By Kevyn Faulkenberry, VP, Executive Creative Director, Dalton Agency
I’ve been working in the ad business now for over 24 years. I’ve witnessed some pretty big changes in the world of advertising. The majority of the changes I’ve seen over the years have been process-related. The tools changed, the media channels expanded, but the core of what we did and how we did it stayed the same, until the last several years.
Before then, we worked with our clients to develop insights that inspired creative ideas that could be developed into campaign executions. Ideas that we could pay to broadcast to consumers using TV, radio, print, direct mail or some other established medium. I took a lot of PR classes thanks to Dr. Joseph Nolan, my favorite college professor, so I’m very aware of the earned media side of the business. But even that was still driven by relationships with reporters at great metropolitan media outlets. For the most part, you had to be someone important to have your ideas heard, but that started changing.
New tools. Familiar tasks.
It was a big change for most ad agencies when computers first came along, even though we used it to do what we basically had always done.
In the mid 1980’s, an art director/production artist at an agency had to cut up and paste together what we called “mechanical boards.” All the words of a print ad had to be created and set by a professional typesetter, who did not work in most agencies’ office and was paid an expensive rate. When the type arrived at the agency, after at least 24 hours unless you paid the incredible RUSH fees, the “galley’s of type” had to be cut apart, the back covered in hot wax, and then placed in lines, by hand, according to the desired layout. It was tedious work and I don’t know anyone who could honestly claim to miss it.
Computers, like the Mac Classic, allowed words to be set “in-house” before they were sent out for photo-static printing. At first, art directors basically just set the galleys themselves, but eventually, using programs like PageMaker, words were be placed in the layouts on the screen, turning every art director into a typesetter. At the time it seemed revolutionary. They still had to be printed-out and mounted on boards. Then you added overlays on the boards with instructions on where the colors, halftones and very expensive color separations had to be stripped in. Actual scans of photos that could be added to the layout took a few years due to the computing power required. So basically, the computer made the work easier and took fewer people to get to the end product, much to the chagrin of professional typesetters, color separators, film strippers, stat makers, etchers, people who hand touched photos, etc. As futuristic as it seemed at times, (we even started bypassing the paper and sent the entire ad to “film”) looking back it didn’t have much impact on how we approached the final product, except I noticed deadlines began to creep up faster. As they still do today.
Every department inside an ad agency began using these new digital tools to get more done with less effort, media charts could be made faster, press releases could be distributed faster, research could be crunched faster, eventually, even TV spots editing and special effects could be done faster, and cheaper with computers. It still took time to come up with the insight and the idea, but computers were causing the production process to become streamlined and overhauled.
I can remember a lot of conversations about how the uses of the computer would be limited. “No one can replace professional typesetters.” I heard proclaimed. “It’s okay for creating type for mass-mailed newsletters, but never for my Wall Street Journal ad.” Even “Non-linear editing is just a toy, it’ll never replace tape-to-tape editing.” (Although, as I remember, pretty much everyone was wowed and blown away by Photoshop.) And so on and so on, all predictions delivered by people’s comfort level at the time with how they did their job, and proven to be false over time.
However, even though the process was affected and the technology was new, we were still just doing what we used to do with new tools. Everyone in the industry still understood the underlying logic of what we did, we broadcast ideas on behalf of our clients. Print. TV. Radio. Direct Mail. Brochures. Press Releases. They all worked fine, the tools hadn’t changed how our audience received our message.
New media channels for familiar tasks.
The second big shift was to use the Internet as a broadcast medium. I remember the first websites, and then later, digital ads. There was an audience now with computers to talk to and now we could use the internet to do so. For the most part, we would adapt the print ads to become banner ads, small photos and small type. It would be years before we could upload TV spots to stream over the web. In the days of the original AOL with the typical dial-up modem, it was almost unthinkable.
Digital, as it began to be called, was thought of as another extension of the traditional. While some forward thinking ad men started to embrace it and see the potential, most just seemed to tolerate it. So we recycled ideas and concepts to this new medium. Brochures became informative websites, which once you posted them, pretty much stayed the same until the next overhaul, or “reprint.” People started visiting corporate sites for basic information, “clicking” on ads to get information and things were looking pretty good.
People begin to broadcast too.
Then something changed. Google was born. People started realizing that they could just search for what they wanted. They could start find their own path to information, not just travel the paths we laid out for them. And more importantly, people began broadcasting without any help from corporations or agencies. Digital technology started shifting the balance of power from the corporations to the individual. Eventually, almost everyone had the power to launch ideas online and anyone who was willing to search could listen.
It was a subtle change at first. People started posting on message boards, then small personal websites, then blogs, and then early social media networks like Friendster. They didn’t have a huge media budget, or a huge reach, But they did have ideas, opinions, and most importantly, options.
