SPOTLIGHT ON: Online Advertising - Lack of creativity is impeding the evolution of internet ads. Creative standards - or a lack of them - are under fire. Alasdair Reid reports

’The digital arena has, for too long, escaped critical comment about its lack of creativity, hiding behind the knowledge that many companies are still struggling to understand the full power and potential of the net.’ The words are those of Mike Tunnicliffe, the managing director of Western International Media, and they were delivered at the NetMedia 2000 conference last week.

’The digital arena has, for too long, escaped critical comment

about its lack of creativity, hiding behind the knowledge that many

companies are still struggling to understand the full power and

potential of the net.’ The words are those of Mike Tunnicliffe, the

managing director of Western International Media, and they were

delivered at the NetMedia 2000 conference last week.



Controversial stuff. Whatever people may think in private, this sort of

opinion is rarely expressed in public. There are one or two people in

the business who believe that the creative side of the new-media

industry has been living in something of a Hans Christian Anderson

comfort zone for the past couple of years.



It’s partly Emperor’s new clothes syndrome - no-one wants to risk being

regarded as past it. It’s also to do with a more general suspension of

disbelief - many potential critics believe it’s best to cut the online

business as much slack as possible so that it gets every chance to

succeed.



But some larger advertisers on the web are getting impatient -

especially those with a long marketing heritage. Advertisers in the fast

group in the US, led by Procter & Gamble, have long been unhappy with

the banner format and have been trying to stimulate development work on

alternatives.



Are Tunnicliffe’s comments timely? No question about it, David Bryant,

the creative director of BMP Interaction, says. Bryant has an

above-the-line advertising background and has taken to his new role with

a reformer’s zeal. He states: ’We have set up a creative department in

the same way as you’d find at an advertising agency. The problem has

always been that with banner and pop-up ads, the brief went straight

from the client to a web design company because ad agencies often didn’t

have either the time or the inclination to get involved in this

area.’



So for Bryant this is a structural issue. Ad agency groups undeniably

missed the digital boat at the first time of asking. Now they’re in a

better position to offer their clients the right advice. Which,

presumably, includes stern warnings against using design agencies.



But what about formats? Surely the industry can’t move forward until it

evolves beyond banner. Bryant can’t endorse that view - he doesn’t think

formats are the main issue. ’Banner is still the workhorse,’ he says.

’It’s still the best way of getting a bang for your buck. The potential

that video streaming will bring is incredible.’



BMP Interaction has already been exploring that potential with banners

for Sony and Compaq among others - and other agencies are similarly

reluctant to dismiss banner. Mark Cridge, the founder of Glue, comments:

’It’s true that there have always been people who’ve blamed banner for

the fact that they’re not coming up with good ideas. It’s a rigorous

medium and it makes you focus on ideas. It has constraints and

disciplines but it’s a valid medium.’



He, too, believes that the industry now needs to rethink its

priorities.



He adds: ’Our main point of difference is that we seek to ensure that

online is considered as part of an overall campaign from day one. We

have different relationships with a number of agencies (they include St

Luke’s, Mother, J. Walter Thompson and Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R)

but the earlier we are involved the better. The problem has always been

either that traditional agencies tried to put print work online or

online design agencies were trying to act like advertising agencies.

Neither approach works.’



Is it that simple? In his conference speech, Tunnicliffe implied that

there was a deeper lack of understanding and awareness among all

creatives.



He suggested that the Interactive Advertising Bureau should take a lead

role in promoting creative standards - as a matter of urgency.



Those in the audience familiar with the IAB’s work were slightly bemused

- it already runs training courses and there’s a creative working group

in the pipeline.



The IAB chairman, Danny Meadows-Klue, says there is no room for

complacency but neither is there any real call for doom and gloom. He

adds: ’If you take a considered view of this, the creative standards in

this business are excellent. The first ads only appeared on the web in

1994, remember.



’The distance it has travelled is tremendous, though we’ve only just

scratched the surface. We should be positive about creativity in this

medium. If people get frustrated it’s probably to do with the gap

between expectations and where the industry is at present.’



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