Rockstar Games is among the greatest exponents of advertising in the world. Yet its registered media spend is minuscule.
It relies instead on a virtuous circle involving word of mouth, PR and uploaded film content. Its November 2011 teaser for Grand Theft Auto V (a video game that doesn’t launch until September this year) has close to 35 million views. More importantly, the film has attracted 193,235 "likes", indicating an engaged audience that many brands using paid-for media can only dream of.
This is a scenario that many less-interesting brands than Rockstar are now having to understand. And this move has massive implications for the ad agencies that have, by and large, pumped out a whole load of 30-second television commercials for their clients.
It’s clear that agencies relish this challenge but are painfully aware of the rigours of the "always-on" world. For instance, Andy Jex, a creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi, is as excited about a recent Mattessons YouTube-hosted campaign (with a relatively low budget) as he is about shooting the new EE commercials featuring Kevin Bacon.
Creatives learned that it’s no longer all about poncing around Soho selling the book to the creative director
But he also says that the kind of work where you’re sending your ideas out into the world with no set deadline and no idea of what might come back requires creatives to work in a different way.
Mark Boyd of the content agency Gravity Road (a business used, more than most, to the rigours of this new world) talked in last week’s Campaign about its Bombay Sapphire campaign: "Would anyone enter? Would anyone care?"
These concerns are new to ad agencies, used to having their shiny new spots backed by a whopping media spend that thrusts a film into people’s lives regardless of quality.
Agencies have no need to worry on the whole: they’ve been handed greater creative freedom and a free distribution system where the best ideas should swim to the top. On the other hand, creatives have had to learn that it’s no longer all about poncing around Soho selling the book to the creative director. Instead, there’s a new pain – not the one of scripts, expensive directors and the whole film process, but one of sending your idea out into the world and hoping that it has momentum.
With this in mind, is it time to break up the traditional agency creative department? Probably not, but most good agencies are experimenting with different models where required. "Expedite serendipity" is the motto of a leading US technology college and agencies would do well to embrace it. Sadly, very few are capable of living up to this goal right now. To reach it requires looser, more flexible structures and the mindset that the ad is only the beginning.