Adweek Creative 2000: You say you want a Revolution

In the ’60s we had Bill Bernbach.
Today, the dot.coms are driving creativity.
As we learned during the 1960s, it takes a few revolutionaries to turn advertising creativity on its head.
More than 40 years ago, Doyle Dane Bernbach showed there was a better way to speak to consumers than the hard sell of the day. The agency proved it with whimsical Volkswagen ads that supplied both entertainment and product information. It was a climactic shift in advertising communication-and it became the industry standard.
“[Before Bernbach], it was the Dark Ages, manufacturers shouting out of the factory window. There was no emotional connection. It was basically what the client wanted you to say,” says Marty Cooke, executive creative director at M&C Saatchi, New York, who worked with the late legendary DDB art director Helmut Krone in the mid-’80s. “The creative revolution was about finding a way to talk to people. It was like finding perspective.”
Advertising was young and television was new. Now the Internet is the new technology invading America’s homes, and swarms of Web-based companies are vying for a piece of the consumer mind-set.
These Web pioneers have produced a new advertising category whose style is as daring and unconventional as the entrepreneurs who built the online companies. They boast an unbridled spirit that encourages and nurtures creativity.
So forget Y2K fears. For the advertising business, the millenium is prime creative fodder for turning disaster jokes about digital paranoia into branding opportunities. The gold rush whipping the advertising community into a frenzy has brought with it a wave of optimism-new hope for our creative future.
And it’s sorely needed.
Just six months ago, recalls DDB Worldwide chairman and CEO Keith Reinhard, judges at the International Advertising Festival at Cannes were uninspired by the endless ads they viewed. Sure, there were bright spots, but on the whole, “There was a feeling in the jury rooms of “been there, done that,'” says Reinhard. “Nothing really struck us as moving the art of the craft forward.”
Had advertising creativity come to a standstill?
Some feared so. Yet since the prestigious festival in Cannes, a torrent of rebellious advertising has instilled a renewed faith in the creative spirit of the advertising community.
With its unconventional agency hiring procedures and speedy turnaround demands, the fast-paced, rough-and-tumble world is dramatically altering the way the ad business is conducted.
Moreover, the mad rush to claim a stake in the marketplace is shifting media dominance from the traditional Madison Avenue-style packaged-goods monoliths to smaller creative boutiques-a consequence that bodes well for overall creativity.
“It is changing the balance of power,” says veteran commercial director Joe Pytka. “We are in the middle of [a creative revolution].”
The most interesting campaigns he has worked on recently, Pytka says, have been for companies such as and AltaVista, which are handled by Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore.
“The agencies that are stuck in traditional ways of doing business aren’t able to cope with these [Internet] people or know what to do. It is happening so quickly,” says Pytka. “A lot of traditional advertising is looking hugely old-fashioned.”
Nina DiSesa, McCann-Erickson New York’s chairman and chief creative officer, agrees. “[Net] advertising is very outrageous to get attention. This is what is competing for the consumer mind-set. If you are a bricks-and-mortar company and you aren’t as imaginative and entertaining as the dot.coms, people won’t listen,” says DiSesa. “It will be a big awakening for some clients.”
While many of the top honors at creative award shows this year went to campaigns, including Cliff Freeman and Partners’ over-the-top work, the category is still in its infancy. It may be exciting, fun to watch and wonderfully wacky, but most advertising has been remarkably thin, with not much to say save, “Look at me!” It won’t be long, however, before it matures, and considering the willingness of the category to try new ideas, better days lie ahead.
“There are all these new companies and there is news to tell … that new news is just the beginning,” argues Kirk Citron, president of Citron Haligman Bedecarr /Euro RSCG, San Francisco. “We are just seeing the beginning of the next creative revolution. It is driven by and will continue to be driven by the Internet.”
But if a new creative revolution is under way courtesy of the Internet, will it rest in the hands of traditional ad agencies or interactive shops?
“I believe the interactive companies that exist today are technology companies; they aren’t communications companies,” says Lee Clow, TBWA/Chiat/Day chairman and chief creative officer, worldwide. “When the artist, the media artists take over the Web and not make it about the gig factor, the techie stuff for techie people, and make it into a medium you love to interact with, it will be really amazing,” he notes. “Ultimately the people who are the most creative are going to take it over. When the artists take control, it’s really going to sing.”
Those days are still to come.
At this point, traditional media channels, such as radio, print and outdoor, won’t experience a true revolution from Internet advertising, argues BBDO chairman Phil Dusenberry and others. It’s in the medium itself, a relatively new frontier, that chances are being taken and rules broken. Once the mediums converge, watch out, say industry stalwarts. That’s when a true creative revolution will occur.
“Right now, working on the Internet are specialists. Pretty soon it’s going to be in one box, the computer and television set are going to be together,” he predicts.
“Between the brand and the consumer, creativity will get even greater. The world has become as creatively alluring as traditional advertising,” adds Dusenberry. “Some people defect from traditional advertising to that world.” But in time, they’ll end up in the same place, he says, “because it’s going to come together.”
