Digital's creative dilemma

New-media owners may extol the virtues of digital media to advertising agencies but great creative executions are rare, Mark Sweney says. Here, four digital specialists show how they broke the mould.

Traditional advertising agencies have long held the view that the term "new-media creativity" is an oxymoron. It has been the industry's view that new media is a second-class citizen, a one-dimensional medium not worthy of "real" creatives' time and effort.

But the times they are a changin'. New media is growing up fast - both in terms of creative standards and client expenditure - and is demanding a serious second look.

It is the fastest-growing marketing sector, according to the IPA Bellwether report, and, as each year passes, clients are diverting increasing amounts of budget to online. New media has already passed cinema in overall value.

The revival has come with a push to demystify a medium that has risen on the back of technology.

"We shot ourselves in the foot - no-one in traditional media understood the terminology and there was too much separation of specialists and traditional. We need to bridge that," Fru Hazlitt, the managing director of Yahoo! UK & Ireland, says.

Jon Williams, the interactive creative director at Publicis Dialog, the advertising agency's below-the-line division, is well placed to comment on the mindset of above-the-line creatives. Dialog has managed to produce one of the few digital creative campaigns - its interactive television campaign for the homelessness charity The Depaul Trust - that has achieved recognition in above-the-line awards.

"The only thing that will change people's view of the internet is delivery of great creative. The internet has commoditised creative product and there needs to be a re-introduction of traditional creative views. A lot of digital creative is lazy and produced by people not classically trained in advertising communications. There is a need to get back to the purity of the message," he argues.

This requirement has been recognised by the big new-media owners - Yahoo!, MSN and AOL, in particular.

Both Yahoo! and AOL have recently appointed agencies - Maher Bird Associates and cdp-travissully respectively - specifically to extol the virtues of online to creative agencies.

"In the past six months, we have engaged creative agencies directly, something we haven't been good at in the past," Michael Moore, the vice-president of interactive marketing for Europe at AOL, says. "It isn't a media planning and buying question: planning and strategy is often up to 12 months in advance of launch and that is where we are trying to get."

Hazlitt has described media agencies as a "vital target". Last year, Yahoo! undertook a radical revamp of its website - after consultation with agencies and advertisers - to offer more premium ad formats to add a level of prestige to online ads.

Yahoo! has also run a creative conference, called Digital Art Work, targeting "creative directors, D&AD, those with names above the door, the people who have little interest to date". The one-day event used heavyweight figures, who would reach the ears of traditional creatives, including John Hegarty, Keith Reinhard, Jeremy Bullmore, Steve Vranakis and, er, Bob Geldof.

MSN targeted offline planners and buyers with a roadshow called "Let's get it on" to de-jargonise the medium. It is now also targeting creatives directly.

There are good signs that digital creativity is starting to gain recognition, Williams says. "The big organisations are taking notice: D&AD is restructuring how it awards new-media creative and Cannes is putting a lot more emphasis on ground-breaking online work."

But when it comes to innovation on the internet, traditional agencies are yet to get out of the starting blocks.

"I wish traditional agencies were closing the gap but 95 per cent of creative comes from specialists," Hazlitt laments. She does however, take an optimistic view of the year ahead. "By this time next year, if we haven't improved that percentage, I will leave," she says.

NIKE MAYFLY

When Nike's co-founder Bill Bowerman started making running shoes back in the 60s, he set an objective: "Make them light." To make the ultimate racing shoe, Nike went back to Bill's basics and made a light running shoe engineered to break records, called the Mayfly.

The challenge was to develop a concept that would resonate with competitive runners and a positioning for the shoe that would be as innovative as the product itself. The product was only to be launched online - the first time that a shoe had been launched in this way.

In research, it was found that the competitive runner endures emotional and physical hardship. Winning is everything and there is a lot riding on each race. The emotional attachment to running and the race means competitive runners keep mementos of their races, to remind them of a personal best that was broken and to provide a sense of achievement and source of inspiration.

A communications theme was therefore developed to depict the shoe as a trophy, as the embodiment of winning. The tagline for the campaign was: "Trophies are no longer made of metal." Like the shoe, the creative and content of the website did not include anything that would not aid a runner's performance. Everything about the site, which was developed in five European languages, was streamlined.

The website included shoe statistics because competitive runners want to know about the technical aspects of a running shoe. A VIP list was launched because only 2,000 pairs of Mayflys would initially be available across Europe and the shoes would be in high demand. The list allowed pre-booking.

A competition, called "Mayflys for Life", was launched. Each week for five weeks, a record-breaking time was shown and the consumer had to identify the year, distance and athlete. The winner received pairs of the shoe for life.

To add credibility, a section was added called "Sonia's Thoughts", which displayed the view of the shoes of the professional athlete Sonia O'Sullivan who tested them for Nike.

