Global viewpoint from Sydney

(Photo courtesy Tatters via Flickr)
(Photo courtesy Tatters via Flickr)

The managing director of AnalogFolk in Sydney says Australian agencies need to focus on world-changing digital work

We Aussies like to believe that we punch above our weight on the world stage. Our designers, such as Marc Newson, have reached the upper echelons of their craft. Our actors, such as Geoffrey Rush, Cate Blanchett and, ahem, Jason Donovan, are among the most successful, respected and powerful people in Hollywood.

I’m not even going to mention sport. Or give Peter Andre any more airtime than he deserves.

As for ads, Australia was ranked second in The Gunn Report last year (mostly due to the most-awarded campaign of all time, "Dumb Ways to Die"). We came third the year before and, for the past decade, have been in or around the top 10.

The point is, we’re pretty proud of what we contribute to the world for a relatively small nation of 23 million.

There is one area, however, where Australia has yet to really make its mark: world-changing digital work. That isn’t to say we don’t get digital down here. "Fair Go Bro" for Virgin Mobile, "Share a Coke" and NRMA Insurance’s "Car Creation" all had digital interwoven into their being. But they were also all decidedly "advertising." They communicated messages (very well) using digital, without leaving behind a legacy of true value.

It’s also not to say that we’re not trying. The Duchenne muscular dystrophy campaign, "The Most Powerful Arm," and, more recently, the shark-detecting "Clever Buoys" for the telecom company Optus, are brilliant examples of ideas that are well on their way to actually changing the world. But we need to do more.

There is one area where Australia has yet to really make its mark: world-changing digital work.

We need more briefs that are business-first, not message-first. There is great opportunity to make a big impact down here by giving agencies real business issues to solve, as opposed to prescribing a message.

We need more talent. User experience people, planners, technologists, producers and creative types — I’m talking to you.

We need to stop siloing the creative technology. Agencies are scrambling to set up labs and incubators when really what they need to do is build technology thinking into the core of their process.

We need to focus on the long term over the short term. Too much planning (and measurement) is done quarterly or even weekly. Ideas need the space and planning to measure success over years, not months.

And we need to invest. One of the biggest challenges in Australia is scale. The investment to create great work doesn’t change, but the number of people you can reach does. Long-term thinking and bravery are needed to justify the investment in digital work.

If we can do all that, it won’t be long before Australia is known not just for exporting the likes of Ms. Blanchett and Mr. Andre (sorry), but for its digital prowess, too.

Matt Robinson is managing director of AnalogFolk Sydney.

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