Mediabistro's "Advertising: The New Creative Agency" Panel
The speakers at last night's Mediabistro event at Tribeca Cinemas expressed quite a few essential insights, even if no consensus was reached on pretty much any aspect of the discussion's broad topic: the future of advertising in a digital age.
The diverse panel covered the issue from a variety of perspectives. Among the six participants were Gayle Maltz Meyer, director of new media for the cable network Bravo; Marc Ruxin, leader of McCann Worldgroup's digital strategy practice; and Dawn Winchester, chief client services officer for R/GA, an agency specializing in online advertising. Megan McIlroy of Advertising Age was the moderator.
If you're surprised by the presence of a tv-network executive on an ad-agency insider panel, as I was, you're not familiar with the latest mutations of 21st-century marketing. At the turn of the millennium, much was made of the then-new marketing term "synergy," but that once-controversial word doesn't do justice to the turbocharged product placement that is Meyer's stock-in-trade. She routinely works with sponsors to produce new-media supplements to televised content, such as the recent Project Runway online videos showing contestants cruising around NYC in Saturns. The commercials, designed to promote both the show and the automobile-maker, are housed on the Saturn website as a lingering endorsement. As Meyer explained, in the future Bravo plans to secure sponsorship for new shows before production even begins. "Product placement will become the first conversation we have," she said.
Unlike Meyer, ad execs can't rely on the goodwill of legions of reality-tv addicts. They have to chase after fickle, fragmented online audiences that have little tolerance for conventional advertising experiences. "Shame on any agency that only brings an outbound message," said Dawn Winchester. One fairly conservative way to engage web-savvy consumers is to associate a brand with an already-popular online phenomenon, as Dr. Pepper did with the YouTube sensation "Chocolate Rain." Marc Ruxin predicted, "The agency of the future will be looking outside the creative director."
The internet has enabled advertising to change in form as well as content. Guy Wieynk (whose last name, by the way, moderator McIlroy didn't even attempt to pronounce) of web site consultancy AKQA put it plainly: "Produce video, my friend." To drive home the point, he pointed out that eBay items with a video clip sell for 30% more on average than those without. Trevor Kaufman, CEO of Schematic, called for companies to adopt "radical transparency" on the internet by giving consumers behind-the-scenes glimpses of brands. Ruxin claimed that the best "ad" of the 21st century is the Google Toolbar. "It's about good content finding an audience. That was always important, but it's twice as important now," he explained.
As marketing strategies mutate, it becomes difficult to measure success, or even to define it. "How many views on YouTube is good? How does having 1,000 friends on Facebook stimulate sales?" were questions posed to the panel by Mark Ruxin. Throughout the evening, panelists mentioned the lack of metrics for online marketing, but Guy Wieynk disagreed. "You have to keep it simple," Wieynk stated. "You can track pretty much anything, but you have to know ahead of time what you want to track."
In the final, overarching disagreement of the panel discussion, Dawn Winchester voiced an objection to the very title of the event. "'The New Creative Agency' is not what we need to be building," she said. "Creativity and media need to be brought together. Media and infrastructure are as important as creative."