Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Geek Shall Inherit The Earth

This past Monday I was invited to a cocktail reception for the new Brandcenter at Virginia Commonwealth University. The VCU Brandcenter, until recently called the VCU Adcenter, is a graduate program in marketing communications. What makes the program unique is its approach. It has structured its curricula to reflect a marketing communication vision that ad agencies have been paying lip service to forever, but never really accomplishing - organically integrating the business and strategy bits with the creative and interactive bits. Led by ex-Ogilvy Chief Creative Officer Rick Boyko, the program plans on expanding its online/digital focus by adding a full-fledged interactive track in the fall semester.

In a conversation with a recent graduate of the program though, I got the sense that her job search in New York was turning out be a rude awakening. Because despite the fact that most of the advertising behemoths have interactive capabilities, these are generally balkanized organizations with no real seat at the grown-ups table.

It's been a little over a decade that agencies have been trying to figure this out. In all of the time since then, despite the multiple iterations of organization charts, agencies have never quite figured out the integration. Most likely because the people at the top still see interactive as banner ads, websites, and unequal to "legitimate" advertising.

Perhaps nothing articulates this as clearly as Allen Rosenshine's acceptance remarks at his Advertising Hall of Fame induction. This Chairman Emeritus of BBDO who has been called one of the 100 most influential people of 20th century advertising said, "Beware those who would have us believe that advertising has become irrelevant. It always was, and always will be, as relevant as we make it. The geeks will not destroy us. Only we can do that." In an interview with Ad Age's Rance Crain, Rosenshine added: "The internet becomes and is a brilliant resource for information. It isn't branding because it doesn't have the capacity to deliver the emotional content of branding."

Hmmmm. I don't know how much time Mr. Rosenshine has spent on the Internet in the the past ten years, but cumulatively, consumers have been spending hours online with compelling creative executions from brands like Audi, Dove, and Toyota, to name a few. So, if he really wants to go head to head, here's the choice for brands: create a rich, interactive, online experience that clearly articulates your brand, gives users value in the form of content or entertainment, and allows them to interact and engage in a dialog with you and with each other; or broadcast a :30 spot that most likely will be Tivo-ed out of the programming. Want to think about it?

In a piece about the Brandcenter in Creativity Magazine this past January, editor Teressa Iezzi quoted TBWA's Lee Clow: “Brands today cannot be sustained by what in the past has been called advertising…everything a brand does that connects to the consumer is media, is brand communication. If orchestrating the art of all those media conversations isn’t advertising, then perhaps the creativity of what we’ll do in the future needs a new name.”

Bravo, Brandcenter and lookout Madison Avenue, here come the geeks.

advertising, Allen Rosenshine,BBDO, Creativity Magazine,Interactive Technology, Lee Clow, marketing, Rick Boyko, TBWA, VCU Brandcenter


paul isakson said...

Great post, Linda.

Here's another example of what you've mentioned regarding using the digital space to reinforce your brand image -

It's quite simple really - it puts you in a scene from one of their TV commercials more or less and lets you play around a little instead of just watching it.

Anyway. Love the quotes here and how you've shown the divide within the industry.

Paula said...

Ditto Paul.

The advertisers are looking at being minimalized -- it's an 'either, or' viewpoint.

As with all optimized's a matter of both. Finding the appropriate middle will be rife with struggles. The dissonance is a sign of progress (silence is not golden -- but neither are earpiercing decibles).

Being in denial won't put them at the table. As always, it's about conversations. If you don't come to the table, you will be minimized.

elizabeth said...

Thanks Linda - for attending the VCU Brandcenter event, for introducing Phoebe to Rick, and for your insightful post. I've watched the Brandcenter evolve over the past 10 years, from turning out excellent advertising professionals to graduating holistic thinkers. And with the new track in creative technology, the school will be delivering strategic communications professionals who will have the skills to make things. Now if only the rest of the advertising business could keep pace!

Don Matterhorn said...

yes. i think that the new name of advertising can be LOVERTISING. Here's one example of creative sharing: