More NewsQuestions for Attik’s VP of Interactive Media

Questions for Attik's VP of Interactive Media

Justin Smith talks with ClickZ about the ever-higher bar for rich brand experiences and what it takes to please a Fortune 500 client on an 'edgy' campaign.

Ad agency Attik is known for its highly interactive marketing campaigns on behalf of very large clients. This month, Attik launched, a virtual world promoting Toyota’s Scion xB car to a younger and savvier audience. Justin Smith, vice president of interactive media for Attik, joined the agency from CQG, a financial service industry software/data company where he was senior VP of user experience. At Attik he set about creating a “cultural process” within the company to merge artists, writers and software engineers.

Recently, ClickZ sat down with him to discuss the interactive marketing landscape, what kind of team one needs to mount a successful interactive campaign and what he experienced working with a Fortune 500 client on an “edgy” campaign.

Q. What do you see as the biggest changes coming for interactive marketing?

A. Attik as an agency would be considered a non-traditional, hybrid agency. Where we’re going, and the industry [is going], is carving out this new space that’s not quite design firm and not quite advertising agency. It’s understanding how all these various media influence each other and taking that brand communication and out-mixing the competition radically.

Q. What challenges has that created?

A. You can’t just say ‘okay we’re going to be on the Web now; we’re going to do interactive work.’ In the same way, you can’t say ‘we’re a bunch of technology guys and we’re going to do world class design.’ Whatever you’re doing has to draw from an authentic place in the culture or else it won’t work.

The big learning is that marketing through interactive experiences is really different than doing print or traditional media type stuff, as we go more into the Web 2.0 frame and the influence of sites like or the way that Burger King did it’s gaming thing. As everything converges around super compelling broadband experiences, the technical [hurdles] to have something that sticks and resonates with customers who have seen everything now and many of whom are more expert than a lot of the marketing people around — you just have to be that much better. There is some point where marketing has to engage in building up this technology… Software development is a pain point for a lot of people.

Q. What advice can you share about working with large clients?

A. To have the courage to stand up for what you think are the good ideas. Large corporations especially, regardless of what they say, are going to trend towards being conservative about how the message ultimately gets realized. But at the same time, they come to a agency like Attik or others and say, “You guys are making really edgy content, and you know how to reach our audience.” And you engage with them and create some concepts. Then the first time those things get run through legal or whoever is in charge of marketing, they sort of puke on it.

So it’s forming a relationship with your client so that they trust you enough to believe that it’s the right thing to do and to make it feel like it’s not a risk.

Q. What other roadblocks have you seen working with large clients?

A. The struggle for marketers and creative agencies is understanding and defining a process that enables you to deliver the project. That’s a huge issue. Understanding how to route your approvals and get them done upfront before they have an impact on the project, involving the internal technology teams and getting them invested in the project so the wheels are greased further down the road. If there are issues around legal in terms of social media, you need to know about that up front so your creative can accommodate it if they are not movable.

Q. What do you consider Attik’s best tools for creating campaigns?

A. The best tool that we have is good ideas. Having really good creative and then coming up with that hook for the campaign and the best way to tell the story: That is currently and will always be the best solution.

In terms of technology, there are two things happening in marketing right now under the banner of Web 2.0. There is the emergence of AJAX, creating rich Internet applications that work in a browser without a plug-in and enable all the social media aspects that we’re talking about. Whether it’s inherent in that architecture of participation and allowing the creation of content, it’s going to get more important.

The second thing which appears to me to be equally significant, is the emergence of Flex as a technology platform. It’s a Web framework built by Adobe, and for lack of a better term, it’s a software development environment for Flash. Flash is really great and almost universally accepted on browsers. But when you start talking about developing a large Web experience in Flash, that’s when the idea breaks down, both as a software development process and also as a manageable piece of technology. It just doesn’t scale. It hammers the infrastructure really hard. Flex provides a framework that separates Flash from the back end and automates the processes behind it. So suddenly it’s possible to develop really big things in Flash, which provides some agencies and marketing groups much more creative freedom and ease, while reducing the pain around the back-end development.

Q. What’s your largest concern about interactive marketing’s future?

A. The thing that has to concern any agency, and us especially, is maintaining your point of view and having a context and process around that that breeds it as a culture and makes it repeatable. That’s in terms of the way our stuff looks but it’s also about the way we understand our target and how to develop for them. If we don’t get that then design becomes a commodity and there’s no way we can sustain ourselves as a business.

One of the things that differentiates Attik from most advertising agencies is that we’ve taken a lot of time to build a design culture here that is amazing. When you don’t do that you can’t have creative and quality control, and potentially the industry overall becomes diluted. That kind of disruption is something that I worry about.

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