A few years ago, I called a friend who had just left a mid-size ad agency to start his own agency. Digital advertising had already asserted itself as a muscular marketing channel, and he bemoaned the impact of dollars shifting away from old media – e.g. television, print, billboards. “Writing 10 words of copy for a banner ad is not the same as storyboarding a 30 second commercial with a 15 second cut-down,” was the gist of his concern.
He saw no end in sight to the transformation of media spending and worried that it would marginalize the value of creative directors, graphic designers, copywriters, and everyone else involved in the formulation of an ad campaign’s imagery and messaging.
Today, it’s clear that my friend was right about the transformation taking place in media buying, selling, measurement and optimization. The demise of the creative department, though, is not at all imminent. In fact, the marketing world needs creative people more than ever. We just don’t need as many 30 and 15 second TV spots any more.
Marketers have found more ways to target and measure users than any brand manager could have fathomed 15 years ago. For more than a decade, we’ve grown accustomed to digital advertising metrics that can tell us how many views an ad has attracted and how many times a user has clicked on an ad. That alone surpasses what TV or print can offer. Then, social media delivered the ability to build community engagement around brands. We could measure the relationship between different social interactions, liking a product or service or tweeting and re-tweeting a post, for example, and sales. Companies such as Facebook have access to so more data about its users than do the most powerful entities in the digital space, such as Yahoo or Google, and are augmenting that information with off-line shopping behaviors, such as membership in retailer loyalty programs. All of this information has vastly improved targeting.
Mobile advertising, including on smartphones and tablets, adds a location dimension, which now enables marketers to deliver even more precisely targeted messages. Meanwhile, advancements in how marketers purchase media are beginning to resemble the automation and precision of Wall Street trading desks. Firms also are getting better about measuring cross-platform interactions and effectiveness. In other words, the task of identifying and reaching an audience relies on increasingly sophisticated tools and gives marketers more options than every before.
Most of the discussion of these new platforms that I’ve seen centers on its science, for lack of a better term. Our experience with digital advertising has groomed us to expect high quality data from all our marketing investments, so naturally we want to know that all our social media and mobile advertising options will give us quantifiable results we’ll be proud to show our bosses and information we can use. Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll discover an emerging challenge: how to make all these highly measurable, deeply connected channels actually compelling to a user? How do we endow them with emotional foundations? That is a question perfectly tailored for today’s creative director.
Say your boss reads about other companies increasing their investments in social media and mobile advertising, and she wants you to look into it if not do the same. How can you bring a campaign to life across all these channels and screens? How, for example, can you build thematic continuity in a 90 second video on YouTube and Vimeo, a community outreach plan on Facebook, a customer service thrust in Twitter, your search engine marketing, and push notifications or in-app messaging through your company’s mobile app? To pull this off, you’d need more than just quant jocks. You’d need gifted storytellers, producers and directors. You’d need graphic designers and photographers. You’d need copywriters, maybe even journalists. You certainly would need people who can figure out how to make sure the campaign doesn’t creep out your mobile audience.
Looks like you might need an agency, in other words.