Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Tuesday Tip No.32 - How To Do Digital

by special guest writer James Cooper, creative director, Dare.

I feel a little bit like jumping into the bear pit here, but since Scamp asked me to write this and I’m leaving London soon to do something different you can take it or leave it. If this advice helps just one creative then that’s a good thing.

I think I should let you know my stance. I don’t think digital is the answer to all advertising’s prayers, far from it. In some cases it makes sense for a digital idea to lead, in other cases TV or press (or PR – Run London for example) to lead. I’m not sure I can think of any reason why you shouldn’t use digital at all in a campaign but I’m sure someone will find an amusing response to that.

Much of what the press reports about digital taking over from TV is also more apt for the US than here, where, in fact, it still makes sense to hit a load of people during Coronation Street. Time zones and scale make it more cost effective to do things differently across the pond. So don’t worry, you’ll still be able to make your ‘films’.

Here goes for a few things that might help you get your head around digital work.

1. Keep it simple. Life is not so different down here in the basement. If you can’t explain your idea in 6 words don’t bother. Start again. With all this software around (and clients) there are people that will always want to make things more complicated. If you start off with something complex the chances are it will turn out a mess. A site that has been hijacked by girls, a site that crushes desks, a girl you can tickle. All simple. All good. All winners. NB. The flip side of this is that if you want to win a craft award for sound design or motion graphics or something like that then complex RULES! You absolutely must be more cutting edge and geeky than those freaks in Northern Sweden who never leave their macs and only eat reindeer meat and dried white foodstuffs.

2. Be original. Same rules apply to when all you lot who moan about whether Bravia or Guinness or John Lewis was original or not. Poke’s nice unlimited site looks a little like a Motorola site, our nice Bravia site looks a little like a Pioneer site. The point is it’s not such a leap to imagine that creative brains come up with the same things. An amount of copying goes on, but these things right themselves in the end. No one is going to make a serious career out of being unoriginal – apart from The Chemical Brothers. There are trends in digital in the same way there are in TV. If you really want to stick out then you have to do something different and we all know how hard that is these days.

3. Doing digital is harder than TV. What? Yes, sorry folks, it’s true. The delivery of TV (and Press) has not changed since it started. In digital there are constant innovations that you need to keep up with. As a creative you will be expected to know how to come up with an idea for a site, what it looks like, how it should be delivered and how people will interact with it. No one is going to do this for you. Then you need to multiply this for all the other ways an idea can be expressed in digital other than a standard site; a facebook app, mobile, digital outdoor, banners, interactive TV, Second Life, YouTube and basically whatever some dude in California comes up with next. If you’re not interested in technical innovation then, again, don’t bother.

4. Great digital work usually comes from teamwork. Usually two creatives – a writer and an art director, a designer and a techy. Having said above that you need to know how all the geeky things work you won’t actually be expected to get your hands dirty with code or anything like that. This is both good news and bad news. The good news being that you don’t have to have spent years buried in software manuals. The bad news being that the person who has done that now earns more money than you do and can f**k up your project at the flick of a switch. Also this person will actually work at your agency rather than be a hired supergeek like a lighting cameraman for example. You will have to learn to deal with seeing someone everyday who is more important than you and has better trainers than you.

5. The digital equivalent to ‘Balls’ is Nike +. This is the piece of work that everyone wishes they had done and arsey creative directors use to dismiss other pieces of work, ‘Well, it’s OK, but it’s not Nike + is it?’ If you don’t know what Nike + is you may as well pack up and go home. The thing that makes this work interesting and a cultural shift is that it is useful. Consumers actually want to use this piece of advertising, they seek it out. Anomaly have coined a phrase, ‘branded utility’ - expect much more of this sort of stuff.

6. It’s actually easy to win an award if that’s all you want to do. In the same way that if you can somehow manage to do a 48 sheet with no words and a visual metaphor then it stands a good chance of winning something at Cannes the same is true of digital, especially banners. Do a neat visual trick, have a little bit of user interaction, lose the words, change your name to something Brazilian sounding and Bob est ton uncle.

7. If you are going to use celebs do it in an interesting way rather than just plonking them on a site. We are just about getting the budgets to do things with proper actors and artists rather than the girl from accounts. And of course it’s well worth it. We did a site with Martin Parr a few years back that was very successful and I am just finishing a project for Sony Vaio with John Malkovich where he has written the first scene to a movie and will judge the next scenes posted on the site. This, to me anyway, feels right contextually rather than just giving him a laptop and asking him to smile and say ‘cheese’.

