Al Gore Puts Agency Creatives on Notice

NEW YORK Ad agency creative executives beware: if Al Gore is right, your services might not be needed much longer.
The former U.S. vice president and co-founder of the cable network Current TV in delivering the keynote address at Digitas’ Digital Content NewFront event in New York today spoke about what he perceives as a rapidly changing advertising and media landscape. Gore predicted that traditional ad models were set to radically change, and as evidence he presented a series of VCAM (Viewer Created Ad Messages) ads, i.e., 30-second spots created by Current TV viewers.
As part of its VCAM program, Current provides viewers with creative briefs and a set of assets (such as logos and taglines) for participating advertisers, which have included HP and T-Mobile. Gore said viewers now produce more than half of Current’s ads, and that those ads are most preferred by the network’s audience by a ratio of 9-to-1, according to the net’s research. “We’ve had zero negative results,” said Gore. “And viewers are much more interested.”
Gore believes these sorts of ads have major implications for the advertising creative process going forward. He described the end of the industrial-revolution-like era of advertising, which produced ads that are “big, blunt expensive and very intrusive. . . . Audiences have begun to resist that old model.”
Going forward, advertising needs to become more nuanced, authentic and peer-to-peer, said Gore. “People want a different kind of feeling toward brands to which they give their money.”
That means being more upfront about ad messaging, rather than attempting to squeeze marketing messages into content through branded entertainment, he said. According to Gore, one of the reasons that Current viewers like VCAM ads is that they are straightforward in their intent. “People are interested in what someone like them is going to do and they’re not going to have something slipped by them,” Gore said. With ads that have been disguised as entertainment, “there is some resistance to those models. . . . We believe that intelligent empowerment of the audience is the key.”
Audience empowerment means less power and control for agencies, particularly creative executives. For one thing, user-created ads are cheap. “Instead of spending $350,000 and up . . . that’s not the process here,” said Gore. For VCAMs, “advertiser pays a nominal sum. As little as a thousand dollars.”
So what do traditional ad agencies do? Perhaps change their core expertise, from serving as creative drivers to brokers and brand shepherds. “The role of agencies is changing,” said Gore. “The Internet . . . is disintermediating long-established functions. Some agencies fight against this trend and are still successful. I’m not sure how long that will be sustainable.”
Sustainability was a key theme during Gore’s speech, as he drew a parallel between the ad business and the needs of the environment — long one of his most passionate causes. Yet Gore was somewhat thrown by a bizarre environment-related question posed by an audience member at the close of his address. “Do you believe that the extraterrestrial technology that documents indicate has been discovered at the China Lake facility in California can indeed significantly reduce levels of CO2 as to halt global warming by 2099?” asked the NewFront attendee.
After having the man explain to him that “extraterrestrial” meant UFO, Gore responded, “I personally do not. I don’t.”