NEW MEDIA: SPOTLIGHT ON YAHOO!'S DIGITAL ART WORKS CONFERENCE - Porn meets pop as advertising's great and good meet to map the digital future

By Philip Smith, the editor of Revolution magazine, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 30 May 2003 12:00AM

Where's digital advertising going and just how relevant is porn? Philip Smith writes.

Creative is too important to be left to the creatives. That may be one of the bravest ways to finish an address to a room of creatives from both sides of the digital agency divide, but Wunderman's executive vice-president, David Butter, clearly wanted to leave an impression on his audience.

And that was no mean feat as Butter was part of a diverse and multi-talented line-up including: Sir Bob Geldof; the musician and Eurythmic Dave Stewart; Bartle Bogle Hegarty's chairman, John Hegarty; BMW's international communication and planning manager, Claudia Mueller, and DDB Worldwide's chairman, Keith Reinhard. All were brought together last week by the internet portal Yahoo! for its Digital Art Works conference, held in association with Campaign, at Notting Hill's Electric Cinema. They talked to an invited audience of agency chiefs and senior creative figures about the role of digital media in advertising.

The result was an afternoon that mixed bold proclamations, crystal-ball gazing, digital celebrity porn and not a few thoughts on the future of technology and advertising.

It was not a time for timid statements. Certainly, listening to Geldof, the ex-Boomtown Rat, Live Aid organiser and Planet 24 chairman, the time to grasp the digital nettle is now.

Although Geldof conjured up the worldwide spectre of bedroom-based, PC-obsessed teenagers, he does not see them as idle spammers or hackers.

Instead, he said, they should be seen as a hotbed of innovation, "logging on to their wank sites" preparing to "wreak havoc in the blue-cathode glow".

He posed a simple question and answered it with a challenge: "Are they breaking the mould or just fucking about? They don't know it yet but one of them is a young spotty Maurice Saatchi, the other a small, tubby Martin Sorrell. If I was you, I'd be checking them out."

Together, the afternoon of schmoozing, talk and, bizarrely, an onstage costume change (from the only investment banker on show, Anthony Fry, the global managing director of Credit Suisse) became a call to action to get the worlds of advertising, creativity and digital to work more effectively together.

So Geldof, naturally, did not pull his punches. Or his language. In fact, the obscenity count hit unprecedented levels but contrasted wonderfully with an earlier masterpiece of understatement from Jeremy Bullmore, the WPP director and Campaign columnist. He managed to spend 20 minutes on stage and mention the phrase "new media" only twice. He detailed the rise of television in the 50s and 60s as an advertising medium, the fall of creative silos and the notion that separate departments and separate agencies are the only way to deal with new-media developments as "integration became the future". And, of course, the present. And, as he talked, he said more about the relationship between digital media and advertising than many could in a week.

If anything, Hegarty's message was even subtler. As the he waxed lyrical about the one missing word in most marketing texts, "taste", and its importance to brands and advertising, he seemed to say that such values were as important to digital brands and digital marketing.

Another message that came loud and clear from the stage, however, was that this was not all about the future. Some great work has and is being done on the web and Reinhard showed how Budweiser's "whassup?" work thrived on the web and through viral activity.

Steve Vranakis, the integrated creative director at Vallance Carruthers Coleman Priest, guided the audience through the minefield of ad formats now available online, from page takeovers (which hijack a web page and its content) to Overlayz (where creative simply hovers over the page), with examples from Sony Ericsson, Ford and Coca-Cola.

As the chairman and co-founder of AKQA, Ajaz Ahmed was justifiably proud of the work his agency did for Nike's Run London campaign, in particular.

Within 48 hours of launching its site for the event, 20,000 registrations were recorded. And he gave one small, but crucial, insight into AKQA's web creativity: "We won't retrofit television and print ads on to the web. It's like pulling a page out of a newspaper with your print ad on and putting it in an envelope and saying it is your direct mail campaign. It doesn't work."

BMW's attention-grabbing work at BMWfilms.com does work. It commissioned a group of A-list directors (including Tony Scott and John Woo) with some B-list actors (Clive Owen, Gary Oldman and James Brown) to make eight films that were initially launched on the web. Mueller explained that the films' use of a digital route brought the brand to a younger audience. She admitted that to watch a ten-minute film demands more from the audience than to simply click on a banner ad, but that it helps if you have a multi-million-pound budget.

Her comments highlighted the web's great strength as a distribution channel, but you don't need a budget as big as BMW's to take advantage of its efficiencies. As Yahoo!'s managing director for UK and Ireland, Fru Hazlitt, explained, the message behind Digital Art Works was simple. Yahoo! sees technology and its uses as its domain - but the creative agencies in the audience and their ideas are key to making that work, she said.

"Their job is about the creative. Ours is about the technology and what it can do for them. The core message is that there are lots and lots of examples of people doing this really well but it is too restricted. We want to get people saying 'I wish I had done that' and in doing so raise the bar."

If such a diverse set of speakers could reach another consensus, it was that we are inexorably heading into a digital future. But they took different views on the potential impact of digital.

Geldof clearly has morality and the evolution of society on his mind.

John Hegarty sees digital as simply another medium, that must obey the rules of successful marketing. Stewart, who spent an exhilarating 20 minutes showing the audience the contents of his laptop, clearly relishes the freedom that it can give a musician who is tired of the single, album, tour, single, album, tour treadmill. Judging by the bizarre, X-rated spoof of digital porn he appalled and delighted the audience with, Stewart might relish that freedom just a bit too much.

But variety is a sign of both digital's dilemma and its opportunity. Brands and business are seeing results from using the web and, more recently, mobile technology. The tools are there but not all will be appropriate for every campaign or brand. Yahoo!, of course, hopes to be a guide. But the advertising industry could be affected in another way. If Geldof and Butter are both right, and the Sorrells and the Saatchis of the future will be inspired by technology as much as advertising, then there is an even bigger reason why this brave, and not so new, digital world cannot be ignored.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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