Claire Beale: Decoding digital and a lesson from Littlewoods
A view from Claire Beale

Claire Beale: Decoding digital and a lesson from Littlewoods

Last week, I learnt how to code.

In a day. I built my own website, with a geo-location function and neat design, and emerged empowered. Apparently, lots of agencies are taking the course at Decoded, the coding training company co-founded by Steve Henry. Which means lots of ad people who were previously bemused and intimidated by the idea of digital creation are now realising that building something wonderfully cool and pretty sophisticated isn't necessarily that difficult.

What a little knowledge teaches you is that computer coding isn't a dark art that you're either born to perform or not. And if intuitive creative thinkers can learn to build digitally (or at least understand the principles), they can create digital experiences far richer, more emotive and instinctive than anything most function-focused developers can achieve. The ad industry desperately needs more of these pollinated skills.

In fact, the most perplexing thing about the Decoded course had nothing to do with HTML5, Javascript or Cascading Style Sheets. What we pupils had real difficulty with was the altruism that characterises so much high-value collateral on the web.

The reason people like me can do some pretty cool stuff online in a matter of hours is because all the hard work has already been done by super-brilliant developers who are happy to share, and simplify, years of work so that the rest of us can cut massive corners. And they do it for free. For all of us engaged in the brutal fight for revenue, such magnanimity is pretty unfathomable.

Yet it's a lesson the ad industry could learn from as it struggles to cope with its current economic and structural pressures. Just like with digital coding, the advertising industry needs to strip out some of the defensive mystique that it has built around its service. As the piece on remuneration on page 21 suggests, agencies have to be more open with clients about their processes and finances; and if clients are going to pay their agencies less, then they must commit to working more collaboratively to achieve the right results faster and more efficiently.

Mind you, the danger of greater collaboration and openness is that the people you invite in to share your expertise begin to think they can do all this stuff themselves. For several hours after my training at Decoded, I was convinced I could go off and make a whole new living in the world of HTML5. Perhaps that's what Littlewoods thought after the pitch it aborted last summer, when it decided it didn't need an ad agency after all; it could do the advertising itself.

Anyone who saw the Littlewoods Christmas campaign knows what a disastrous decision that proved to be. Now Littlewoods is looking for an agency again. Hopefully, it's got the message now that understanding how to make an ad isn't the same as being able to make a great ad. Some things really are best left to the specialists.