NEW MEDIA: DESIGN AND CREATIVE - The creative challenge. New-media technology is often blamed for inhibiting creativity in online advertising. But is the real problem a lack of new-media creatives who understand brands?

Since the arrival of the internet and other forms of new media, technology and creativity have been thrust together. They have not always been comfortable companions, as the desire to create new and exciting work in digital media has often been constrained by technology.

While traditional creatives are associated with discussions of big-brand ideas and location shoots, their counterparts in the online world are tied up in debates over file sizes and download time.

It is these rules that, to some degree, control the kind of creativity that can be achieved online, but there are deeper implications.

The topic of download times has long been an obstacle to producing more interesting online work. In theory, everything has to be backwardly compatible and work with the PC that sits on the desk of the average online consumer.

If it starts to take too long, if the egg-timer that indicates a web page is loading just hangs there, then people will move on. As a client, Andy Warren, a director of the community website Smartgroups.com, is well aware of the problems.

'On one side, we want our online advertising to be as interesting as the technology allows, but we are also aware that it can be annoying,' he says.

Technology, however, is not a major inhibitor of creativity online, but the skills people have are.

Even the simplest form of online advertising - the gif banner - has yet to be exploited fully, Steve Vranakis, the interactive creative manager at WCRS, argues. 'The gif banner is the simplest advertising available and yet almost no-one has managed to exploit its full creative potential. New-media creatives often hide behind technology. A lack of traditional advertising technique is what inhibits creativity,' he says.

His point is echoed by Hugo Drayton, the managing director of Hollinger Digital New Media, who says that the pace of technological change exacerbates the problem. 'Not enough creatives, especially those with good offline experience, have understood and exploited the opportunities of digital media. There has been a tendency either towards conservatism, or its polar opposite, over-complication and 'wacky' treatments,' he adds.

The lack of traditional advertising techniques and the dearth of those with offline experience working in new media are common complaints about new-media creativity. Some are not even sure if those working online even qualify for the term 'creative'.

Marcus Vinton, the creative director and head of interactive communications at Ogilvy London, says that when it comes to creativity online, it is often little more than a case of implementation.

'The disciplines are so different. Traditional work is about ideas and brand-building. Online creativity is a misnomer,' he says. 'There is a lack of brand-building skills. Implementation is expressed through great production. Yes, there are high sets of skills but they lack the bigger creative tools that allow traditional creative teams to come up with an idea of a beer commercial to create a brand property, character and tone.'

Where creative ideas in traditional advertising have developed over many years, where they have been honed and improved upon, the online world has, in comparison, grown up overnight. And the people working in the industry do not have any-thing like the experience or background working with brands as their traditional counterparts.

There is, without question, a definite air of superiority among traditional creatives and it is impossible to avoid. Vranakis says: 'Why should someone creating 60-second cinema spots want to work within a 468x60 pixel banner space. Let's face it, right now it is just not as interesting.'

To date, very few traditional creatives have made the leap to new media, and it is the lack of people with the right skills that has stopped online creativity making the jump to the next level.

This is not to say that there is no ground-breaking work on the web.

There is, but there is not very much of it. Levi-Strauss has picked up many plaudits for its online work over the years. Earlier this year it won again, taking best use of new media at the Revolution Awards.

The work by the new-media agency Lateral took the successful Flat Eric TV campaign on to the web. Flat Eric graphic 'overts' would skateboard across web pages, seemingly disassociated from the pages he was appearing on.

It managed to avoid the ever-dull banner and the just as dull and annoying superstitial and inter-stitial ads. Jon Bains, a director of Lateral, comments: 'Offline creative solutions are going to present great opportunities for the future.'

His thoughts are shared by Alun Howell, the creative director at Ogilvy, who has a great deal of experience in working with digital brands. He points to last year's American football Superbowl event as one of the most ground-breaking in terms of creativity for the web.

'Victoria's Secret ran a commercial during the Superbowl to tell people that there was an underwear fashion show being broadcast live on its website. People immediately turned to their PCs.'

The story received plenty of coverage and was one of the first examples of an online advertising campaign receiving press coverage. The fashion show was another kind of ad - an online event - and a new way of drawing people to the Victoria's Secret website.

Those kind of events, however, are few and far between. Vinton at Ogilvy believes that the coming of broadband will change attitudes to digital creativity. 'By that time creative departments will embrace digital technology, when the opportunities are not about banner ads, but about short films - 'entermercials' - created by advertisers. That will change the game.'





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