Digital is not a channel; it’s the context in which everything lives
As Madonna nearly sang, we are living in a post-digital world. New media are now just media. Digital is not a channel; it's the ubiquitous, continuous context in which everything lives. Declaring in an article in Wired way back in 1998 that the digital revolution was over Nicholas Negroponte, founder of MIT Media Lab, observed that, “Like air and drinking water, being digital will be noticed only by its absence, not its presence.”
Today we are breathing Negroponte’s post-digital air: pretty much all media are now digital. People can watch TV shows on their laptops, read 'newspapers' on their phones, absorb video content from 'poster' sites, read eBooks on their Kindles and get the news from Twitter.
How Nike’s ‘write the future’ campaign wrote some history
This post-digital world calls for a new marketing model. Wieden + Kennedy’s (with Mindshare and AKQA) recent global ‘Write the Future’ campaign for Nike Football premiered not on TV but on Facebook and Youtube. The epic film, which presented alternative versions of footballers’ futures, including a ginger-bearded Wayne Rooney living in a grim caravan, set a new record for viral video. In one day the film was viewed online 12,000,000 times and Nike Football facebook fans tripled from 1.1 to 3.1 million. The spot was deliberately complex and multilayered, designed to reward multiple viewings and to encourage online debate and discussion. The broader campaign used social media to allow fans to get involved, shape elements of the campaign and write their own futures. The campaign could never have achieved the global impact it did without a combination of bought, owned and earned media that was impossible only a short time ago. (And the fact that there was a hugely entertaining three minute film at the heart of the campaign didn’t hurt.)
Some of the best ‘digital’ work is being done by ‘analogue’ agencies
In the olden days, digital agencies often said that when it came to interactivity their ‘traditional’ competitors just didn’t get it. This is still true of many old school shops, but big changes are taking place. At the Cannes Festival 2010, Grands Prix in the ‘Cyber’ category went to Wieden + Kennedy for Nike Livestrong's "Chalkbot" and DDB Sweden for Volkswagen's "Fun Theory." The Cyber Agency of the Year Award went to Crispin Porter + Bogusky. And at the 2010 Webby Awards, Agency of the Year went to BBDO. (Of course, this is not to say that pure-play digital agencies aren't also doing great work.)
This isn't new: W+K has been doing interactive work since the innovative CK One campaign back in 1998. What has changed is the nature of 'digital’ marketing. We've reached a tipping point where the tech and the audience have reached a level of maturity where digital is everyday and normal. Now, what agencies and marketers need to understand is how people behave in relation to content, community, technology and media. This isn't easy because it's evolving rapidly and constantly.
Post-digital campaigns combine an understanding of tech and media with 'traditional' skills
It used to be that digital shops were far better informed and connected to digital culture. But now that culture is mainstream. Our ‘hackerbox’ initiative for the launch of the Nokia N900 used traditional direct marketing techniques. But it combined these with an awareness of the new trend for the posting of ‘unboxing’ videos for new gadgets and an understanding of the influencers amongst online tech communities. We identified a dozen or so of the most infuential tech bloggers and sent them an awesomely mysterious black cube containing geeky goodies and the new N900. The box could only be opened by hacking its secret access code. The recipients made and posted their own unboxing videos and the tech community went wild for hackerbox,. Huge online buzz was generated. Engadget described it as ‘the best unboxing ever’.
Another example: Wieden + Kennedy’s recent online campaign for Old Spice featured the ridiculously handsome Old Spice Guy, who responded directly to YouTube comments, Tweets, Yahoo! Answers and blog posts about him in over 180 personalised video messages, created and posted to YouTube in a 48 hour period. It has been described as ‘the fastest-growing and most popular interactive campaign in history’ and has already been acclaimed as a textbook example of how a brand can use social media to influence popular culture. Total video views reached 40 million in a week, campaign impressions topped 1.4 billion and Old Spice Bodywash enjoyed a 107% sales increase.
But this online overnight success started as a good, old-fashioned TV campaign. The clever bit wasn’t just a sophisticated piece of software engineering (though we did have one of those that glued the process together and helped identify who to respond to), but smart, funny writing combined with an understanding of how to bring the brand character to life in real time using the most popular social channels. Without a genuinely integrated team including social media experts, technologists, interactive producers, traditional skills and a very trusting client, this couldn't have happened.
Digital and traditional labels are an anachronistic way of categorising agencies
Hence my suggestion that labelling agencies with categories like 'interactive' or 'traditional' is anachronistic. In the past, the ‘pure-play’ digital agencies had the technical knowledge, and the traditional agencies had the big, emotional ideas. But now some digital agencies are trying to grab a bigger helping of the pie by extending their offering into ‘traditional’ media. (For example, Glue Isobar’s integrated campaign for the 3 Network.) Meanwhile, old school agencies are trying to get to grips with new technology by having developers sit with ‘traditional’ creative teams. The race is on, as 'digital' agencies hire strategists and storytellers, and 'analogue' agencies scramble to employ technologists, UI designers and information architects. At Wieden + Kennedy we've always hired broadly - product designers, artists, doers - now we've added coders, designers and tech leads to our teams. And over the last couple of years we’ve been hiring some of the world’s best talent from digital agencies to help move our storytelling and brand building strengths into the post-digital world. That doesn’t mean we have all the answers – far from it – we’re continuing to ‘walk in stupid’ every day and figure it out as we go
Post-digital or die
What kind of agencies should marketers be looking for to help them win in the post-digital world? Not ‘digital’ agencies. Not ‘creative’ agencies. Not networks or boutiques or platform-agnostic transmedia nodes. Just smart people who get it and who care about doing great work that makes a difference, regardless of medium. Crap advertising already spams up every available media channel like hair in the plughole – ugly, unwanted and irritating. Nobody needs or wants to ‘have a conversation’ with a dreadful piece of film, a dumb microsite, or an unwanted activation. As marketers and advertisers we should be making stuff that is useful, delightful and engaging. Not polluting the world with lame and embarrassing work.
The smart marketers and agencies have adapted to the new world. They continue to evolve as the pace of change continues to accelerate. Those who fail to change will go the way of the dinosaurs. Forget 'digital' vs. 'traditional'; in the new world there will be two types of agency: the post-digital and the dead.
This post is an extended version of an article that appears in this week's Marketing Week, related to their report which found that Wieden + Kennedy had ranked top in a YouGov survey of which digital agencies were perceived as best by UK clients.