Why aren’t we creating great digital work?

There is a shortage of brilliant creative digital ideas in Australian advertising. Media agency bosses and publishers have recently been claiming that they have been leading the creative charge in the digital space. To a degree, sadly, they’re correct. But it is premature to say that media will be driving creative any time soon, and somewhat unfair to ask creatives to shoulder all the blame for the dearth of great work.

Media agencies have had a relatively easy transition into the digital space. For media agencies digital is a channel, it sits alongside print and radio and television as an avenue through which advertising space supplied by various content creators can be sold. Advertising agencies however, have had a harder transition into the digital space. For agencies, and specifically creatives, digital is not a channel, digital is an evolution. This distinction has been lacking in our creative thinking.

Traditionally, creatives working in the digital space got away with the channel view. This has been reinforced by media agencies, who come to advertising agencies with media plans that drive these sub-par digital ideas. This has created a loop which reinforces the creative’s view that what they are doing is effective, and that their ideas are the limit of what is possible in the medium.

Treating digital as simply another channel is not the extent of the problem. There are a few key issues holding back the great digital ideas.

The first issue is the lack of skills and knowledge that are required to create great integrated digital work. This issue lies squarely with the creatives. It’s clear digital is here to stay, and with each day it becomes a greater part of our industry.

The second issue is the lack of clients’ understanding and willingness to go with great digital ideas. This is an issue that is partly to do with budgets, and partly to do with familiarity and comfort within the digital space.

The third issue is the lack of process in integrating creative digital thinking into broader campaign ideas. This issue exists because of both a lack of understanding on behalf of the creatives, and a lack of true integration within agencies.

The fundamental idea that underpins these issues is that digital is a channel. Radio was a new channel. Television was a new channel. Digital is not a new channel, digital is a new world. It is an evolution of media that has taken with it the advertising industry. It is an evolution that, in the relatively short history of advertising, has not happened before.

The solutions to these problems aren’t going to turn traditional agencies on their head. But they do require everyone working together to achieve the most creative, most effective, and most rewarding work possible.

In terms of process, the role of digital needs to be considered at the outset for every idea within an agency. Media agencies need to be involved so that they can bring the best possible media solutions to the table. A fundamental part of the process for agencies should also be learning from their digital work, and this reporting is an area in which media agencies have a long way to go.

Media agencies won’t always have a role to play in digital ideas, some ideas simply don’t require any media. But another role media agencies can play is to actively promote the opportunities they can provide to agencies. Both media and advertising agencies also need to work closer at the initial creative stages in terms of data; how we can gather it, how we can optimise it, and what we can do with it.

Obviously creatives need to make an effort to understand the digital space. Once they have this fundamental understanding, the challenge is then to keep up to speed with it. Creatives need to understand what is possible, what’s not possible, and what role media can play. Traditionally creatives are brought up on big ideas for big awards. In the narrowcast world of digital, the big ideas are not always the most effective ones.

The worst thing anyone could do right now is start pointing fingers. Digital is the future of our industry, and it’s a future that will present some amazing opportunities, so we need to make the most of it.

- April 2008