Technology hasn't changed creativity's need for the big idea

The big idea remains important in the midst of technological advancement / Simon Abrams via Unsplash

Yesterday morning, I sat in a Las Vegas ballroom listening to Adobe announce their latest and greatest — namely, an integration between Experience Cloud, Advertising Cloud, and Marketing Cloud that enables digital creative to be modified in real-time without pause or re-trafficking.

A disturbance spread through some of my fellow agency employees in the audience, as if millions of SOWs suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.

But I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords. And here’s why.

At its core, mass communication has always been about one simple thing — transferring an idea from one brain into another (and another, and another). In the early days of what used to be called “new media,” technologists like myself shouted from the rooftops that digital was the Holy Grail. We made these things called banners, and we said they’d be hyper-personalized, timely, and context-aware.

We promised that we were all entering a brand new dynamic world, the polar opposite of print. Want to change copy on a billboard after it’s been put up? Swap out a call to action? Good luck with that. You’d be able to change digital display at the speed of light, because it’s digital! So who cares about print? Let us make amazing banners for you; it’ll be the most effective and efficient part of your marketing strategy.

Oops. Our bad.

Here in the 21st Century, the reality of the medium is quite different from what we promised. Ask everyone who still sees a banner ad touting the product they bought last week. Ask any brand manager who, after reading a key insight from their analytics team, wants to tweak a line of copy — but has to wait 48 hours before any consumer sees that change, because of trafficking. For that matter, ask any legal team who discovers an issue and has to insist a unit be taken down, because it’ll take too long to modify.

If the underlying objective of mass communication has always been about getting an idea from one brain into another, the rapid pace of technological change — specifically, Internet-related technology — has been about increasing speed. How quickly can we create ideas? How quickly can we get that idea from one brain into another?

Coming up with those ideas is a big job. And it’s a job that agencies are uniquely built for. As advertisers, our job is — or, at least, should be — entirely centered around The Big Idea. We are the big-picture thinkers and storytellers. In the rapid-fire, omnichannel, data-driven, massively fragmented media world we help our clients navigate, a world where consumers are literally installing software to avoid our ideas, our job is to stand out. To be memorable. To ensure that ROI isn’t just a funny-looking acronym.

But we can’t — or, at least, shouldn’t, here in the 21st Century — come up with The Big Idea without considering the underlying technological context of both the idea and the medium in which it’s expressed. How will we create the idea? How will we track the idea? And, because the original promise of the medium is still top of mind, how can we tweak the idea, in real-time, if and when we have insights into effectiveness?

At this point in the medium’s history, the data necessary to deliver on the promise of hyper-personalized, contextually-aware, dynamic digital ads is finally available. A futuristic-sounding tool like artificial intelligence is no longer an emerging technology — it’s here. Now. Hell, it’s practically table stakes. And, with the right team and the right partners, these no-longer-emerging technologies can be used to support and enhance that Big Idea.

It’s an exciting time to be an agency. The reports of our industry’s death have been greatly exaggerated — at least, for those of us who remain focused on The Big Idea.

Adobe’s new offering is indeed a game changer, but in the best possible way. It enables our clients to instantly respond to changing conditions and contexts without our hands being directly involved in the process — as long as we remain focused on big picture storytelling, this is a good thing. It frees agencies to focus on what we do best — The Big Idea.

Creatives can keep The Big Idea at the forefront of their process. Production can continue to construct tactics based on a clear vision, but now with the understanding that the specifics may change. Technology teams can spend time building experiences that get us closer to the original promise of the medium.

In the spirit of Las Vegas, let’s double-down on this new frontier. We live in the future, and it’s awesome.

Now, where’s my jetpack?

Husani Oakley is the senior vice president of technology at Deutsch NY

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