8. People talk a lot about community and social networking. Sometimes this is the right way to go, often it’s not. Doing something on MySpace will not guarantee you a hit. It’s horses for courses I’m afraid and that’s part of your job to work it out – interrogate your brief and media agency and don’t settle for buzzwords.

9. Don’t take yourself too seriously. No one likes a smart arse. A lot of people started up digital agencies or came from ATL agencies to get away from cocky little shits. I know, I know, you’re just passionate about your work. But life is too short to have to deal with assholes. Work should be fun and when it is, it tends to be more successful. The best ideas come when you are happy and relaxed. As Mr Wenger once said, ‘to win you have to enjoy what you do first’. And, as I say, ‘if you weren’t enjoying yourself while you were winning then, frankly, what was the point?’

10. What’s with this conformity? Who says 10 is the right number?

So as you can see it’s not that much different to TV and Press. You need an idea, you need to keep things simple and use your common sense. There are shortcuts to awardsville but if you seek something bigger, something that people will talk about down the pub for years to come then it’s back to the grindstone I’m afraid (and take a techy with you).

thanks James

Tip No.31 - How To Do Posters
Tip No.30 - Look At Weird Shit
Tip No.29 - Presenting To The Client
Tip No.28 - Presenting To The Team
Tip No.27 - Presenting To The Creative Director
Tip No.26 - How To Deal With Rejection
Tip No.25 - Look Creative
Tip No.24 - Don't Be Afraid To Ask
Tip No.23 - Your Idea Has To Be 120%
Tip No.22 - Read Iain's Tips
Tip No.21 - Don't Behave
Tip No.20 - How To Discuss Ideas
Tip No.19 - Read Hugh's Tips
Tip No.18 - How To Get A Job In Advertising Part IV - How To Turn A Placement Into A Job
Tip No.17 - How To Get A Job In Advertising Part III - How To Approach Agencies (re-print of Tip No. 7)
Tip No.16 - How To Get A Job In Advertising Part II - How To Put A Book Together
Tip No. 15 - How To Get A Job In Advertising Part I - FAQ
Tip No. 14 - Make Friends With Traffic
Tip No. 13 - Get Reference
Tip No. 12 - Don't Stop Too Soon
Tip No.11 - Be Very
Tip No.10 - Breaking Up
Tip No.9 - Working Well With Your Partner
Tip No.8 - Finding The Right Partner
Tip No.7 - How To Approach Agencies
Tip No.6 - Never-Seen-Before Footage
Tip No.5 - Dicketts' Finger
Tip No.4 - Two Blokes In The Pub
Tip No.3 - Play Family Fortunes
Tip No.2 - Should You Take A Bad Job?
Tip No.1 - Don't Overpolish


Lunar BBDO said...

Lazy ATL creatives can look in last year's D&AD. The less lazy might check Creativity Online/Creative Review/Davidreviews on a daily/weekly/monthly basis.

Is there a place where a mildly curious ATL creative can keep up with all the digital innovations and how the best things work on Second Life/Facebook etc?

Anonymous said...

yes. it's called the internet. ;-)

brilliant post. this man speaks the truth. digital isn't hard. it's just harder. and more time-consuming.

and you don't get to hang out in swank hotels in LA. and there's no wrap party.

Anonymous said...

yes. it's called the internet. ;-)

I know it's a joke, but am wondering if it's the equivalent of saying: "Yes, it's in a book/magazine" without saying the name?

william said...



Rob Mortimer (aka Famous Rob) said...

Great stuff.

Anonymous said...

I especially like this bit:

"You will have to learn to deal with seeing someone everyday who is more important than you and has better trainers"


Damiano said...

Well done James, this is great post. I don’t even work in digital, I work in ‘films’ and maybe I’ve got it all wrong from my external POV but I think the most important point about digital work is that it essentially has to be useful in some way. It has to be 'sticky', a site that you're going to visit more than the once and that hopefully entertains, informs and ultimately adds value or eases your life in some way. 'Gives you something you didn't know you needed' Having two of these aspects is rare let alone all and I guess it’s a near impossible remit.

