media presence and build them a community.
Man, the world changed quickly.
If your clients resemble mine, they’re now requesting full-blown social media programs. They want you to launch their brand on Twitter, create apps for their fan page, and introduce them to crowdsourcing.
What happened? Three things created the perfect storm.
The recession. Advertising and marketing budgets plummeted, and as a potential alternative, social media started to look quite appealing. Trying to save money might be the wrong reason to embrace social media but it’s a reason nonetheless.
Barack Obama. Our new president actually used social media and crowdsourcing — in the form of Twitter and a YouTube channel – to get elected. Hard fact to ignore.
A media circus. Everyone from Ellen to Oprah to Ashton to Lance embraced Twitter. Millions of new users joined. Newspapers and magazines devoted millions of column inches to the covering the new medium. And CMOs and CEOs started to pay attention.
So what does this mean for creative folks? Will there be less traditional advertising? Is TV going to matter less? Will budgets get chopped even more?
The answer to all of those is an obvious and resounding “yes.” But who cares? Our clients will still need creativity, perhaps more than ever.
Think about it. Right now being on Twitter or Facebook is still relatively new for advertisers. Marketing through a conversation remains novel. So simply engaging and listening is enough to grab a customer’s attention.
But that won’t last. In another year, every company will post on Twitter, collect fans on Facebook, broadcast on its YouTube channel, and share content on a blog. The cacophony of conversation will grow deafening and the proliferation of communities will be overwhelming.
Once that happens we’ll need new creative ideas — fresh, original, attention getting platforms, experiences and techniques — to grab attention, get remembered and generate results.
There is one catch. Creativity — the idea, the team that creates it, how it’s brought to life — will all be different. It ain’t gonna be a print ad or a 30-second TV spot. We may still need the big idea (The Axe Effect, Drivers Wanted, Got Milk) but more likely it will be achieved with a long lasting digital platform or an innovative way to inspire community. Even executions will be different: viral avatars will convert a target audience into a distribution channel; iPhone applications will become the gateway for capturing data and starting relationships; tools rather than messages will become the new creative currency.
As I look at all the new stuff — digital video, social media, iPhone apps, augmented reality, and the amazing power of crowdsourcing — I feel like a kid in a candy store. Never have so many creative opportunities presented themselves. Yet many people in the so-called advertising business continue to cling to the familiar forms of print and TV. Dinosaurs didn’t know that extinction was coming; but we’ve been forewarned.
If you’re determined not to be among them, here’s what you might consider doing.
Learn to create in the new media
We’ve seen the power of Facebook apps. And they’re going to get even more robust. But you can be creative on Twitter, too. Look at the MadMen avatars, or the fake Don Draper character. But there’s more to come. Someone’s going to use Twitter to redefine how a story gets told, how the characters interact, how a consumer gets to participate. Why not you?
Make friends with a developer
The relationship between technology and creativity deserves more than a sentence or two. But what can be done with a smartphone, Twitter’s API, or a platform like Posterous should excite you. Why not become more familiar with the technological possibilities? You might find they inspire ideas that would otherwise never pop into your head.
I’m not talking about design competitions. Think co-creation instead. You can stick a lyric or a guitar lick on a website and end up with a crowdsourced music track. You can inspire customers or fans to co-create a piece of art or a multi-screen video. You can create a viral meme that spreads further if the crowd plays a role in creating it.
Expand your tribe
In The Element, Sir Ken Robinson suggests that we become more encouraged and stimulated when we find our tribe. If that’s true, then shouldn’t we constantly look for ways to expand the one we have? With all the new technology and social media platforms available, we can find inspiration from other creatives anywhere in the world. Beats staring at YouTube videos all day in search of ideas to rip-off.
Build your personal brand
Finally, take your career and your reputation into your own hands. Put your opinions and perspective out there. Share what you know. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how much you’ll gain personally and professionally. Just look at what it did for Erik Proulx in the realization of his film Lemonade.
Much about marketing and advertising has changed. What hasn’t is the need for creative people. We just have to re-invent advertising’s forms and in the process ourselves.
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Photo by: laffy4k