By now everyone has seen or at least heard of Google’s Project Re-Brief. In order to showcase the potential of online advertising – after 18 years we ought to be able to do something better than the ubiquitous banner ad – Google had the brilliant idea of re-creating some of the advertising industry’s most famous ads and making them digital.
In typical Google fashion, they spared no expense or effort. To re-create Coke’s then epic 1971 Hilltop ad – it feels so small now – Google grabbed art director Harvey Gabor out of retirement, brought him to New York and taught him what the Internet – ad servers, HTML5, accelerometers, touch screens, and real-time video – can do.
If you watch the making of film you can see the reverence that Google shows for Harvey and the respect they convey for the “big idea.” They even let Harvey present using foam core. (Anyone other than me, and Harvey, remember what that is?) Granted part of that is the show — after all this is about demonstrating to ad agencies what they could do with Google and its cool tools and toys – but the real point is that a great ad idea is even better when executed to include user participation.
From ads to experiences
The finished experience, while not yet a scalable idea, is very much Nike Chalkbot-like; it connects the user, the web and the physical world in a seamless, magical way. Five Coke machines around the world are tied into Google servers. From a simple online ad that takes advantage of Google’s location services, a laptop video camera and YouTube, it lets a computer (or tablet or phone) user record a message, send the gift of a Coke to the machine of her choice, and include a video greeting. At the receiving end an unsuspecting passerby hears a machine singing the former hit, “I want to teach the world to sing…….I want to buy the world a Coke and keep it company,” as it dispenses the free Coca Cola and the video message from the sender. The recipient can then send a message back and the entire system creates a composite video of the event and uploads it to YouTube. Wow.
Once we had a message, controlled, produced, and delivered by Coke. Now we have an experience enabled by Coke, but created and controlled by consumers. Once Coke said “we’d like to buy the world a Coke.” Now users are actually doing it for each other. Once we had an old fashioned ad. Now we have a new kind of ad.
Change the team, change the process
But of all the changes evident in the above example, the most important one is the composition of the team needed to create it. When Harvey made his TV spot he worked with Bill Backer and a director. But if you take a look at the team in the room to make something like the Re-Brief version of Hilltop, you have IA, UX, tech, engineering and production. And you have more of those kinds of creatives than you have of the old fashioned kind.
Many advertising agencies still start the process with a team of writers and art directors who conceive TV like ideas then ask the digital team to come up with something digital to go with it. If an agency is descended from the likes of Harvey Gabor and Bill Backer it’s in their DNA to work that way. (Let’s face it, none of us would start the kind of agency today that we may currently work for.)
But it’s probably time to embrace a totally opposite approach. Put five technologists and one writer in the room. Or gather four developers and one art director. Or change the qualifications for the title creative director. It’s the only way to create executions – or platforms, or behaviors – this innovative.
My favorite shot in the case study video is the one that says “Engineers build vending machines that connect to display ads,” suggesting that after the creative idea was conceived, the team then told engineering what it needed.
This is the antithesis of the way the world usually works. In the typical sequence R&D comes up with an idea based on what’s possible, engineering builds it, marketing learns what they have to sell, and the ad agency – despite being closer to the market and consumers than most anyone – finally gets handed the product and the story to be communicated. They’re at the end of the line virtually all the time.
Yes, Re-Brief teaches us that old ads can be re-created digitally. And yes, it recognizes the value of an idea. No doubt the traditional advertising holdouts can point their finger at this and say, “See you still need the concept.” Yeah yeah.
But both of those lessons miss the real points.
If we want to build new, interesting, interactive experiences, we need to change the team dramatically. Not simply add a token technologist to the traditional creative team, but perhaps take the opposite approach. Add one traditional creative to a full-blown technical team.
And two, we should put engineering at the end of the process, not the beginning. Rather than build something and then convince a consumer to buy it or use it, maybe should start with the ideal consumer experience then back up and build it.
What are your takeaways from Re-Brief?