Digital Essays: The digital canvas

The success of traditional advertisers, such as Audi and Stella Artois, with integrated campaigns shows there is no reason for clients to fear digital.

To tell you the truth, I am concerned. Digital marketing is booming, yet there are too many marketers and advertising agencies that still do not get it.

It is built from the same DNA as any other marketing medium. It is more flexible, cheaper and delivering outstanding results (despite accounting for only 8.4 per cent of total adspend). And creativity is still, as it always will be, the currency of choice.

I am concerned that despite this, the traditional guardians of our creative industry are just that. Traditional.

Broadband has opened up the internet, increasing the levels of interactivity and demand for heavier content and participation. Couple this with the explosion of digital outdoor, interactive TV and mobile and we have an extraordinary opportunity: a stunningly fresh mixed canvas to work on.

Few, or certainly not enough, are taking this opportunity. Remaining unclear about what digital can bring to their agencies, allowing fear of the unknown to limit the growth of our industry - one that must be ever more innovative to reach consumers.

There is an unremarkable simplicity behind the decision to use just posters, press and TV that can almost stifle creativity. For sure, they have a place in our hearts and media plans, and propositions, lines and scripts can be written in the comfortable knowledge that so long as the hours are put in, a simple, beautifully produced idea will find its way out. We understand them.

Don't get me wrong: no-one should be fired for opting to take the traditional approach. But it is no longer the brightest way to buy creative.

In our complex world of media mixes, integrated strategy and countless digital platforms, it is perfectly understandable why the old guard still plays it safe. But some are showing they can manipulate the traditional approach: Orange's recent TV campaign called for people to submit their own animations using Orange's cardboard cut-out characters. There were different themes and the movies were showcased online in a gallery with prizes for the best. The current Eurostar/The Da Vinci Code Tube cards ask people to break the code. The code (a URL) offers contests, games and other engaging content - creative, simple and consuming.

Interestingly, as our industry moves forward, refining planning, recalibrating targeting and creating sharper, more powerful communications, it actively empowers the audience to filter their consumption. Consumers are editing out messages they do not want and actively seeking ones they do. For brands to stand out, they must choose their weapons wisely. There are only a handful of agencies (and even fewer clients) who fully use the breadth of digital to their consumers' advantage, but those that do, stand out. Their ideas embrace a multitude of media, are fully integrated and introduce something that breathes life into their consumers' engagement with a brand.

Brands need to ensure their ideas are singular and engaging, and brands can struggle with that, opting for more broadcast-based, linear messages that unfortunately can easily go unheard or, worse, be rejected.

Examples of successful work in the past year, however, are the RS4 launch campaign for Audi and the "lost souls" campaign for Stella Artois. These used many new formats and were keenly targeted, offering different depths of engagement, from Bluecast content from a transvision screen to a short film seeded into the blogosphere.

Stella's "lost souls" created one of the first alternative reality games.

Launched through a niche press campaign, it drew participants into a dark world where people sold their souls for Stella Artois. Players were able to explore and interact with characters, both online and over the phone.

In doing so, not only were they exposed to Stella's "reassuringly expensive" idea, but they also played with it, debated it and shared it with their friends across gaming sites and blogs.

Audi wanted to grow brand recognition and reach new audiences with its launch of the new RS4. As part of a brand campaign based predominantly online, it commissioned Frazer Irving to create a graphic novel, which was adapted into a short film and seeded to leading film commentators and blogs. As a result, it was able to present itself to an entirely new audience. So far, it stands as one of Audi's most successful brand campaigns to date.

Others, too, have embraced similar mediums. Honda and Guinness have used blogging, while the rise to fame of the band Arctic Monkeys was based almost entirely on recommendations made online, all an indication of digital's potential.

Ultimately, what digital can do is offer a ringside seat from which you can engage. The digital market cannot be engaged as a linear platform.

With consumer behaviour increasingly revolving around digital technology (Sky+, broadband, mobile, and so on), it is critically important to find new approaches, innovation, perhaps even untested communications, many of which will not look like ads as we know them today.

Consumers dictate the future of the market, with technology paving the way. But brands are now able to react in real-time to market developments and ensure they are aware of what is at the top of the consumer agenda.

We can follow opinion-formers debating brands and products through the twists and turns of the web, recognise their impact and reach, seed content into their environments and track what works and what does not. This information and the ideas that are being created around it are having a profound impact on where clients are spending their time and money.

Digital planners, creative teams and production houses are working with truly targeted media and appropriately specific propositions. Not only are they producing great work against tighter timelines, but digital budgets are rising fast and increasingly their ideas are crossing into broadcast.

So, what are you afraid of?

- Marc Giusti is the creative director of Good Technology.

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Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).