Shops Strive for a New Formula


Last July, when Toy New York and EVB geared up for a second time to create "Elf Yourself," the OfficeMax holiday viral sensation of 2006, there was an understanding: wherever the Elf was mentioned, the two shops would share all creative credit.

For EVB CEO Daniel Stein, this "Lennon and McCartney" approach was a requirement to undertake the project. His digital agency still bore scars from earlier joint efforts that had seen the traditional agency partner get all the glory. Stein remembers walking down the Croisette in Cannes in 2006, getting awkward half congratulations, half apologies after the EVB-built "Whopperettes" took a gold Lion because main agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky got all the credit.

"We're creating something that is completely new," says Stein. "To try to control it is antiquated. There are still more agencies taking credit for someone else's work this year than there were last year or the year before."

The issue, long a point of contention among the digital shops that bring traditional agencies' concepts to life, blew into the open in Cannes when BBDO took top honors in several categories, including a gold Lion in Cyber, for HBO "Voyeur." The crux of the issue: The HBO "Voyeur" site was created by Big Spaceship, a small Brooklyn digital shop. The lack of credit given to Big Spaceship caused jury chair Colleen DeCourcy, chief digital officer at TBWA, to mention the forgotten partner when giving the award to BBDO. Still, the snub riled Big Spaceship CEO Michael Lebowitz, who served on the Cannes Cyber jury. He maintains that BBDO did not deserve all the credit for something it didn't create.

"The era of everything being based on the great idea is over," he says. "Other things have risen to a common level of importance." Without interactive experts to bring ideas to life, he adds, the big ideas are like "a fart in the wind."

It would be easy to dismiss the complaints of Stein and Lebowitz: Agencies abuse production shops and take undeserved credit, highlights at 11. Yet the incidents point to something more; the shifting definition of creativity brought about by digital technologies. The complexity of digital media often blurs the lines between "ideas" and "production," particularly as brand building moves from messages to experiences. If the experience is the fulcrum of the effort, it is hard to discount the work that goes into creating that experience as simple production. The best work often erases the distinction.

"Collaboration is becoming much more important to create great brand experiences," says Simon Jefferson, client services director at AKQA, which was also snubbed at Cannes for its work on the "Believe" campaign for Halo 3, winner of the Integrated Titanium award.

As an example, he points to AKQA's work on the "Run London" campaign for Nike. Nike's main agency, Wieden + Kennedy, came up with the line, "I'll do it if you do it." AKQA, though, created the MySpace hub that gathered runners ahead of the 1,000-meter race.

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