Building Creative That Works

Agencies are dinosaurs. While they aren’t in danger of extinction quite yet, they need, technologically speaking, to evolve rapidly.

As outlined in my last column, future creative must function on many different types of Net-enabled devices from cell phones to Sony Playstations to handheld devices and agencies must have the know-how and tools to build creative that works. However, creating content for these devices requires a major change in the way current agencies structure their creative development.

There are two basic ways agencies can build content for Net-connected devices. They can use an off-the-shelf tool from a software company such as Macromedia, or they can build the content themselves from scratch. Each approach offers its own pros and cons.

Currently available off-the-shelf rich media tools produce advertisements that run solely on Netscape and IE browsers. Tools such as Excite-@tHome’s Enliven, Macromedia’s Flash, Thinking Media’s ActiveAds, Audiobase, BlueStreak’s E*Banner, and Unicast’s Superstitial are some of the more popular programs available today.

The big advantage of these tools is that they’re relatively easy to use with minimal technical training and support. Production time and price are generally moderate but vary greatly between tools. Some have CPM fees associated with serving the formats, while others are based on a flat fee.

The downside to off-the-shelf tools is that they are creatively limiting and, in most cases, produce medium-quality ads that tend to look like other ads created with the same technology. For example, Flash allows images to be easily scaled, rotated, and panned. As a result, these effects are used so extensively that Flash ads often have the same look and feel as other Flash ads.

Using off-the-shelf tools for Net devices puts the agency at the mercy of the tool builder. Will the tool builder support new devices as they launch? The answer, in all probability, is no. In fact, it is currently impossible to use most of the tools for any device beyond Netscape and IE.

A small handful of agencies are shifting their creative development and are adding technical resources. In the past, agencies never had to manage a team of software engineers. Now, however, in order to create a cutting-edge ad for many of the Net-connected devices out there today, agencies will have to delve into the “voodoo” of Java, C++, Win32 APIs, and many other technologies routinely used by the majority of dot-com companies.

One of the pros of coding solutions “by hand” is that there are very few restrictions, if any, on the creative itself. Another big plus is that the creative can take advantage of the unique properties of the device on which it is running.

For example, a major automaker could build a 3D test drive experience for a new car launch. The ad would be written in C++ for Sega’s Dreamcast system and streamed in over the Net. This is something you couldn’t possibly do using an off-the-shelf tool. What’s more, it could have incredible ROI for direct response and staggering branding potential. Unfortunately, the downside to creating your own code is the resulting higher cost and the difficulty in finding appropriate development resources and talent.

Many agencies will opt for both solutions at once. They’ll create campaigns with a combination of prebuilt tools and custom solutions developed by either an in-house team or an outside development shop. Either way, a process must be put in place to educate clients and agency staff on the intricacies of rich media, site placement and general consumer awareness.

Hopefully, the creative for these devices, and for the current browsers we love to hate, will break new ground in terms of effectiveness and creativity. My personal fear is that because many agencies are well behind the current Internet curve, they may try to force old methodologies into new mediums.

For example, even if broadband makes a rapid penetration into consumers’ homes, many traditional agencies love the idea of pushing TV commercials into web browsers, thereby avoiding the entire interactive “headache.”

This, however, is worse than trying to turn a radio script into a 30-second TV spot. The Net is not TV, and while there will certainly be some crossover, the Net will never be TV. However, the Net and TV will both evolve, and features will be shared between the two in ways we haven’t even seen yet. And there will be exciting new forms of advertising for those devices.

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