November 3, 2008
The web offers the ad industry tons of potential in terms of options to market a brand online.
So much so that it can get confusing or even impossible to nail down which methods will work for which brand.
Brands require experts who monitor those trends on the internet and who understand what is working at any given time in specific areas of the web. Trends change daily based on new technologies and more interactive ways to tell a story.
The experts are the ones creating the new technologies and innovations on the web as a means to stay competitive.
They are the digital agencies.
As ad agencies get more proficient at identifying and in some ways codifying these various techniques we are starting to see more and more interesting websites being launched. But those sites are not necessarily successful.
It is often the case where ideas and the technologies don't play nicely together.
Today these new techniques come and go almost daily and the rule book changes with every new site launched. This is confusing to agencies and by the time they think they get it, they don't.
If you take a look at a cross section of the more successful or popular sites that have been launched recently you will notice that most of them lack one important component, and a trend that is becoming more and more popular today, that is critical for a successful online campaign.
I will get to what that is later in this post.
Imagine you come up with an idea, and you sell it through to your client but in the back of your mind there is nothing that says that the idea will surely work. Its a gamble, like anything in life, you just have no real facts to say that something will be a hit.
You familiarize yourself will all the latest trends and work with the best digital agencies out there to make sure your site will be prefect for launch.
The copy is airtight, assets are beautifully created and the site is the definition of digital harmony.
The ad buys are in place, banners are everywhere, even a TV spot driving traffic to the site.
Your psyched, your client is psyched, everyone involved is feeling great and you've already drafted your awards acceptance speech.
The day has come, the site goes live.
What I am getting at here is that culturally traditional ad agencies are just simply out of sync with what the public wants, expects and needs from the web.
The web insists that those who are creating media for it stay much more abreast to what its capabilities are and unlike the past new technologies are adopted much quicker on the web than the more static traditional platforms ever had available to them.
Over the last ten years consumers have been re-trained to think faster, react immediately and receive their reward instantly.
Apple's iTunes is a great example of that. Who would have thought that Apple would emerge as the top seller of entertainment media like music and movies and now mobile applications.
We are the instant gratification generation.
We click we get.
So the question that weighs heavily on my mind is, why would an ad agency that specializes in traditional marketing endeavor to strategize a web campaign for their clients when their staff is not geared for this kind of work and why would brands pay them millions to do work they are not specialized to do?
One of this year's biggest stories was the outburst by Big Spaceship owner Michael Lebowitz. He spoke up regarding his shops credit snub at Cannes.
The issue was credit, and the topic was definitely newsworthy, but what also happened was that it helped usher in the emergence of the digital agency.
It was a new voice speaking up and saying HEY WE EXIST!
Brands typically rely on their AOR to strategize a marketing campaign that they expect to be evenly distributed across various media platforms based on where they will get the best consumer response.
Now that the web has become one of the, if not the, most popular places to advertise we are seeing ad agencies starting to struggle with how they are executing more traditional ideas on the web.
There is no doubt that traditional ad agencies are tremendously talented at coming up with stories to tell based on brands and that ideas are in no shortage but taking those ideas and translating them online poses a new challenge to them.
I do not believe that the agencies were able to foresee the speed at which the industry would shift, the veracious impact with which digital would gain prominence as well as the rate of expansion of the web.
Agencies were simply to big and unable to see how quickly the web would become mainstreamed and how the new media marketplace would be completely redefined.
Most of the larger traditional agencies have not adjusted to the shift.
Only a few agencies have changed culturally. The agencies that have sprouted up during the dot com years were lucky enough to have built digital capabilities into their core services. Older agencies are now trying to simply acquire it.
Brands expect their agency to be able to execute across all media and inherently understand the nature of that media and how to integrate with it.
Smaller digital agencies had already bought into the new culture in the mid 90s, they have been doing this for over ten years now and over those ten years have accepted their roles as second fiddle to the larger agencies but at the same time waiting patiently, and learning from the mistakes that agencies made, for their time to come.