- Daniel Bonner is the creative director and Simon Jefferson is the account director for Nike at AKQA.

LYNX PULSE

When BBH and Lynx approached Dare Digital to create the digital campaign for the new Lynx Pulse fragrance, they showed us the rough cut of the TV ad in which a slightly geeky bloke starts dancing to Make Luv. He is joined by two happy-go-lucky girls and the trio's dance builds and climaxes in a three-way hug with a sexual undertone. A pretty good starting point, we thought.

The digital creative brief focused on three elements - the distinctive dot-star Lynx logo, the music and the dance. The ad had an rawness and simplicity that I felt needed to be retained. After toying with ideas involving interactive graphic equalizers and dance sequencing games, it became obvious that a gimmicky approach would create nothing more than an online "plaything", removed from the brand and the product.

The solution was to put the logo centre stage. We transformed it into a graphical, dancing dotman, who danced to the same music in identical fashion to the "Lynx man". And the girls, too, got a look-in - as hand-drawn silhouettes, reminiscent of classic James Bond title sequences.

Producing the ad involved reshooting the dance for motion-capture purposes, using five locked-off digital cameras. I stuck masking tape over the actor's key points (knees, elbows, etc) so we could trace the motion paths. It then took myself and four animators a week to painstakingly trace every frame of the three-minute routine.

The result was a striking piece of rich media that could be converted into a multitude of digital formats. It ran as a screensaver, a viral e-mail, online ad and as content on the campaign microsite.

The electronic imagery was so popular it ended up being inserted into the endframe of the TV ad, and it was also used in offline promotional activity across Europe.

- Cyrus Vantoch-Wood is the lead interactive designer of Dare Digital.

VW TOUAREG

Volkswagen has a history of building small cars, but the Touareg was its first venture into the luxury 4x4 sector. This meant a new target audience: successful 35-year-old, male 4x4 drivers earning more than £75,000 with a family.

It is important to these drivers to know their cars can cope with extreme conditions, even if the closest they will come to off road will be parking in a puddle in Maida Vale. Unlike many of its competitors, the Touareg does actually perform brilliantly on- and off-road. This dual performance is what the brief asked us to focus on.

Creatively, the most important thing for this campaign was the "big idea".

Myself and Sam Ball (the other joint creative director) spent a lot of time on the creative strategy, focusing on what would persuade and communicate the Touareg's positioning. This was the very first thing we got sorted and signed off by the client before our designers and programmers were let loose on design and interface ideas.

The big idea that this campaign revolves around is simple; it is an on/off switch, which lets the user toggle between sounds, images and video of the Touareg performing on both types of terrain. We wanted the user to feel they could control and manipulate the environment over the course of a journey, switching from on road to off-road at any time, thus dramatising the Touareg's class-leading technology to full effect.

For the campaign, we took a holistic approach comprising banners, rich media as well as a website. Each piece of communication had the same big idea running through it, reinforcing our creative strategy.

On the Volkswagen business, we were involved with the other agencies from the planning stages onwards, so our work was integrated at the strategic level. Once Volkswagen had decided the strategy for selling the Touareg, each agency went on to communicate this positioning in the most effective way for their respective media.

- Dave Bedwood is the joint creative director of Tribal DDB.

SONY ERICSSON T610

The task was to develop an online expression of the T610 campaign, launching the phone and bringing to life its imaging capabilities. We felt that there was no better way to do this than by creating an online photographic community - a place where mobile photographers from around the world could congregate and inspire each other by sharing photos they'd taken.

With that, t-six-ten.com was born - a monthly global showcase of the best in mobile phone photography.

The content of the site is mostly user-generated. Each month, a theme is given to users who then take and submit appropriate photos. The entries are then judged by an expert panel and the winner is used as the "cover" of the following month's issue. The top ten photos win a place in the t-six-ten gallery.

Once the winners have been announced, users can cast their own votes on the images.

The themes all reflect the feeling of opposites engendered by the phone's split black-and-grey design. Examples include "dark light", "small world" and "random pattern".

Each month, a celebrity "featured artist" also displays his or her own gallery of photos.

What's been particularly pleasing about this campaign is the level of participation and the standard of the photography submitted. The site has sparked the imagination of mobile phone owners everywhere - encouraging them to capture the more spontaneous side of life, thereby playing to the strengths of mobile phone photography.

I'm always interested in ideas that remain true to the particular medium for which they were created. And I think part of t-six-ten's strength is its honesty about the lo-fi quality of the photos.

To me, the ultimate key to its success is that it's a site that actually does something. It does more than simply communicate a product message.

The central element of user-generated content ensures it remains fresh and dynamic, while positioning Sony Ericsson (and the T610 in particular) as being at the heart of mobile phone usability. It also involves people in the brand - something we see as being one of the web's key strengths within the marketing mix.

- Flo Heiss is the creative director of Dare Digital.

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