I think a great deal of digital is wasted and even if it’s good, you might engage with it only once out of curiosity, never to return. It has its place and I suppose if it’s really good it’s spread by WOM and so achieves some brand impact. But that's why Nike + leads the way in near perfect brand engagement that’s integrally linked to a specifically designed, original offline product - something that's often not stressed when it’s written up. That is one of the futures of digital, meshing with new offline technologies in novel, groundbreaking, imaginative ways, working with products – I guess we’re seeing that with mobiles and will see with novel uses of maps, GPS, IM and more iphone-type products. I think digital, as James says, fundamentally will forever be changing, forever producing creative and seminal ideas, but that is going to be a fundamental aspect of the rest of our lives. Who would have thought most of us would be involved with nosey social networks on our mobiles even five years ago? Digital has so many limitless possibilities especially with the coming convergence of the net channels and traditional brand TV channels and once we all have access to hyperspeed broadband, god knows what we will be creating.

Lastly just wanted to say another great sticky example is Poke's fun Orange promotion 'Spot the Bull' for Glasto which was SIMPLE and quick, (graphically and to navigate) neat and it’s sticky point with entrants receiving a daily email to have another crack at winning tickets for the festival. One question is does the traditional, glamorous dominant old world of ‘film’ have a secure position on that 'screen' or can it effectively knit with this rapidly changing new medium?

Anonymous said...


great blog. and no anonymous yesterday, I'm not sucking up for the sake of it. You can fuck right off.

Just shows that this new digital thing, ok newish thing (three D&AD pencils were won in 1997 for interactive), is a bit like the shock creative departments must have felt in the 1950's for 'this new TV thing'.

But it all comes down to how original we can be, in whatever medium we work in, basically its all about the content.

Anonymous said...

coops we love you! you've done many a crit for our course (your old ad school) and we'll miss ya!"

]-[appy Thought said...

Leave the Chemical Brothers alone!

Anonymous said...

Nike Plus is totally boring geekdom. Better examples of the future of our business for me would be GameKillers, Virgin Mobile Ming Mong, almost any BK stuff from the US. Stuff with a bit of emotion to it rather than just a load of clever techie stuff that's delivered in a cold way

Unknown said...

Awesome job.

I enjoyed that a great deal.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

@ Robin

I'm pretty sure James is referring to me.

"You will have to learn to deal with seeing someone everyday who is more important than you and has better trainers"

My trainers rock. (And I'm a planner).


James Cooper said...

Thanks for the comments. I'm glad people found the post helpful.

A few people have asked about some blogs for digital work.

Iain from Poke has already been mentioned but for those that don't know it:


It's very excellent.

Adverblog is a good source of the more digitally advertising stuff


Joseph Jaffe might not be everyone's cup of tea but is pretty much at the cutting edge of digital marketing in the states:


And little old me. I have a basic blog on Brand Republic


Also some have asked what I am up to. I am off to New York to join the Anomaly start up, Another Anomaly, as CD. It will be extremely hard to leave Dare but I have a destiny with doughnuts :)

James @ dare

(and Nick, I wasn't talking about your trainers, they are not that cool. Planners never have good shoes. You know this.)

Anonymous said...

not a huge fan of the jaffejuice. he talks a lot (mostly about the "death" of the :30 spot) but what has he done?

there's a lot of new media chancers over here.

a more reasoned and informed take IMHO is
zeusjones.blogspot.com. brainy ex-fallon dudes who are actually doing it.

Anonymous said...

Don't leave.

Todd Walker said...

"Branded utility"? Isn't that what the rest of us call "products" or "services"?

Anonymous said...

Branded utility"? Isn't that what the rest of us call "products" or "services"?

ha! ha! dead right todd.

but you have to understand that if self-important ad people do something for the first time, it has to be given a newer, more important sounding name. so we can delude ourselves that we invented it.

so when we end up cleaning the toilets at clients' offices it will be called Sanitary Image Enhancement Delivery.

or something.

Anonymous said...

"Great digital work usually comes from teamwork. Usually two creatives – a writer and an art director, a designer and a techy"
No planners then.....sigh.....
Coat, taxi etc

Giles Rhys Jones said...

comms agencies of any creed have a couple of chances to actually be as important as they think they are.

1. utility/product development/service. taking us back to the says when ad agencies developed the whole mix a la mr kipling a much touted but never bettered example. architects and builder not just painters and decorators and yes you probably need a planner or two.

2. working out how to get paid for it.

enjoy anomaly - i have been a fan for a while and they seems to cover both 1 & 2.