Archive for August, 2010
For a bonafide tech-head, this New York Times article really pricked my soul: “Your Brain on Computers: Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Needed Downtime.”
I do need rest from the persistent command of machines and to be more responsive to people, nature, and real moments. With the proliferation of virtual experiences, I increasingly need more human interaction. When I take a few days off with family, I’m constantly engaged with at least two connected devices. If I’m in a meeting with one team of colleagues, I’m looking over work from other teams and projects.
Just as I’m not able to fully be with others, I’m not able to be with myself. If I’m sitting next to strangers in an airport or cafe, not only am I removed from them, I’m removed from my own thoughts and imaginative life.
I’ve always loved the rich creative space that downtime, waiting, and just being have given me, but the last decade has slowly eaten up those in-between moments that provide richer thought and feeling, more considered decisions, and fuel for discovery and inspiration. This has profound implications for those of us who require creativity in our work. Not just “creatives” but anyone (in production, strategy, media, client services, finances, and management) who requires creative problem solving – and we all do because the run-of-the-mill answers to challenging problems suck.
Modern devices are supposed to help us save time, provide mobility, and keep us connected. Instead they zap time and often leave us immobilized and disconnected. We serve machines, not the other way around.
Part of the problem is the idealization of “connectiveness.” The promise of omnipresence and omniscience through technology is at best an illusion and at worst a complete theft of the here and now. (The irony is that at the moment – four in the morning – I’m reading the New York Times article on my phone and writing this post on the same device.)
Do we need something to shield us from our own machines? Should we be encouraged to turn to e-mail, text, and Facebook not as a substitute for, but as a supplement to real interactions?
It would seem mad for a mobile-device company to start encouraging true downtime and real face time. But maybe, in the long run, that company would benefit from having healthier customers. Should Skype give airfare discounts to family members who Skype the most? Should iPhones have a built-in sleep app?
Machines should sleep so we can.
After returning from the Making Digital Work Conference at BDW, which included some of the most intelligent and forward-thinking minds in advertising, I expected to have all the answers to the digital future. Instead, I walked away with many questions, a revised outlook on the digital landscape, and a strong desire to affect our agency’s future.
I thought a meeting of great minds – like Matt Howell, Gareth Kay, Michael Tabtabai, Alastair Green, Edward Boches, Scott Prindle, and John Winsor – would have it all figured out. But even they, admittedly, didn’t have all the answers:
Stephen King quote – stolen from Gareth: “I’m just surprised that no one’s thought of a better idea yet.”
It took until Day II for me to realize that there wasn’t a single, simple answer. The rise of digital has reshaped our marketing landscape and removed much of the control marketers once enjoyed. Whether the presentation was geared towards art, creative, production process, briefs, agency structure, or the latest technologies – the Mad Men advertising model is useless today.
Solutions to today’s marketing questions are ever evolving. What might have worked yesterday, may not work tomorrow. And as scary as today’s marketing landscape appears to many, we are living through the most interesting period in our industry.
The rules have indeed changed. Campaigns as we once knew them are dead. Instead our commitment needs to be about creating experiences that encourage:
- conversation (social)
Despite the conference’s digital focus, it is clear that nobody believes interactive will replace all other forms of media. Though transmedia seems to be the hot term these days, I am a bigger fan of Tabtabai’s digiraditional. While this term was introduced jokingly, it highlights the fact that there isn’t an all-encompassing term for what a successful campaign should consist of today.
What does digiraditional really mean? Well, nothing… What it stands for though, does matter.
No longer will brands be able to shout at consumers.
Successful brands are providing real value through ongoing, relevant, and shareable content, experiences, and narratives. Agencies are beginning to figure this out. And yet many still have old agency structures, outdated internal resource bases, and broken financial models – which greatly hinder their ability to produce the brand experiences consumers’ desire.
In order to better service our clients, sell top-level work, and exploit today’s interactive toolbox we must break down archaic agencies structures.
Maybe that’s the answer. Prepare your agency for the digiraditional future.
…Oh, and by the way, it’s here.
As they grapple with a recession that doesn’t want to end, it’s easy for U.S. businesses – including creative agencies – to grow despondent. But a recent bit of futurism from McKinsey offers comfort for those prepared to broaden their horizons. And other reports suggest a counterintuitive direction for small to mid-size agencies.
