I’m not a traditionalist. But let’s face it — digital didn’t revolutionize ads the way we all expected. At the onset of the digital age, industry thinking was that banners would create a totally transactional marketplace in which consumers would click on an ad and watch a brand video, and even shop for products. Advertising was dead.
When was the last time anyone rolled over an ad to look at this stuff, let alone buy anything? Most people consider banners annoying or superfluous. And what happened to all those microsites? Those highly acclaimed digital destinations where consumers could play games, win trips to Disneyland, and immerse themselves in the culture of Lysol and Tide and other incredibly fascinating products?
Back in 2008, as digital started to go mainstream, I was an ECD of the digital division at an agency. We were creating online video ads, seven-second downloadable pre-pre-roll, you could call them. We raised banners and leaderboards connected to big boxes, you name it. Technology was a canvas not an idea. And everyone was a fan. Then one day a new general manager came in and said "I want you to know, we’re never shooting video for digital ever again. Video is not the future of digital." Three years later Cisco’s VP of Marketing David Hsieh predicted that by 2014, 90% of all Internet traffic would be video.
Eight years ago, when digital became white hot, advertising surrendered the future to technologists. Marketers were mesmerized by technology. Digital advocates told brands: "You have to think differently. What we’re doing is new. We will adapt and reinterpret the creative as we move into these new channels." I used to tell my clients this all the time, because it was my mandate to make my department profitable. I would tell them that their big idea was all well and good, but it needed to take on a different life in digital. "The consumer is giving you permission to talk to them," I’d tell them. "You must adapt, go granular, change your voice to accommodate the many demands being made on the brand."
Have you noticed, affirmative "permission" hardly exists anymore? It’s a negative. You can "skip video in 3 seconds." Consumers have been saying "No." Not "Yes." And the industry has responded by pulling back permission. By streaming video that cannot be skipped, content that is once again engaging to watch.
Clearly, the pendulum is swinging back to interruption. We’re back on board with the 30-second (or longer) spot leaping in front of our eyeballs, invited and uninvited. Increased bandwidth is providing the platform for a resurgence of a new era of creativity in advertising, not unlike what happened during the golden age of TV, when Bill Bernbach and other top creatives exploited the maturing medium with simple clear ideas and dominated the industry.
Now that we have close to full penetration of broadband, your phone is a thousand times more powerful than your computer was in 1989. You can download and stream content now, and you can push it out anytime you want. Content is film. Long-form advertising. We’re doing TV spots online, only bigger, two minutes, five minutes. And the best speak to a bigger idea, a simple truth that is inextricably connected to the brand.
And who knows how to do this stuff best? Creatives who have been doing it forever. The people everybody fired back in 2008. The industry basically dumped an entire class of professionals who can think for a living, write scripts, come up with big ideas, create a voice for a brand. An executive layer of people who knew how to create a brand story and pass that genius on down to a new generation was removed. But they’re still out there. They’ve just gone freelance. Hundreds of them, and they’re coming back.
In the words of Lee Clow, "People don’t hate advertising; they hate bad advertising." Just listen to the perennial buzz around Super Bowl ads if you need proof. You still have to give people something they want to watch. And if you can’t do that, if you can’t give them something interesting, a big idea that will catch someone’s attention and keep their attention, you’ve lost.
Yes, interruption is the new black. So let’s stop offering a "no" and give the consumer a "yes." Let’s get on with it. Last year at Cannes, Jeff Goodby said we used to do things that made brands famous, we changed culture and people would talk about it. Guess what? We’re back, we’re doing it again. Video is the future of digital.
Philip Khosid is the Chief Creative Officer and Partner of Battery.