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
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
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
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,'
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.'