“A huge shift is under way in consumer markets,” note the authors of McKinsey’s What Happens Next? Five Crucibles of Innovation That Will Shape the Coming Decade. (See a summary here. ) Globally, “somewhere north of 70 million people are crossing the threshold to the middle class each year, virtually all in emerging economies. By the end of the decade, roughly 40% of the world’s population will have achieved middle-class status – up from less than 20% today.”
Take a look where a lot of that growth is happening. Another McKinsey report, titled Lions on the Move: The Progress and Potential of African Economies, projects that by 2020, consumer spending in Africa will reach $1.4 trillion. (About time this continent caught a break.) But unlike in China, say, the big holding-company agencies don’t yet have a huge presence in Africa. In fact, The Africa Report (in “Advertising on the Move: African News, Analysis and Opinion,”) notes that most African companies are still in growth mode and don’t have the budgets for big agencies yet. Which of course spells an opportunity for smaller, independent players.
At M!, we’ve been keeping an eye on this global explosion for some time, and preparing for it. More than a quarter of the staff come from countries outside the U.S., including Creative Director Davi Sing (from Japan) and Digital Creative Director Xavier Teo (from Singapore). “The U.S. is a little behind the eight ball because it’s been dominant for so long,” Xavier comments. “Now, it’s beginning to adopt a more international view. But Americans need to have a better understanding of how business is done in other countries. In Asia, it’s much more a social thing – people getting to know each other after work. It’s a question of developing trust. Strangely, I think that was once a lot more common in the U.S. than it is now.”
We came across an interesting cultural notion the other day from Fred Wilson’s post, which discusses the lack of women entrepreneurs, VCs, and software developers. It seems that entrepreneurial spirit and the startup world are male-dominated endeavors. Sure, there is less debate about the “glass ceiling” today, but why and how could this be true?
According to the New York Times, although “around 40% of private companies in the U.S. are owned by women, there is still a significant lack of female entrepreneurship in the tech sector – only 8% of American venture-backed tech startups are founded by female CEOs.”
Think of the stereotypical “nerd,” and you picture a poorly dressed male with glasses, and certainly a computer (or two) – but rarely is this person female. Brad Feld and Eric Reis have recently advanced good thoughts regarding the lack of gender diversity within the tech entrepreneurial field.
What is pushing women into their professions at an early age – is it gender or lifestage?
If males and females have the same intellectual abilities, surely it’s a matter of upbringing. Some people argue that parents of young girls don’t push them into exploring math or computer science enough. Are women taught to try something else if the math gets tough? It’s a valid thought, but the truth is that women have been attaining higher education much more than men within the last few years. Just read the Atlantic Monthly’s “End of Men,” and you’ll get an idea of where genders split on education.
On the other side, Wilson contends that women who start businesses desire to know what they are doing first and often have kids in their 30s before they finally hit their entrepreneurial sweet spot in their 40s. By then, coding or moving to Silicon Valley isn’t feasible. It certainly sounds like a male-dominated world! But the good news is that Wilson is part of a new discussion that aims to engage women at their entrepreneurial peak and bring diversity to the sector.
Elizabeth Stark points out that “women comprise the majority of Internet users, so it absolutely makes sense to have a team that represents a variety of perspectives.” It seems simple to gain a woman’s perspective, so what’s the hangup?
This is an issue that applies directly to the world of brands. At the heart of the matter is our education system, which isn’t structured to instill and properly foster creativity from an early age, for either gender. Our educational system covers traditional creative fields such as music and art, but does it sufficiently address technology, product creation, and branding?
Today’s youths have grown up with iPods in hand and are savvy enough to decipher brandspeak from the truth. They seem to be the most democratic generation yet, but what is the effect on women who want to become entrepreneurs?
The impact involves more than just jobs and diversity. Rather, it is directly connected to the future of creativity and content. The world of brands has no shortage of diversity, but what’s being done to ensure that tomorrow’s crop of thinkers and doers are the most diverse possible? How can we capture creative people at an early age, rather than those trying to break in post-school, such as from ad schools that “farm” talent? This is something the whole industry should discuss.
Ultimately, this discussion is about unleashing the future of creativity, and everyone should have a say in how we get there.