Thursday, February 26, 2009

What Comes First -- The Heart Beat or the Mouse Click?

I just read IAB President, Randall Rothenberg's masterpiece -- "A Bigger Idea: A Manifesto on Interactive Advertising Creativity." It's a bit meaty but, as you know, I'm not averse to lengthy blog posts around particular passion points. For anyone who wants to understand the impact of the digital sea change, Rothenberg's piece is required reading.

He begins by attacking the "four enemies of online branding:

  • A direct-marketing culture and tradition that devalues creativity and its long-term effect on brands
  • An interactive agency business model that disincentivizes greatness and fails to penalize mediocrity
  • An unwillingness by mainstream agencies to integrate technologists as full partners in the advertising creative team
  • Media industry values and habits that malign and depreciate our own products, and by extension our customers'"
    • And he closes with four action items for "digital publishers and agencies:

      1. Motivate greatness among your best creative people, for their work inspires consumers and customers alike.
      2. Collaborate -- creative agencies and publishers -- with each other and within yourselves to develop outstanding advertising and communications products.
      3. Assemble writers, designers, and technologists into teams that can engage the intellect and emotions of audiences and individuals across all channels, toward the goal of creating enduring brands.
      4. Prove to your customers that causing the heart to beat quick is at least as important as making the mouse click."

      There are a number of threads in Rothenberg's post that sparked my interest and merit further discussion. For now, I'll just focus on one -- "the gap between the mouseclick and the heartbeat."

      To illustrate his point, Rothenberg poses this "admittedly trick question:

      What's the biggest difference between a traditional creative agency and a new-age digital agency?

      Answer: Traditional creative agencies are named after human beings. Digital agencies are named after inanimate objects or nonsense words."

      Indeed. Although, most of those traditional shops now carry acronyms in place of the principal's names to cater to today's short attention span masses -- DDB, BBDO, GSD&M, TBWA, Y&R, JWT, etc.

      Rothenberg's point is that the "depersonalization of the agency business" is indicative of a trend towards advertising globalization and industrialization. He posits that we need to start to "recognize and reward the creative individuals who make greatness happen" -- whether that's by naming firms after them or giving them a bigger stage at awards ceremonies like Cannes.

      I agree with Rothenberg that we are witnessing the downfall of advertising creativity as we've known it to date but I would argue that what's replaced it -- a relentless pursuit of scale, accountability, and optimization -- is much more relevant and powerful to advertisers and consumers in today's burgeoning digital media ecosystem.

      Put another way, I think these days what makes the heart beat is the mouse click. Not the other way around.

      Take for instance, the Snuggie -- which has become Resolution Media's mascot of sorts. What made this "blanket with sleeves" become a cult sensation? It sure wasn't their TV spots. Watching the folks in this commercial lie around on the couch is more likely to make your heart stop than beat. No, what got everyone excited about this product was all the mouse clicks that resulted when this brand went viral -- the commercial parody, the pub crawl, the sightings blog, etc.

      I really believe the cause and effect with Snuggie's popularity was mouse click then heart beat. People took to this brand because they were excited about all the mouse clicking that was happening and wanted to be a part of it. In a matter of days, thousands of people signed up for the pub crawl and the commercial parody has nearly 2 million views.

      So, rather than hearken for the days of old when marketers built their brand by creating masterful ads and broadcasting them out to the masses, we need to embrace the idea that what moves the needle in today's instant gratification, always-on, Type-F society is planting the seeds of a brand across various media touchpoints and sparking viral, peer-to-peer conversations.

      Indeed, the message has become the medium. And, for marketer's to thrive/survive, that message better click.

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