June 29, 2008

Big Mouth

Friends and close industry folks have asked me to comment about the recent statements made by Big Spaceship CEO, Michael Lebowitz at Cannes regarding the HBO Voyeur project his company collaborated on with BBDO.

As someone who works in, and closely monitors, our industry I felt it was an important enough topic to deserve a blog entry.

In my humble opinion this is probably one of the most important and hottest topics of this year.

Let's set the scene:

A steamy, sultry, passionate French summer in Cannes, the worlds most creative minds attending the Oscars of the ad industry, hotels, bars, clubs, halls, streets, teeming with ad agency brass, hungry and rabid for that Golden Royal Feline set in their cross hairs and waiting to poach it up for their shelves back in NYC.

Emotions are on high, the competitive fierceness has been unleashed.

A year wrought with anxiety and fear of the silent industry tectonic shifts between traditional and digital, causing all kinds of eruptions across the creative landscape.

Each side battling for dominance in this lavish world of shiny and technologically polished ideas.

France, the country of love, emotion, heartbreak and despair.

The place of ex patriots who have fled their home lands in order to find themselves through the eyes of a country known for its outspoken rebelliousness and uprise.

Thoughts weigh heavier in this French air, much harder to keep to ones self in the midst of competition.

A judge, Mr. Lebowitz, sitting on high looking down at the piranha snapping at the prize.

Reality kicks in as he watches someone else walk away with his prize, that coveted Lion is being carried away farther from its source, the shop who toiled to earn its merit.

Michael Lebowitz, CEO of well known digital shop Big Spaceship, the creators of the website that took home top honors at Cannes this year. As he sits at the judges table, seething with animosity and disdain for the lack of fairness being displayed right in front of his eyes.

Why not have Lebowitz himself present David Lubars of BBDO the award for the HBO Voyeur website?

Opinion versus Fact

Most industry people will say that BBDO owned the idea and they simply contracted Big Spaceship to "code it up".

Others will say that Big Spaceship took an idea that lived outside of the web and digitized it to work on the most powerful media platform known to man.

This is a topic that is going to become increasingly hotter and hotter as the internet becomes the "official" launch pad for most or all ad campaigns.

Being able to translate an idea from the bowels of a brand into the digital world completely integrated with interactivity, entertainment, illusion and inspiration is no small task. Some would say it is the most detailed and intrinsic role of any campaign today.

Voice of Reason

Lebowitz simply took that first step into the parted ocean and spoke up for what he saw as the truth. He let his emotions run free and what better place to kick up some dirt and peer into "the often uncomfortable relationships between ad agencies and digital specialists" than Cannes, France.

Like a lovers quarrel while on a holiday, Lebowitz took this opportunity to speak his mind and attempted to defend the smaller digital shops against the mighty ad agency that often times takes most or full credit for an idea born again in a digital world. Ideas that could have only been given birth to by the digital shop that was inseminated by the agency to translate their concepts on the web.

Rupal Parekh, a writer for Ad Age covering this story, enumerated this relationship in the following statement,

"Increasingly, agencies are becoming a kind of hub that marshals other resources, from digital experts to production companies, on behalf of clients."

If this is indeed the case then it should be the digital agency that walk away with the honors and the traditional agency simply patting themselves on the back for finding the perfect match to bring their ideas to life.

However, it is true that the traditional agency is the birthplace for the concept. It is the traditional agency that has won and maintained a relationship with the client and ultimately holds in its back pocket the client's trust. And it is the traditional agency that did ultimately make the decision to choose a particular shop to collaborate and execute their idea digitally.

Why should they not get all or most of the credit for orchestrating this difficult process?

I strongly disagree with Rupal Parekh. Agencies do indeed marshal resources in order to translate ideas digitally, however those ideas still remain the property of those agencies and at the end of the day it is the agency that brings the overall idea to the digital shop to execute. Ownership is never transferred.

Now don't get me wrong, I am fully behind the reasons for why Lebowitz said what he said but what I am not behind is what is seemingly being built up as a war between traditional and digital agencies.

BBDO had every right to take credit or share credit for the work, they rightfully won the awards for the concepts that they delivered to Big Spaceship.

However because Big Spaceship so perfectly executed that idea in the digital space and it was that very space that launched this idea into the stratosphere, BBDO should have made mention and even shared the honors with their partner.

It was the lack of recognition that charged Lebowitz with emotion to speak out against his agency partners, it was the blatant disrespect for the ability to take an idea and bring it to life in a totally new and powerful way that was completely dishonored here and that is where the unfairness resides.

Lebowitz is 100% correct in saying that the award shows are just as guilty for not recognizing the digital efforts put into a campaign and to award them based on those merits alone.

We as an industry need to step forward and realize that every aspect of a campaign requires a completely new set of rules in its execution of an idea and even though that idea has originated from a different source, it takes on a whole new life once it is given into the hands of those who re-birth it on the web or any other emerging platform.

No one is to blame, these are simply growing pains.

Lebowitz spoke up and I respect him for his emotional honesty and his passion for our medium.

BBDO did as they have always done as a traditional agency and simply haven't gotten used to the fact that the digital shop plays a much larger role in a campaign.

Cannes needs to get with the times and start sharing the love with everyone who plays a major role in the idea becoming part of pop culture.

Let's not create a stand off and a cold war that will only hurt the "ideas" being collaborated on. We all need one another so lets realize that sensitivities need to be met and that credit should be paid where it is due.

Lebowitz and Lubars need to get on a web cam and hug this out and be a shining example for the positive direction we all must go in.

Digital and Traditional are now tied at the hip. We are at a cross roads and we must decide on a path, it can be laden with thistles and thorns or an illuminated golden path that leads to a new age of ideas and creativity.

Let's choose carefully.


jayemsee said...

Now a days it's the recent death or decline in traditional advertising. TV and print are passé. Soon there will be 30 second spots that solely display a URL.

The reality is, you dont need a huge ad agency anymore, so their taking it where they can get it. Need another example? Get the glass.

Be it the day and age where a single person can secure exponential greatness, and strike fear into the larger conglomerates.

For me, it was big spaceship that did that campaign justice, the rest doesn't matter. For without them there would be no award nor controversy.

My hats off to you Mr. Lebowitz and your talanted staff.

mark ferdman said...

excellent piece. hope they tape their video chat and distribute it so we all can watch.