In a lot of agencies there’s still a mindset that digital is something different. It’s assigned to the “digital teams.” It’s conceived and produced by people who might actually be labeled digital or have the word in their title.
But digital isn’t a thing. Digital is everything. And in an age when anything can be converted to a shareable file, everything is digital.
I find that when talking to advertising students or creatives the easiest way to think about digital is to break into two kinds of work. Work that “gets” digital. And work that “is” digital.
By definition, all advertising needs to “get” digital. Meaning it has to understand how we behave in the connected world. How we access and share content. How we expect instant access to anything we need. Brands, content, prices, entertainment, service folks, etc.
Ideas that “get” digital reflect that. Think Oreo’s Dunk in the Dark Twitter ad, the Ice Bucket Challenge, or Century 21’s hi-jacking of the Breaking Bad finale. The creators behind these ideas clearly understood the different ways that people access information, interact it with it, and pass it on. And they conceived their ads and social campaigns with that behavior in mind.
When Swedish agency Forsman Bodenfors introduced a new truck for Volvo by launching it on eBay because that’s where truckers engage with content and each other, the agency demonstrated that it “gets” digital. When Norway’s PLAN started an anti child bride campaign with a fake blog from a 12-year old girl who had been promised to a 37 year-old man, it showed it “gets” digital. So did BBDO when it created an awareness campaign for the 9/11 Memorial by letting Twitter users pay per character to post their support for the Memorial.
You could even argue that Geico’s un-skippable pre-roll ads fit the bill. The videos deliver their sales pitch in the first few seconds, knowing that everyone skips pre-roll ads. They then reward you with nothing but humor for the next 25 seconds actually making you want to watch, evident by the tens of millions of views the campaign has attracted on YouTube. Geico “gets” digital. And so does The Martin Agency, which created the ads.
Today, everything you create needs to “get” digital; it’s the world in which all content lives.
But none of these ideas needed a developer or coder to make them. The Oreo ad, or any ad-like object that’s posted on Twitter (think all the brands that jumped on the gay marriage bandwagon the day after the Supreme Court decision) could have, in a past generation, been print ads that ran the next day. Yet they were, inherently, digital ideas. Able to spread across the Twitter and the web.
The second kind of digital advertising, and I’ll use that term loosely, are ideas that require the creative team to know and use technology beyond the open source platforms like Twitter and Facebook that we rely on every day. Instead, they’re ideas and executions that call for developers and creative technologists. Think Nike+ as an example. Or Critical Mass’s United Nations’ Sweeper exhibit, which used iBeacon technology to trigger digital land mines in an iPhone app. Or R/GA’s Pursuit for Equinox, an indoor cycling motivational experience that integrated a cyclist’s mobile phone to create immersive games and visualize performance.
Another example is EA’s Madden NFL Giferator, which generated GIFs that users could customize in real time based on actual NFL within seconds of when they occur. It’s an idea that could be imagined but never created without a locker room of developers and some serious digital chops.
This is “advertising” that “is” digital. Unlike an ad distributed via Twitter, these ideas can’t be made simply with words and pictures. They’re built using technology. Everything from sensors and apps to augmented reality.
If you work in an agency you may still, on occasion, produce a non-digital idea such as a static billboard or God forbid a radio commercial. But even these last bastions of analog are becoming digital in one way or another. More often than not you’ll be tasked with generating advertising that “gets” digital and conceiving work that “is” digital.
You may not be the person who writes the code yourself, but you’ll certainly have to know how to work with people who do, how to generate ideas where code is part of the palette, and at the very least, be thoroughly aware of how your clients’ customers and products behave digitally.
Note to my regular readers: If I’ve been MIA this summer it’s because I’ve been co-authoring the next edition of Luke Sullivan’s Hey Whipple, Squeeze This, the legendary “guide to creating great ads.” I wrote six chapters, mostly about digital, social, content, mobile and how to keep up with the relentless change. The above, in a shortened and modified version, appears in the book. From time to time I’ll share some of what’s coming in the next edition — due out in January, 2016.