Alliance At Last

As the saying goes, “Everything that’s old is new again,” and today’s ad industry landscape is no exception. With the announcement this month that IPG is bringing together its media and creative shops, it is obvious that people are standing up and taking notice. But this newly touted alliance between media and creative has been the promise of how agencies would work for some time, and has yet to be paid more than lip service. There are now factors at play requiring these relationships to change.

There are seismic changes in how we are creating, distributing and consuming media. As we go well beyond the TV to watch video on computers, iPods and cell phones, personal viewing has taken on a whole new meaning. But that’s only part of the story. Commercial viewing has also gone through a metamorphosis. From sponsorships to program packaging to product integration, the new environment now requires the content of the ad message to be inexorably linked to the context of the entertainment or information.

The impact is such that it is necessary that the industry now look at media and creative as a single force that allows the commercial message to be as relevant and engaging as personal interests dictate. Agencies had purported that this was their strategy before, but that alliance was never realized. No longer can we be satisfied with media efficiency and independent creative thinking. Today, we must work within a system of collaboration that brings together all of the elements of communication engendered by a symbiotic relationship between media and creative.

That doesn’t mean media and creative must be physically housed together. The benefits of media services companies with a specialized knowledge of all components of the media world bring many key insights to the marketing process. It does mean, however, that we need a whole new attitude of mutual respect, which has never fully materialized in the agency structure. Even the “full-service” agencies, which claim to be integrated, have not really accomplished the task.

As we look at new media as well as existing channels in the expanding digital environment, along with the accompanying fragmentation of audiences, we see a highly individualized and personal set of consumer interests and tastes that must be addressed with a unique strategy. Media relevance is now a key factor in advertising effectiveness, with the agency’s focus of placing the creative message where and when it matters. To capture this more elusive audience, media and creative are dedicating themselves to making people “stop in their tracks” by connecting content that is engaging within the appropriate context. The two efforts unconnected and independent are no longer a winning strategy.

This new collaboration not only challenges the power of the big media companies who built their reputations on media negotiations delivered through so-called “clout,” but also the creative boutiques that haven’t endorsed their media counterparts. The solution, of course, is having the media and creative working in tandem from the very beginning of the process with the necessary strategic insights brought to bear early on. This solution is now being proposed as standard practice.

In taking a broad view of the current environment, it is clear that the clarion call for audience engagement is a confirmation of the interdependence of content and context, or creative and media. And, the impact of this thinking goes beyond video programming. The Association of National Advertisers reported in March that 78 percent of major brands are “losing confidence in the effectiveness of TV,” which is forcing planning to go beyond traditional media. These advertisers, who represent more than $20 billion in ad spending, are putting their money into Web ads, search engine marketing and out-of-home as a way to bolster the effectiveness of their current campaigns. While total ad spending continues to increase, more advertising is popping up in new places, and the net result is that the clear connection to media and creative is being proven in practice.

Engagement, the ultimate criteria for TV and commercial content effectiveness, is now being seen as both media-centric and creative-sensitive. The key to success is finding the applications that locate the audience when they are in the right frame of mind and appealing to them in the most emotional way. When done correctly, the media transforms the messages, and the consumer is motivated to receive the information. In the final analysis, we must of course measure the impact of the environments to provide the accountability necessary to truly deliver an effective and productive ad investment. While the value of what is “new again” is still the essential concern, the newer approach is making headway and reestablishing some interesting and powerful partnerships that have long been promised.