Burger King customers, when they placed an order online in 2004, were connected to the Subservient Chicken website, where they could command a man dressed as a chicken to enact 300 different commands.
Advertising has changed dramatically in the last decade. Digital technology has altered everything, from the way that people make advertising, to the way these messages are shared with the public. Like many creative industries, ad land has had to rethink its business entirely as a result.
Prior to the internet, advertising had a captive audience: we had become accustomed to sitting through ad breaks on television or flicking over them in magazines to get to the content we actually wanted to see. But new technology has given us the chance to opt out of this – recording devices now allow us to quickly and easily skip over the adverts on TV, and the general splintering of the media means that it is less easy to reach the mass audiences of the past. In addition, the availability of cheap technology has allowed the public to express itself in ways that were barely imaginable only 10 years ago. Social media means that consumers can share something they like with hundreds of friends or followers within seconds, and in turn, if they are angry or disappointed by a brand, they can share that information too.
As a result, brands and advertising agencies have had to become more transparent and nimble in their actions, and more playful in their approach to the public. Here, perhaps, the industry remains the same as it as ever was: creative, clever ideas are still the most successful ways to get a consumer’s attention – this is the same in 2010 as it was in 1950. What is different is that there are now myriad ways of achieving this, and ad agencies need to be experts in them all.
Advertising is usually at the forefront of developments in media and technology, but it was surprisingly slow to pick up on the impact of the internet. This is perhaps due to the size of the industry now – many agencies are part of huge networks that have offices spanning the world, and it has proved difficult for these behemoth companies to change their behaviour quickly. As a result, the industry has seen the rise of the boutique agency.
Smaller than the traditional agencies, the boutiques usually place creativity at their heart, both in the content of the work they create, and the way that they distribute it. They will typically work with clients who have less to spend, but want innovative work regardless. If a brave client is paired with the right agency, huge results can be achieved.
Crispin, Porter & Bogusky’s work for Burger King in the US is a great example of this. The burger brand needed to find a way to stand out as being different to McDonald’s and CP&B’s solution to this was a clever mix of humour and the embracing of new media.
The agency has created a series of hugely successful ads for Burger King that are all based around the internet. These include Subservient Chicken, a website from 2004 that played on the idea of voyeurism on the net by placing a grown man dressed as a chicken in a dingy apartment. Visitors to the site could command the man to do things by entering orders online. The chicken-man responded to more than 300 commands, from the fairly banal, such as “dance”, to more risqué suggestions.
This campaign was followed by a series of online films for the brand, including one titled “Whopper Freakout”, which saw genuine customers’ horrified reactions to being told that their favourite burger had been discontinued. CP&B even managed to successfully infiltrate Facebook last year, a site that is notoriously resistant to overt marketing, by coming up with an amusing concept that allowed users to dump 10 friends and receive a free burger. It was quickly shut down, yet still received massive press coverage.
The rise of the creative boutique has seen a shift in the geographic focus of the industry. London, always seen as the creative capital of advertising, has seen its star fall slightly in recent years, with other cities offering alternative opportunities.
New York, which had become a rather stale and tired city in advetising terms, has seen a resurgence over the last few years as a number of agencies offering new advertising models have sprung up in the city. Droga5, a small company set up by top ad creative David Droga, has proved that creative advertising approaches can be applied to unexpected clients, by working with the NYC Department of Education to create The Million, a mobile phone reward scheme to encourage students to attend school.
A number of small New York agencies are also redefining the scope of what an advertising campaign can be. Campfire and Big Spaceship both specialise in telling complex brand stories for clients, which will be released via social media, blogs and other online sources as well as via props in the “real world”. The results are closer to an interactive gaming experience than the short films or messages that we normally associate with advertising.
Elsewhere in the world, similar creative hubs are appearing: Amsterdam in particular has a thriving design and advertising scene, with a mixture of small boutiques and larger agencies all accommodated within the city. Another effect of the internet, however, is that creative trends no longer need to be tied to a city at all – successful agencies are springing up in increasingly unlikely destinations. CP&B now operates largely out of Boulder, Colorado, while other agencies such as Sid Lee, whose main office is in Montreal, and The Glue Society in Sydney, have proved that it is not always necessary to be in a creative capital to be successful.
Has London lost it?
So how is London faring now amongst the changes? The city of course stills contains some of the best, and most creative agencies in the world. BBH, Wieden + Kennedy, Fallon and Mother are all based here and are world-renowned for their creative work. Yet the agencies have still been slow to embrace the full possibilities offered by digital. There are examples of great innovative thinking at these agencies – Mother’s feature film project Somers Town, which was funded by Eurostar, and Fallon’s excellent work with the Tate are two examples – yet the city retains a closer association with great television work, rather than rich, integrated thinking.
Take a look at the London’s output of five years ago, and it was lighting up the awards circuit with excellent television commercials. Wieden + Kennedy produced ad after ad for Honda, all excellent and all widely varied, while Fallon’s Balls TV spot for Sony, which featured an avalanche of bouncing coloured balls, sparked a movement for incorporating folk music in advertising that has only recently begun to subside. Television is expensive and somewhat out of fashion at the moment, however, and as a result, London has had to up its game.
This was most clearly emphasised recently when Sony moved its UK account away from Fallon and awarded it to Anomaly, a largely New York-based agency that has only had a tiny profile in London. Anomaly is a resolutely non-TV agency, having made its name in the US by creating eclectic, integrated projects for its clients. Its model is also unusual, with the agency regularly creating intellectual property for its clients, as well as providing their branding and marketing needs. In a recent campaign for Diesel, for example, the agency signed a young, unknown musician to create a track for an online film for the brand. Anomaly part-owns the rights to the song and is selling it via iTunes.
Sony’s move created shockwaves in London, particularly as Fallon is one of the most innovative agencies in the city, specialising in varied approaches for its clients. But there is also evidence of exciting new developments. Digital specialists in the city, including AKQA, Dare and Glue, were once edgy boutiques but are now becoming the mainstream. And other models are beginning to appear – a new set-up called The Assembly, for instance, has adopted a freelance model, working with a number of established creative directors.
London’s love of a great piece of film is also finding new life online. BBH recently created a long, cinematic piece for Johnnie Walker whiskey, starring Robert Carlyle, and this month Philips released a series of short films from directors at RSA production company, all intended for the web. Recent developments in camera technology are making such films cheaper and easier to produce: Canon’s line of high-definition DSLR cameras are already being adopted by the industry, and the new RED high-definition cameras are also offering new possibilities for advertising, with stills from films created on the cameras being of a high enough quality to use individually as print ads.
The internet has increased advertising’s scope, and its audience has in turn become more discerning, preferring to interact and engage with the brands that it likes than having messages shouted out it. The modern advertising agency needs to understand this, and place creativity at the core of its output – making work that will excite, intrigue and surprise the modern consumer.
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