CLIO: Nick Law’s Art (and Science) of War

LAS VEGAS A culture war’s been brewing at advertising agencies, said Nick Law, evp, North American CCO at R/GA, on Thursday at the final day keynote speech of the 50th anniversary CLIO Festival in Las Vegas.

The good news? This one doesn’t seem to involve “teabagging” of any sort. The speech, titled “Divided We Fall,” was Law’s way of sticking advertising and technology types on a mountaintop, handing them Cokes and teaching them to talk to each other — or at the very least acknowledge that they sometimes approach the task of communicating quite differently.

Early advertising was simply relaying information (“This tonic will make your hair grow back!”), he reminded the audience, until the mid-century creative revolution of Bill Bernbach and others began to use mass media to “Think Small.” “If you’re going to interrupt a TV show, you’ve got to make it entertaining,” Law said.

This culture war has heated up as agencies try to adapt their clients’ messages to today’s media-fragmented battlefield and with added layers of interactivity and engagement.

“For every PowerPoint telling the industry what needs to be done, there’s an agency trying to figure out how to do it,” Law said. And therein lies the rub: The mission isn’t as simple thanks to a terrain where marketing must engage, inform, entertain and appeal to the lizard brain, among other things.

So, what’s the perfect plan of attack?

Traditionally, the war has been between designers and conceptual thinkers, Law said. Now, as digital marketing emerges from its reckless youth, two competing creative approaches have emerged: One that seduces with storytelling and one that empowers consumers with technology.

It’s time to pick a side, and a skill set.

Law broke this down into a chart that contrasted the differing ways advertising and interactive thinkers process/work (narrative vs. systematic) and showed how that intersects with two other extremes: designers who “think Futura Bold Condensed is a concept” vs. pure conceptual thinkers.

People, he said, tend to be one or the other — not both.

Law’s keynote was followed by a brief Q&A, but the “communication” was soon interrupted when the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino’s WWII-style air siren ordered inhabitants to evacuate the building. No one left the room. Maybe that means the “war” is finally over.

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