Digital agencies live and breathe and experiment with new media and digital storytelling in ways that traditional ad agencies cant. Digital agencies are naturally more curious about the medium because they created that medium and are always trying to improve it.
Digital shops have been learning from the mistakes made at larger agencies, smaller digital shops have identified that in order to grab the reigns they must know how to own and then integrate online media across a larger media marketplace and are doing so quite nicely.
As brands now shift their dollars towards the web the looming question is who should be getting the big bucks?
Digital shops have been doing work with agencies for some time now and like any close relationship each of the participants have rubbed off on one another.
Digital shops had to learn how to communicate with agencies by adopting a lot of the traditional processes that agencies have had in place for a 100 some odd years now and large agencies have had to step up their techno-jargon in order to jive with the hip smaller digital shops.
The result is that digital SHOPS have now become digital AGENCIES.
Growth is critical in any industry and evolution is unavoidable.
Now that media technologists and ad folks have intermingled and digital shops have realized that they too can come up with creative and innovative ways to market a brand, especially online, there seems to be an inherent shift in where brands need to be turning to drive their next campaign.
Any smart brand manager should realize that going directly to a digital agency will not only help save them money, because digital agencies tend to be much smaller and more nimble, but that they will be putting their money behind the people who are not only following the trends but actually creating those trends.
With limited budgets digital agencies can only go so far.
Digital projects suffer because the pie is being eaten by way too many people. By the time the people who are actually doing the project get the brief most of the dollars have been eaten up by the layers of bureaucracy at the AOR.
But if the budgets for digital campaigns were to be put directly in the hands of the digital agencies it would help to create not only more innovative executions but also help to finance the emergence of new technologies on the web and more exciting stories being told.
I mentioned earlier in this post that there is a missing component that traditional ad agencies lack.
That component is real time media tracking that is both accurate in terms of understanding audiences and identifying what user behavior patterns are successful and acting quickly on those findings.
Digital shops not only understand the inner workings of new media, they created this media, and intuitively understand what ideas will work online and which ones will fail.
Imagine a small digital shop who has been working every major traditional agency for ten years, learning from every project. Learning how each one of them communicates, comes up with ideas and tackles problems. Then they go ahead and apply that to their vast digital knowledge and then wrap that up with killer creative. The perfect model for the new agency trained by the old guard.
The digital shops were and continue to witness and learn from every success and mistake made by a cross section of large agencies.
Its like spending ten years in grad school being taught by the best professors.
Now that our country is facing financial introspection and money needs to be spent wisely, brands should reconsider where they distribute their ad dollars.
Digital shops are now more than capable of quarterbacking a campaign.
Ideas born from within the digital culture will have a better chance of surviving the fast pace of the web and in turn will give brands more bang for their buck. They will offer brands solutions that will enable the campaign to shift based on what users want and expect at various points of the campaign life.
One such execution, in my opinion, was launched this year for NBC Universal by digital shop Freedom + Partners. It is a very unique website created for the show The Starter Wife.
The site can be seen here: http://www.tswlife.com
What set this site apart from other sites I have seen this year is that it is loaded with potential for what the new face of the web will look like once more digital shops starting leading campaigns online.
With time and budget limitations, Freedom + Partners was able to execute a site that was a true convergence of media platforms. From book to mini series to weekly episodes to website every part of this property lives on a separate and appropriate media platform making it a truly diverse brand that speaks to a multitude of audiences.
NBC Universal was brave enough to take a chance on a digital agency who understood how to get immediate feedback from its audience. In partnering with Freedom + Partners, NBC Universal saw the potential for giving users new content immediately following an episode of the show and using that information to provide them with a better overall brand experience every time they came back to the site.
The site is now an evolving media platform that will give NBC the ability to see what their audiences want and how they react to what they are already giving them.
There is no exact science for success on the web, however putting your projects in the hands of those who are most intimate with it is one step towards success.