Advertisers now use their Web sites to give added value to their print and TV efforts. Nike’s site, for instance, contains its latest commercial, “The Morning After,” which features a man taking his morning jog on New Year’s Day while the city is in chaos. In addition to viewing the commercial, visitors can click on a number of animated clips for similar, additional storylines. Volkswagen recently chose to debut a spot for the Cabrio convertible on its Web site before it ran on TV. Other clients, such as those lacking big media budgets, have used the Net to test campaign ideas and reinforce their radio and print efforts.
Many of the limitations handcuffing Web creativity are currently technological. In time, bandwidth problems will be solved and the skill set of the creative community will be put to the test. Advertising on the Net will change, as will the way mass media, television, radio and print are used.
The Internet has already altered the role of a sizable portion of the advertising seen today. Now that TV viewers have the ability to not only channel surf but block out commercials entirely, what will the future role of the TV commercial be?
“Maybe commercials will be like trailers,” says John Hegarty, chairman of Bartle Bogle Hegarty. “You’ll have to log on to see more.”
“We’re at a defining crossroads for the ad industry,” says Ron Berger, chief executive officer, chief creative officer at Messner, Vetere, Berger, McNamee/Euro RSCG. “Where the crossroads are going to lead, no one knows, but the business as we know it is going to drama-tically change.”
Some industry insiders have bold predictions.
“Television as we know it isn’t going to exist. It isn’t going to be intrusive,” offers Chuck McBride, executive creative director of TBWA/Chiat/Day, San Francisco. “I’m kind of looking forward to it,” admits McBride. Pausing, he adds, “I do relish the idea of doing a great TV spot. Something about intrusive media. When it’s great, it’s wonderfully great. You put something out in the stream, and you find out that all the fish want to eat it.”
Yet McBride welcomes the opportunity to help build Web campaigns that will resonate personally and spiritually with consumers.
“The work has to reach you at the place the great TV ads have to reach you,” he notes. “You are going to have to create messages online that truly engage you the way a film wraps you up or a book. [That’s] something a mouse cannot completely disregard.”
Once the Internet becomes the main provider of product information, TV commercials and other mainstream media advertising will be free to focus on brand building.
“Among the many things the Internet will do is release the mass media to do a better job at what they are uniquely good at-establishing a brand’s aura and really intriguing people to learn more about the brand on the Internet,” says Reinhard.
Storytelling will become even more important to advertising communication and the new cutting edge will not be the wacky and the weird but the emotional and sincere.
“People are going to want personalities who are attractive,” says Mike Hughes, president and creative director of The Martin Agency. “The new “edgy’ isn’t going to be aggressively obnoxious, as “edgy’ was 10 years ago. Now what is truly on the cutting edge is going to be things that are more thoughtful, likable and more fun.”
With the lower cost of digital filmmaking, the opportunity to shoot numerous versions of the same commercial, tailor-made for specific Web or TV audiences, will also be possible.
“People will expect more, faster, more involvement and more personalization, not just some streaming video talking head talking to them,” says Carolyn Goldhush, vice president and senior creative director of Grey Interactive.
“People will just click away.”
The question is: how much of an awakening will it be for advertising creativity? And will this renaissance be a good one?
While Net entrepreneurs have allowed for some unfettered creative exploration, few believe the work will influence the craft as mightily as Bernbach. The revolutionaries of his time changed the craft on a fundamental level; they redefined how headlines and visuals were treated, how art directors and copywriters worked together, and how to have fun with advertising.
It was a unique time that produced classics such as VW’s “Snowplow” and Alka-Seltzer’s “Spicy Meatball.” True, these ads may feel a tad long in these 30-second or less TV days, but no one disputes that they’ll still be classics in 100 years-a fate that most ads won’t share.
“[The creative revolution] was a seismic shift in terms of the way people look at communications and advertising. Since then, it’s been a refinement and exploration of those same basic principles,” says Gary Goldsmith, vice chairman and executive creative director of Lowe Lintas & Partners. “There is no comparison,” he notes.
While we haven’t witnessed a grand advertising metamorphosis since the 1960s, the business hasn’t been stagnant. In the decades since the first revolution,
Bernbach’s principles have been applied to even the dullest product category.
Advertising is more sophisticated and smart today, and agencies have made commercials into a 21st century art form, as entertaining and finely crafted as the latest blockbuster film. Across the board, advertising may be at its zenith, yet all progress has been made within the parameters of Bernbach’s principles.
“What continues is an evolution of what was fundamentally unearthed during [the late ’50s, early ’60s],” says Roy Grace, chairman and creative director of Grace & Rothschild, who, with Bob Levenson, is credited with writing and art directing Volkwagen’s famous 1969 “Funeral” commercial.
“Nobody has found a better way. It’s all shades of a color. There is no radical color change,” says Grace.
“The two exceptions are Wieden & Kennedy and Chiat/Day,” adds Hughes. “Bernbach may never have done [Chiat’s Apple] “1984” or the edgiest of Wieden’s Nike work. They were true heroes of Bernbach. They broadened and flattened out the path for the rest of us.”
Whatever form, in whatever medium the advertising of the future takes place, one thing is certain, says Hegarty: “I can’t think of a more exciting time to be in the advertising business.”