Feature

The Year Ahead for ... Digital

Ajaz Ahmed says that despite an ever-changing media landscape, one constant is consumers' desire for original, engaging work.

Would it be better to raise your head above the parapet with the risk of being shot down, or be a slave to the rules and never stand out from the crowd? When it comes to creativity, rules are a prison. Fortunately, they will always be broken by artists, storytellers, innovators and entrepreneurs in search of something new.

Isn't it also true that the more you talk, the less you're heard? In the search for engaging and elegant ideas, it's about having more respect for what the audience gets out of the work - how it will inspire, satisfy, motivate and reward them - rather than bombarding people with messages they can ignore or functionality that's irrelevant.

Shaping an attitude and moving people towards action has always had far more to do with emotion than function. Data and knowledge have their place but are never enough when it comes to innovation. A deep insight into human nature, uncluttered by conventional thinking so as to break the mould, is possibly the rarest gift and greatest advantage a creative person can have. In the art of persuasion, nothing is more powerful than an understanding of what instincts dominate a person's actions and what compulsions drive them so that the work leaps out and commands attention.

To open eyes, ears and hearts, nothing stirs people more than love or courage or excitement and what is new and fresh. However modern the media, it will take the timeless principles of passion, courage and care to create something that's never been seen before.

Agencies should help brands discover their inspirational truths and provide a vision of what they could be. Audiences will ultimately decide how they feel about a brand by evaluating all its messages. Agencies should help a brand establish a personality to convey a consistent behaviour in everything it does, so the story can be told and amplified in an authentic, unique voice.

Telling stories on behalf of brands is only going to get more interesting, exciting and amazing as emerging platforms and technologies make new ideas possible. The digital age has created a level playing field that permits good agencies to orchestrate a brand's messages in all media. This provides an incredible canvas for creative minds.

With the expectation, too, for greater transparency, there's a new awareness and recognition of the obligation that everything a brand does needs to be done intelligently and truthfully. That's ultimately how a person is going to evaluate the organisations they want to do business with.

Agencies should work only for organisations they are passionate about to produce ideas they truly believe in. With this sense of partnership, there may even be a transition in the remuneration model so it's based on the agency's creativity, talent, ideas, storytelling ability and contribution rather than just the number of hours worked.

For agencies not to be eclipsed and stay relevant, they must broaden their scope, especially in the people hired, so they attract talent that is passionate, curious, inventive and cares about ideas, regardless of where they come from. Agencies need also to expand their frames of reference to include all the media that is important to today's audiences so the work resonates, is culture-creating and genre-defining rather than fashion-following.

Agencies should embrace the responsibility of ensuring the business is relevant, ethical, likeable and interesting to young people as the new generation's focus becomes less on status and more on sustainability.

To create the ideal conditions for the imagination to thrive, prosper and reach the new frontier, problems should be approached without preconceived ideas and sentiments.

There should be more focus on what ingredients will successfully produce the creative climate where fresh ideas can be conceived, nurtured and grown. For the creative team, it's about getting up every day with the passion to do something mind-blowing. Coming in early and staying late. Sweating the details. Not compromising quality.

We now have audiences that have been raised with so much media and technology in their lives that they know how to filter and manage it. At the same time, the media itself is becoming more intelligent at curating content and services that might be of interest. Audiences are far more discretionary because they have the ability to edit what media they spend time with.

There have been some amazing changes because of technology and one of the most profound is that it has never been easier for someone to scan past work that's been created for the lowest common denominator. There will be new platforms and new devices and the media landscape will evolve, but one lasting truth is that people only have short attention spans when they're bored. The challenge for an agency's creative team is to make the work more engaging and more interesting so it makes a connection.

Ugliness and bad design are forms of visual pollution. For brands, it is life-threatening. The creative teams that lead will be defined by work that is beautiful, accessible, honest, simple and enjoyable to bring about a positive reaction.

Great agencies have always helped clients to solve business problems. It is the agency's responsibility to harness and focus talent to unlock new opportunities with momentum and enthusiasm.

Work that makes people pay attention, react emotionally, stimulates their curiosity and rewards their intelligence will have the greatest engagement. Everything a brand does should be about the audience wanting to applaud it, rather than stumbling across or seeking something more interesting.

An agency is ultimately judged on the body of its work, the quality of its ideas, the excellence of its product and the contribution it makes. It must also work at creating and sustaining a culture of invention and seeking out what's next.

The debate is no longer about traditional versus digital; it is about which agencies are going to participate in, and lead, the next creative revolution.

Ajaz Ahmed is the founder and chairman of AKQA.

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