Jan Leth On The Spot

Named co-chief creative officer at Ogilvy New York last October, Jan Leth is the epitome of the newfound respect the Web has gotten as a creative medium. A self-described “design snob,” the 51-year-old, who is also ecd of OgilvyInteractive Worldwide in New York, thinks the interactive industry needs to have a broader definition of what’s creative, stop hyping every new tactic and return to making basic Web advertising in banners interesting. One of his favorite recent creative executions wasn’t a Web site or viral video, but a ticket giveaway on Craigslist. Q: What made you get into advertising?

A: I grew up in a design family. My father was an architect, and my mother was flirting with interior design. I studied to be a painter and had no thoughts about advertising. But I needed a job.

Do ads have the same level of creativity?

Absolutely, but only the best advertising. It’s like anything. For a while, people were saying Web advertising sucks. Well, 95 percent of TV advertising sucks. I think today there’s still great creative. It’s gotten more difficult for some people to appreciate. Is it a 30-second spot? Is it something viral?

What is some interesting work out there?

The Tribal DDB Monopoly game in London. [Tribal DDB outfitted cabs with GPS devices and allowed users to play a virtual game of Monopoly.] It was the coolest thing. How will that ever be celebrated? Because it’s not a TV spot … you can’t put [it] up on a screen in a conference room. Sometimes things like that don’t get appreciated as they should.

Is the Internet getting respect as a creative medium?

It was first appreciated by designers. Only [in] the last year or two [has it] been accepted as a creative medium. Things like [what] Nike has done with a variety of people, whether it’s R/GA, AKQA or Framfab.

What have been the most exciting developments in the Web recently?

The social networking phenomenon is the most interesting thing. Nobody’s gotten their arms around it. It’s important we all pay attention to it. It’s an incredible dynamic we don’t quite understand what to do with yet. We just did a promotion for Six Flags, and they wanted us to give away 45,000 tickets for opening day. We got a brief to do online ads, promotion sites. The creative director said, “Why don’t we just post it on Craigslist?” Five hours, [and] 45,000 tickets were gone. No ads, no photo shoot.

Is interactive changing the notion of what creative is?

That solution is very creative. We forget sometimes we’re not in the art business. We’re not in the film business. We’re in the marketing business. We should be inventing ways to solve our clients’ marketing needs.

What’s your take on consumer-generated content?

It’s not new, really. Before the Internet, there was consumer-generated content, only nobody saw it. Digital exploded the dynamics around sharing. Brands inviting people to generate their own content is a great thing.

Do you think the Chevy Tahoe campaign was a mistake?

Considering what’s going on in the world with gas prices and what the Tahoe is, probably. They’re in a danger zone. If you’re a brand in a danger zone, you don’t want to do it. I thought Burger King was really courageous with the thing they did with Heavy and the King masks. They got 7.5 million streams on content they didn’t pay to produce. I think that’s pretty interesting.

Is the 30-second spot dead?

I actually don’t think so. I just don’t think it’s going to drive everything as it did before. It’s going to be one of the pieces.

What will the business look like in five years?

In five years, I think the OgilvyOne side of the business will be bigger. The problem is, how do you define digital? It’s going to be a big digital stream of stuff, whether it’s TV or branded content. The digital part of it, with the influence of targeted marketing, will probably be a majority.

What is your biggest pet peeve?

Hype. Every time someone writes about podcasting, I get 15 e-mails asking, “Why aren’t we doing this?”

What’s another pet peeve?

Viral videos. It’s not the ready-made solution for everything. It’s not an idea; it’s a tactic. Viral doesn’t mean do a video. Viral means, “What do I do to get people to share something with another person?” Videos are great if you do something funny that’s relevant.

So what’s underhyped?

Banners. They’ve disappeared from the discussion. Lately, especially with broadband, everyone is building a microsite for every campaign. With what you can do today in banners, you can create entire content sites. If I want to reach the eyeballs and give them value, either entertainment or utility, there’s a huge opportunity that’s not happening. It’s not the hot new toy. That’s why I think the hype is bad. The industry has gotten a little sidetracked with a lot of fads.

How would you describe yourself?

Nervous Nellie or egomaniac with an inferiority complex.

How would others?

Other people think I’m quite calm and even-handed, smart and complex. But on the inside, I’m crazy.