CAMPAIGN-I: Spotlight on integrated ad campaigns - Blue-chip production houses prepare for the digital future. Alasdair Reid asks whether Sleeper's signing will really aid production companies

In theory, everybody knows how important it is to take an

integrated approach when you're extending a brand's presence into the

digital world. We've all heard salutary tales about web designers who

can get their heads around just about anything except brand guardianship

and who basically think they can start again from scratch. Or, at the

other extreme, the companies who think they can get away with lamely

're-purposing' a few bits and pieces of print material or slapping an

icon on an existing commercial and calling it interactive TV.



But we all know how far apart theory and practice can be in the digital

world. Agencies, after all, have tended to treat this as a fragmented

and isolated domain. Some agency groups have several digital units (for

instance, web design, online media buying and interactive TV

specialists), none of which enjoy more than a nodding acquaintance with

the senior people at the main agency, and particularly with the people

who matter within the creative department. If media platforms are

converging, then the advertising industry has not been very good at

emulating that convergence.



Is this likely to change in the near future? Yes, if you believe Mark

Iremonger, the managing director of Sleeper, the digital production

company launched last year as a joint venture between the TV commercials

production house Blink and the digital design company Deepend. Last

week, Sleeper announced that it had signed exclusive partnership deals

with a number of traditional production outfits including Blink

(obviously), Academy, Gorgeous, HLA, Joy, Outsider, Spectre and

Stark.



The deals are designed to make it easier for ad agencies to make

integrated TV campaigns for their clients while continuing work with the

production houses and the directors they know and love.



But are we basically talking about getting a more considered approach to

digital interactive TV here? That's to say, front-end commercials that

encourage 'click on the icon' interactivity and which link through to

advertiser domains that are not only user friendly but also enhance

brand values.



Yes, all of that, Iremonger agrees. But not exclusively so. In fact, he

insists, it's important not to get hung up on individual platforms and

formats. 'We are less interested in repurposing commercials for the

digital environment than in building integrated digital campaigns from

the ground up. The changing digital landscape is creating the

opportunity to make integrated campaigns that mix traditional TV with

the web and interactive digital television. Look at the success of Big

Brother - it mixed the internet with TV in a new way to great

effect.'



But is there much demand for this sort of thing? 'Sleeper is not called

Sleeper by accident,' Iremonger responds - but he believes that the

market is evolving more rapidly than you'd think. 'Creative agencies are

doing a lot of interesting work in this area and we'll see a lot more in

the next six months. They've realised that if you are producing work for

five different platforms, it's hard to achieve any synergy when you have

different arrangements for the executions on each of them.'



Wishful thinking? Some observers point out that while Sleeper has tied

up an impressive roster of partners - and these are exclusive

agreements, remember: the production companies in question can't source

digital expertise from elsewhere - this still doesn't add up to that big

a deal. After all, it costs them relatively little to sign up to this

sort of thing at this stage.



Stephen Gash, the managing director of Stark, wouldn't quite put it that

way - but he does admit that these are early days. 'The opportunity

presented by Sleeper is for agencies to talk to a set-up that's more

knowledgeable than most. It's true there won't be many projects this

year but we take the view that it's better to be in the loop than not,'

he states.



The big test, though, is whether mainstream ad agencies go for this.



Frances Royle, the head of Television at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, says that

this move is very timely. 'I'm not sure it changes our relationship with

production companies or the digital people we use, but I think it will

be a superb education process for the production companies and some of

the directors they use, particularly the younger ones,' she explains.

'This is the right time to do this - it's exactly the sort of thing that

we're trying to push too.'



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