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May 30, 2009 / davebirss

Are ad agencies producing the right ideas?

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Over the last few years, as I’ve been doing more and more digital work, I’ve been regularly asked to create digital extensions of above-the-line campaigns. But very often the concept you’re given just doesn’t work online, so you end up having to move it in a different direction or have to rely on borrowed interest. Admittedly some nice ideas can come out of that but it isn’t true integration. And the problem doesn’t just apply to digital – it applies to all campaigns that extend across more than one media channel.

So if we’re to make our campaigns integrate better and work harder, I believe we need a different approach to creative ideas.

For the purpose of this rant, I’m going to make a sweeping generalisation and split advertising into the two categories of Broadcast Ideas and Participation Ideas.

The ‘listen to me’ route

Broadcast Ideas are ones that only travel in a single direction: from the ad to the audience. There is no invitation for the audience to get involved (other than potentially going out to buy the product). This sums up the majority of advertising concepts. Admittedly some of these can go viral or become part of popular culture – but that’s usually by accident rather than on purpose. (For example the Ferrero Rocher ‘Ambassador ad and the Citroen dancing car ad.) However, even on the lucky occasions that this happens, it still doesn’t help with creating an integrated campaign.

The ‘it’s all about you’ route

Participation Ideas are the ones that encourage people to get involved. And I’m not just talking about digital here – it’s nothing new. Jingles might be out of fashion now but they were a way of getting the ad into people’s heads. I remember running around the playground singing the words to the ‘Um bungo‘ ad and the ‘Shake and Vac‘ ad. Moving beyond the embarrassment of turning your ad into a crappy song, there was the Orange Tango Man that resulted in perforated eardrums up and down the country. And regardless of what I think of them, Fallon’s Cadbury ads come from this camp. A modern cliché has been coined to describe this stuff: it’s ‘earned media rather than paid media’.

A bit of a disclaimer

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that all advertising campaigns need to be participatory. Some campaigns are just about getting a message out there. DFS will still need to simply tell people about their summer sale. Tesco will still need to get rid of their surplus stock by telling punters about their 3 for 2 offers. But if the marketing plan includes an element of digital engagement, this needs to be considered from the very start and be addressed in the initial concepts. Otherwise the campaign becomes disparate, punters get an unfocused message and the client doesn’t get value for money.

What has your experience been? Have you seen any good examples of proper integration? Or do you have any good suggestions on how to improve the situation? All opinions gratefully received.

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