For those unfamiliar with the nuances and evolution of the advertising business, educated primarily through the wonderful fiction of Mad Men, conventional wisdom would signal that much of the power in the ecosystem revolves around charming and dapper creative types. And for much of the history of modern advertising, that would be broadly accurate.
In advertising's early years, there were only a few channels to create for, literally and figuratively, so the media buying and planning was fairly straightforward, and executives focused on a brands budget and producing exceptional creative content to spend that budget.
For a more accurate and slightly more up-to-date picture of the role of creative directors and the advertising business, Doug Pray's Art & Copy tells a more realistic tale. Instead of Mr. Draper and Sterling, readers get Hal Riney, Lee Clow and Jeff Goodby, ruminating about the old days where you could literally buy unskippable exposure on television and thoughtful spots could demonstrably move product and inspire loyalty and curiosity.
Fast-forward to today, where consumer preference and attention extends infinitely and across multiple devices and the definition of content has been wildly expanded in new directions. While it's nothing to panic about, and it is quite possible to navigate, it does spark the need for a new type of creative department.
It's a creative team that can manufacture content in an age where news feeds, social games, Pandora, daily deals, photo sharing, on demand or time-shifted video competes with live television, magazines, movies and radio.
Therefore, we must acknowledge the innovators and entrepreneurs who create these new platforms where people now spend an increasing amount of their time: 150 million tweets a day, 32 minutes per visit and 700 billion minutes a month on Facebook, 40 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, 300 million global players of Zynga games, 200 million Daily Deal subscribers and XBOX Live and Netflix have as many subscribers as Comcast.
In this new arena, relevance is critical. These new companies and platforms, created daily throughout the world, are constantly shifting consumer attention. The trick is to understand how to harness and effectively utilize these new content environments. And just like that, the creators of these platforms and the product innovators who design user interfaces and anticipate peoples' usage habits magically become a new type of creative department.
Advertisers do not need to rely on Don Draper alone to sell you a big idea; they need Farmville to allow General Mills to sell 310 million Cascadian Farm organic blueberries as a natural part of game play. Not surprisingly, these new types of creative execution trigger vastly better brand recall and purchase intent than a traditional Cascadian Farms banner ad.
When Demand Media allows advertisers to create or sponsor query-specific custom content to accompany articles that sit on the end of long-tail organic search queries like "How to apply a smokey eye makeup," what appropriately follows is a video from L'Oreal that provides clear and helpful instruction and demonstration. When Bing wanted to get consumers using the product instead of just seeing the ad-version of it, they created a module in partnership with the Huffington Post that pulled headline data in into a Bing search box that was part of the page and reflected additional relevant video and text search results at the end of the article.
On Facebook and Twitter, when a brand wants to sample a new product, they leverage peer influence to help a brand like Starbucks give away a new coffee product, or help Ben and Jerry's sample a new ice cream flavor. Pandora allows a brand to create stations and playlists that by understanding and harvesting the actual tastes of their audiences.
Each of these examples represents the new creative paradigm. Each idea represents a new algorithm, which harnesses intent and layers on custom ingenuity, and another part anticipates and integrates an authentic and mutually beneficial way for brands to enhance content experiences.
It is a new world: Brands + Skillfully Placed Media Investments + The Right Platforms + The Right Partner + The Right Offer = Creative Success
We live in an age where channels, screens and new behaviors are complemented by the emerging companies and innovators within the mobile, social, local, data, online video and music spaces. These now become new versions of yesterday's creative departments.
In this paradigm, brands and agencies can easily become the marketing VCs helping to provide the early fuel that will allow and enable these companies to have the right tools for the future. Those who anticipate consumer behavior by looking at nascent trends, and help pick and experiment with these companies are best poised to succeed.
If the clever integration of brands into new platforms is the key to the consumer's heart, then the new creative director is a social psychologist and a programmer that can create the next paradigm. And in the end, consumers will win.
Today, more than ever, consumers have all the power. Brands that recognize and appreciate this point and find ways to reward and activate influencers with experiences that augment these new behaviors will win the hearts, minds and wallets of this savvy, time-shifted, cross-platform consumer.