My friend Steve has just moved from an ATL agency to a digital shop.
As I am a particularly nosy and skeptical old sausage, I asked him what really lay behind the Wizard’s curtain and how it compared to ATL (it also meant I didn’t really have to bother writing a post today):
“The main difference has to be diagrams with lots of arrows. Digital seems to have loads of them, while my old agency had none. There’s a good reason for this: digital campaigns are impossible to understand without a heavily-arrowed diagram. This is because (and this was the hardest thing to wrap my head around) it’s almost impossible to separate digital media from planning and creative. Your ‘ideas’ are almost always partly to do with where and how they appear; the style, if you like, rather than the content. It’s perfectly possible to have a creative presentation where you talk about a mixture of virals, interactive billboards and mobile communications without really going into what will appear in those media until later.
So campaigns end up looking like a diagram of fractional distillation because you have to write, for example: Florence and the Machine gig gets streamed live to a select few, while other people are sent a code on SMS that they can use to unlock a VIP room to the gig, then this all gets chopped into little viral films that are sent to the FATM fanclub and finally posted onto YouTube. Or something like that. So you’re inevitably dealing with strategy, media and creative simultaneously. But then the media and strategy people are all doing it with you, so it’s OK. You just lean towards your discipline and take final responsibility for it.
To be honest, it might be better if that was how ATL agencies did it. The idea of having all these separate disciplines that depend on each other all working without each other’s complete knowledge and involvement seems crazy, and not the best use of the client’s money.
On the other side, Digital still feels like the poor cousin to ATL and will continue to do so until the money flows in properly. If you’re a good creative, why would you want to organise banners and widgets for 50 grand when you can make two-minute cinema ads for 100 grand? Of course, for some people, the chance to do something newer, fresher, deeper and more innovative makes up for the cash, but the budgets are just not quite glamorous enough. Yet.
Also, there seems to be a great deal of digital that does not require an ‘idea’ as ATL people think of it. Often it’s just making things work, digitally. When did you last see a website with an ‘idea’? There are a few, but most of them are just portals to the content of the website or the company behind it. And this goes back to the inseparable nature of digtal: you then get functionality being bound up in creative. How does that button work? Should it explode when I press it? How big is the explosion? What do we see then? Why? Do we continue through the website or link to a blog?
Actually, I’m finding that writing this is a bit confusing. But then I find digital a bit confusing. I’m not really sure what I’m doing here to be honest.”
I apologise to any digital people if you don’t agree with what Steve said. He’s a bit thick (he might be a retardalist). I tried to get him to explain it to me over the phone and it all went a bit messy.
But if you’ve worked in both places and you can do better, send me your answers on a postcard or post them in the comments section.