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Do we assess digital creativity all wrong?

Article - London, 26 August 2014

Why being granular in digital isn’t sexy, but it is big and clever

With Contagious rapidly approaching its 10th anniversary at the end of the year, it won’t surprise you to hear that our brain trust is currently firing on all three of its cylinders to work out how we celebrate the last decade by considering exactly how far the industry has come in that time. The short and oversimplified answer is a bloody long way. And yet for all the progress made, it still feels as if there are some fundamental changes that are woefully overdue. And one of these, I would like to propose, is in how we assess – and therefore value – different types of digital creativity.

Just look at Cannes this year. The Grand Prix in the mobile category was awarded toNivea’s Protection Ad from FCB Brasil – a natty tracking device bracelet that could be pulled out of a magazine print ad and then attached to errant kiddies on the beach. Now for all of this case’s neat manifestation of the brand promise (protection), it was undeniably niche in its reach and (feel free to argue against this in the comments below) will have realistically done little in the long run to help the brand wrap its head around mobile as a proper marketing channel through which to create effective experiences at scale. It did, however, feel innovative, sexy and was wrapped up in a neat case study, so hardly a surprise winner on the day.

I would like to compare this to another ‘digital’ case that received some stage time at the festival – although not as a Grand Prix winner but rather in a seminar delivered by the chief marketing and communications officer of one of the world’s biggest and most successful marketers. It was, of course, Unilever’s Keith Weed, whose pragmatic but insightful take on the future of the industry was widely regarded as one of the must-see sessions of the week. Central to his vision is the idea that the fragmentation of the industry will only be fixed once marketers (with Unilever leading the charge, of course) learn how to connect the dots between the still worryingly disparate ecosystems of mobile, social and data.

The case Weed used to illustrate this was All Things Hair  a partnership betweenUnilever and Google, masterminded by digital agency, Razorfish. Using data mined from the 7 billion searches for ‘hair’ every year, Google was able to help the company predict hair trends up to three months in advance and then employ popular YouTube bloggers to create relevant content hosted on a dedicated channel. Multiple Unilever hair care brands are featured, with viewers able to one-click-purchase specific products as they please. All Things Hair has received 1,000 new subscriptions every day since its launch and is now the biggest dedicated hair care channel in the world. ‘This isn’t big data’, explained Weed, ‘it’s big insights’.

But is All Things Hair sexy? Not particularly. Is it Grand Prix worthy? Apparently not. Has it been heroed by the industry in the same way as Nivea’s Protection Ad? Nope. And yet – I ask you – which of these feels like the more significant step forward in digital marketing?
And so we arrive back at the question of how we assess digital creativity. All Things Hair is unapologetically granular in its approach, but does this make it any less deserving of recognition? Perhaps great digital by its very nature is granular and not about flashy branded mobile apps that no one outside of the industry has heard of or immersive microsites that showcase an agency’s HTML5 chops but do little to affect a brand’s bottom line.

Apps, microsites et al have felt like a comfortable progression over the past decade – almost digital alternatives of a slick 30 second spot or beautifully-written print ad  that are tangible and easy to assign budget and responsibility for. But the idea that a great creative digital execution may no longer be about something that can be entrusted to one team and then wrapped up neatly in a case study, but rather an effective combination of systems and skillsets designed to optimise a consumer experience still feels quite alien. And yet the sooner the industry recognises this, the sooner we can all start working together to define and celebrate a new – but most importantly relevant – appreciation of marketing creativity.