Tuesday, October 2, 2018

How The Internet Is Diminishing Good Creative Work

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the diminishment of the ad agency creative department.  I received an email from a reader who made a great comment about something I neglected.  The comment, to paraphrase, was that analytics and social media are a profound effect on all creative work.  Because of digital, advertisers are only interested in accurately pinpointing the target audience and the message no longer matters.  This problem has significantly contributed to a decline in creativity in all media.

The writer was totally correct.

The best example is banners.  Banner ads show up on every computer and mostly go ignored.  Most banners are neither compelling nor interesting and, more or less, simply flash the brand name in order to remind the reader about a brand or product.  Often, the algorithms follow your habits and chose brands, companies or categories that have previously been looked up on either the hand-held or laptop and flash their banners.  These banners are rarely of interest and are almost never persuasive.  They are merely a targeted message that rarely leaves a positive impression, if it leaves any impression at all.  Personally, I doubt that they ever sell anything. I honestly believe that some companies do banner ads because other companies or their competitors do them.  But in these messages, the creative is immaterial and not compelling or persuasive; in fact, it is non-existent.  All the advertiser is looking for, I suspect, is name recognition – the message rarely matters.

Most banners do nothing for branding.

The internet has fractionated creative, often putting different messages in different media. Web sites have little to do with commercials, which have little to do with other brand messages. This breaks the first rule of selling and communications – consistency of message. The best advertising and creative has always been that which establishes a tone of voice for the brand and a singular message.  When that tone is missing or changes, the communication goes “off message”.  

As every advertising person knows, one of the biggest problems in the business is the separation of its various elements into different departments or even different agencies.  Media is separated from creative, digital executions and web development may be created by unaffiliated agencies.  I suspect that this is the principal reason why both clients and agencies are trying to find ways of ending these silos is to keep the messages unified.  To keep advertising messages cohesive requires that someone be in charge, generally one person.  Some of the most successful brands and campaigns are controlled by one creative lead who is able to unify the silos, which is a difficult task, to say the least.  The entire industry has been wrestling with ending the silos so that they can unify the message. It takes one strong executive to oversee and unify the chaos.

A great example of someone having the brand vision is Michel Roux.  Michel Roux was president of Carrilon Importers and the creative genius responsible for Absolut Vodka. He was in charge of every execution portraying the brand and made sure that they correctly communicated the brand vision.  He hired TBWA to execute the iconic advertising for Absolut that ran for over twenty years.  As Richard Lewis, who ran the brand at the agency told me, “Michel was a genius, he could look at two proposed executions and know immediately which was right and which was off message, despite both looking similar. And he intuitively understood how Absolut should be portrayed in each medium.  Absolut Vodka was never the same after Michel Roux was no longer involved with the brand.

There are many, many examples of advertising people like that, many from the agency – from David Ogilvy, to Mary Wells to Bill Bernbach.  But because, as I previously wrote, there are few (if any) creative stars these days, there are hardly any who have become brand masters (not my term, but one written about by the Harvard Business Review years ago).  Unfortunately, because many companies use different agencies to do strategy, creative, digital, etc., the people responsible for overseeing and unifying these executions are generally corporate brand people who rarely have the abilities, knowledge or insights of people like Michel Roux. And the top of the approval pyramid is a person who often lacks the creative knowledge or vision to unify the brand and keep all messages on target.    
Unfortunately, many clients place efficiency ahead of the brand message. Data may identify the target in terms of demographics and viewing and online habits, but it does not really identify the message necessary to reach those buyers. As a result, we have a generation of creatives who only know how to execute in one medium and do not understand the connection among the various media. Too often, purely digital people don’t understand broadcast and the general creative people have no interest in digital.

Not long ago a well-known digital art director told me he didn’t care about television, because that medium is dying.  This attitude does not bode well for the business.  


  1. I think you have identified "cause of death" for the type of advertising that we all once knew and loved. It was the reason we went into the business. I think it is the reason why I do not recommend advertising to the sons and daughters of our peers. Unless they are interested in analyzing reams of data, monitoring CTR, following some poor unsuspecting target wherever they go on the internet, and paying Google/Facebook/YouTube etc even more money to have people ignore their vapid ads. Branding, which acts as the spark to get you to the website in the first place, is becoming a lost art, never to be seen again. "Its too expensive", "its too hard to do well", "I don't know how many customers branding brings in", is what we hear today. Only a few marketers truly understand the need to do both offline and online.

    1. Thanks,Orson. Well said. I fully agree.

    2. Paul - My wife has never been good at the complexities of math, but she sure can cook!


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