Where Digital Creative Is Different

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It was an interesting question.

Recently, a marketing professional with a major brand asked me this question: "typically, we brief the digital marketing team after we have a concept from our advertising agency, is that the wrong way to go about it?" It’s a fair question that acts as a cold reminder. We have come a very long way in the world of digital media, in a short time. That being said, there are still some major (and not-so-major) brands out there who see it like this: we need to adapt the creative for the online world.

Here’s a better way to make digital work better…

Instead of trying to figure out how a traditional advertising campaign will play out in the digital world, take a step back, look at the creative and experience brief and ask yourself this question: "what is the message and feeling that we are trying to create with this brand? How can digital make that message and feeling come to life?" That seems simplistic enough, but it’s not. The challenge is that a lot of the time (in particular, when the brand is very traditional, risk-averse, etc…) a lot of the final creative is a text or image-based creative that is fundamentally flat. The message was created to break the consumer’s pattern and interject itself for a brief moment of time. In short, it is a passive message in a passive channel. As I have blogged about before, digital is a very different beast. Digital is an active medium where the consumers are active within it. Regardless of the creative effort, the output tends to be the attempt to turn a passive campaign into an active engagement. This usually results in a flat campaign with flat results.

Take the core of the message and then think about how to generate something active within it.

The traditional agency is going to push back and claim that the digital output is not aligned with the mass media creative. If the digital execution is aligned with the brief and meets the expectations around audience and potential results, it is incumbent on the digital agency and the client to not push-back to the ad agency, but walk them through the logic. Again, this may seem simplistic, but I’ve seem digital initiatives get shelved because the creative was not an exact adaptation of the print, TV, radio and out-of-home. For shame.

Extend your brand narrative.

While some may argue that the notion of "the big idea" is dead (I’m one of those people who now believes that you can create many big ideas within many different channels for the same campaign or brand initiative), digital now offers a myriad of new media opportunities that forces brand to think less about how the adaptation comes into play and much more about how to extend the brand story – in a meaningful and aligned way – when the opportunities to do so are so prevalent and relevant.

Shake it up. Rinse. Repeat.

Here’s some homework: for your next project brief, instead of asking how the digital will fit into the current mix, please take a step back, allow each agency to understand the core message and let them each play in that sandbox. See what happens. It may not work right out of the gate. It may take some take. It may take a few tissue sessions with all agencies at the table, but eventually you’ll get a stride and pace going that allows each media to truly reflect the essence of the brand and the campaign. The goal isn’t for everything to look the same if you popped it up on a white board. The goal is to get the desired outcome and results from the brief. The world of adaptation can still work for some ideas across multiple media, but forcing an idea through all of the media for the sake of one is an antiquated way to look at brands in 2013. If you couple this with some of the more modern thinking in transmedia and brand storytelling, you may find a better story arc and something that has legs and opportunities that can outlive the limitations of the campaign as well.

In order to think different about digital, you have to allow your digital creative to be different.


  1. Perhaps another way to approach this is if the two worlds worked with each other and are dependant on each other for desirable outcomes.
    Although this is obvious, the fact that the ‘analog’ world cannot change as rapidly as the digital world, this would be a a major challenge, however, if you consider geography as a catalyst then the two worlds can meet at some intersection and create the dialogue.

  2. Speaking from the digital agency side, collaboration between the agencies without the client in the mix produces great results. In order for this to be successful is the caveat that neither agency will be looking to expand their arrangement outside of what they’re contracted to do. In other words, trust. The client has a huge role to play in this by supporting a cohesive relationship and allowing the digital agency to execute any digital idea while the traditional agency executes the offline ideas. Most agency people are aware of the full spectrum of vehicles and choose to work within those they’re more passionate about. Focus on great work that works and everyone wins.

  3. The implied point here is that the traditional agency needs to resist the urge to treat the digital agency as a vendor or afterthought. The other thing that comes to mind is that we should be approaching this (regardless of traditional or digital) in a channel agnostic fashion first. Let’s understand the customer on his/her journey, identify the pain points, recognize ways the product/service can solve for the pain points and so on. After that’s been fully understood, then it’s time for the brand work to begin with the subsequent development of what that may look like/feel like in the creative process.

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