Why we need to use tech to amplify human ambition – rather than turn it off


Stop me if you are still in helplessly in love with the culture and practices of 80s adland, but there’s an inherent decadence in the agency sector these days, as technology surges on and humans lag behind. And it’s not helping anyone.

You can see it on the media side, where so many seem to switch on the tech and go to lunch, not worrying about the detail, because it’s all clever stuff and if it doesn’t get the job done, the offline media probably will. That’s the seductive peril of lazy media: technology has become more accessible, more connectable and spread across more media channels than ever before, and the reaction of many is simply to sit back and let it run on autopilot.

You can see it on the creative side too, where much of the ad world’s most expensive talents sit around writing big telly ads that hardly anyone is going to notice. Whilst ignoring the creative opportunities of many formats with just as much – maybe more – potential – the banners, the specific copy, the data-driven creative and formats – because it’s all a bit “downstream”.

Media has changed, and so has the creative it requires, but the industry isn’t changing fast enough to capitalise. Tools and automation should amplify human ambition, not replace it. Technology should make us sit forward, not back, bringing us closer to our audiences and the market, enabling us to think faster and move faster to help our businesses compete.

If they’re going to compete, of course brands must select, connect and manage their data and technology to surface insights, execute against them and measure the result. But we believe that ultimately, it’s still human ingenuity that provides the real sustainable advantage. And too much of that ingenuity is rising to the wrong challenges and fighting the wrong fights.

At a recent conference there was a particular lamentation about ‘the death of the billboard’. Meanwhile, someone said ‘my son makes about 20 memes a day, and at least ten of them have more of an impact than most of your billboard creative.’ There is plenty of creativity outside the great creative shops, and it is fast, furious and knows its market.

There will always be a need for the kind of creative that requires a longer gestation period. Bigger ideas do take time to percolate through. But a fast world needs fast creative too. And if you’re missing that, then you’re missing a large opportunity and probably a lot of your audience, too.

Smart clients have for years been trying to get their creative and media agencies to work more closely together. But they need more than that – they need a creative message that’s built for the different media opportunities and how that media is being targeted.

As long as creative teams are removed from the wider media landscape, with its technology, its targeting capabilities and its rich market insights, they will fail to do their job right. Creative that is developed without a granular knowledge of the media targeting options is doing half the job, at best. At worst, they will completely miss the point.

The more native the creative, the better it works. The more your Snapchat work looks like great Snapchat content, the better it will perform. Your telly ad squished into that, or a skyscraper banner format, on the whole, probably won’t

Perhaps the answer is to follow the example of John Caples, a naval engineer turned creative who now lends his name to some prestigious awards. At BBDO from the late-1920s, he pioneered ad-testing, constantly measuring creative against its results. Tweaking, tinkering, combining. But continually sensitive to the place in which the ad appears, obsessed by the results, and forensic about which aspects worked, what didn’t and why.

Perhaps the answer in this tech-rich age is to get some really old-school ambition.

– by Dan Thwaites

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