The Moment Is Now

Wake up! It’s here—that moment of complete, disorienting media fragmentation. Don’t expect a press release about it. If someone did send one out, it wouldn’t get much attention anyway. We’re all too wrapped up in our own customized media universes to notice these things much anymore.

But there’s no doubt in my mind that while many traditional agencies and media shops have been sleeping—or shelling out $2.4 million for 30 seconds on the Super Bowl—media as we once knew it finally shattered. Or maybe a better way to put it, given the steady, silent creep of the change, is that it just dissolved.

It’s the only conclusion I can come to after meeting with many of the leading people in the interactive-agency business during the last few weeks. The meetings were in preparation for naming Adweek’s Interactive Agency of the Year, which for 2004 is Ogilvy & Mather’s OgilvyInteractive—one of a handful of i-shops that has a glove-in-hand relationship with a traditional agency above it. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve gone through this drill—meeting with i-shop execs, reviewing their work, listening to their surprisingly poignant hopes for a fully actualized digital future. (Hell, I even had a front-row seat as a member of the management team at now Omnicom Group-owned Organic in 2000.)

Those meetings, and the events I witnessed at Organic, always had a sense of longing about them. There was always a sense that digital media was still not fully formed. All of the focus was on the promise of the future.

There was no longing in the room this time around. The people who are still in interactive marketing are survivors; they carry with them not only the battle scars of businesses and personal fortunes won and lost but the confidence that comes from making it through. As their reward, they’ve finally come upon the rich, diffuse media palette they’ve always dreamed about, and knowing that consumers, clients and technology are all ready for them now, they’ve unleashed a torrent of explosive ideas.

WPP Group’s OgilvyInteractive showed me how to vote from my cell phone for its “Campaign for Real Beauty”—with the results instantly tallied on a Times Square billboard. Omnicom’s took me to a Hewlett-Packard site where I could design and download a whole new outer skin for my iPod. I drove a virtual Jeep thanks to Organic, and I built my own pair of customized Nikes (which Nike would happily make for me if I wanted) with the encouragement of Interpublic Group’s R/GA. AKQA introduced me to an entire alien language it created for the Xbox game Halo 2 (bloggers decoded it). And Tribal DDB showed me how I could jokingly send “trash talk” to friends as part of an effort sponsored by McDonald’s.

In addition to the Agency of the Year story on OgilvyInteractive, which begins on page 24, you can visit these other shops in our “What’s Next” story, on page 26. Each shop illustrated how immersive and fully realized digital media and advertising now is. It made even my favorite Super Bowl advertising moment—the chimp photocopying his butt for—seem flat by comparison.

That should be disconcerting to the traditional agency world, but I’ve a suspicion it’s not. Take a look at Adweek’s annual chart of the Top 50 Interactive Agencies to see how under-represented traditional agencies are. Though the major holding companies have their share of interactive investments, their flagship ad agencies, for the most part, have yet to fully embrace the moment that has finally arrived.

Guys, it’s here. What are you waiting for?