Clients and agencies didn’t really react much at first. So a few people are talking online. People had ham radios once too, and that had never gotten get out of hand. But then technology began placing more broadcasting tools into the hands, and now with new smart phones, the pockets of our clients and consumers. And then social media was born. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube was invented. Suddenly, everyone had the potential to broadcast to more and more people. And with more people broadcasting, there were more options on what the public could chose to consume.
People now consume more information, more media.
People had access to 800 channels on their cable dial, millions of websites they could search instantly, millions of songs they could download, and hundreds of friends they could chat with. People began spending more and more time online. More and more information was, or expected to be, at their fingertips.
So consumers started building their own media bubbles. They controlled what messaging, info and entertainment got in. And, just as importantly , what got out. Consumers began using their power to amplify what they shared, talked about and embraced. And what they rejected. And their peers listened. And so did lots of ad guys.
The rules for advertising have changed.
By this time ad agencies, especially the smart ones were catching on. But unlike when computers first appeared on agency desks, it wasn’t just the tools that had changed, but the rules. We began to see that this new consumer empowerment was impacting not only how we got their attention, but also how we held it. And how we could feed it. New questions began to arise in strategy sessions and creative brainstorming meetings: “How do you go from scoring impressions to building engagement? How do you begin a conversation? How do you tap deeper into their passions and interests? What do they want more information around? How do you broadcast to people who don’t want to be sold to, but want to be spoken with? How do you connect with people who have more filters in place than ever before, but also consume more media, information, and entertainment than ever before? How can we convert social media activity into sales?”
People want more and more interesting content.
One of the most important takeaways is that people do not want to be sold to in the old booming announcer way. They want to be talked to with respect––respect for their time, their business and their intelligence. They want interesting, useful information that will inform their decisions. And they want this delivered in entertaining ways. They want something in return for their attention. They want to do business with companies that share, or help create, their worldview. I believe creating great content on an ongoing basis is going to become more and more important in the future.
Brands are more important than ever.
You would think the shift of power and the availability of unprecedented information would make the advertising and the influence of brands fade. But the opposite is happening. Because there is so much information, people are looking for assistance in making purchase decisions, and for help in what product or service to choose. Brands are becoming more transformative and valuable for businesses than ever. Because remember, brands exist in the mind of the consumers. Their perception, and how they act on that perception, is what drives value to a brand. Clients and agencies still help code and form their perceptions with our ideas and actions, just in broader, more integrated ways.
Ideas are more important than ever.
One thing that isn’t changing is the importance of creative ideas, especially ideas that can be communicated throughout every part of a client’s business. It is no longer enough to say it, a client has to live it: In all media and in all their dealings with the public. Social media is a part of the equation, but not in a vacuum. Digital is part of the equation, but not the complete answer. Now we must look for integrated solutions. The rules have changed for your entire marketing plan. And not just the digital one.
Traditional media isn’t going away, but it is transforming.
And despite all the prophecies, traditional media isn’t going away. It is just being consumed differently. News is flowing online, TV ratings are being boosted by hashtags, and twitter conversations. Everything media-related is transformed by the new paradigm shifts that are coming from people beginning to understand the power their digital tools give them.
Success for marketing communication these days requires smart strategy based on a realistic worldview and integration among all your tactics, both traditional and digital, creative and media. Digital can’t be a Band-Aid and traditional media can’t be ignored, but they must be updated. Both must work together to achieve the most results.
All of these reasons are why I think that it’s an exciting time to be in advertising. And, I’ll admit, a little scary for people who are not learning about or adapting to what’s going on around them. I believe everyone needs to embrace the change.
Besides, if I’ve learned anything about the ad business, it’s that it constantly keeps reinventing itself. Sometimes in big steps, like when new media transform it (Television didn’t hit until the 50’s) or small ways like when new tools come along (Thank you, Mac Classic). And every so often, all the rules change, like now. We’re always learning, we have no choice if we want to be relevant. Who would have thought running one :30 TV spot in the Super Bowl could have such a big impact on a company until Apple’s famous “1984” spot? And what could they have done with the huge ripple effect that social media would have given that spot today? The only constant in change.
Our commitment to change is one reason why I believe so strongly in the Dalton Agency.
Jim has built an agency that’s driven to embrace the future because we know we have to keep evolving if we want to continue to help our clients win. We understand that we have to adapt to changes in our industry. That’s why we’ve been working and growing our online skills for more than 13 years; why we broadened our definition of PR to PR+, why we brought broadcast production in-house over seven years ago; why we started a social media practice in 2008; why we’re looking at new processes and strategies every day. We know the day we stop looking for new ways to do what we do is the day we die, like so many other agencies before us.
One of my favorite quotes is from Walt Disney: “Keep moving forward.”
I’m curious what the next 24 plus years will bring.