A Conversation with Nick Law, Global Chief Creative Officer, R/GA, and IAB MIXX Awards Judge
This past May at the What Works & Why in Digital Advertising: Insights from the IAB MIXX Awards event, Nick Law described his thinking on the alchemy needed in today’s digital world to achieve creative success. Although he took just five minutes to lay out his thesis, it crystallized for me the answer to a question I had been furiously pondering over the past four years: what is the right creative model to achieve the level of brilliance in the digital world that marketers have come to expect of the best agencies in the analog one? I wasn’t the only one who found his thinking revelatory; I saw dozens of pens busily scribbling during his short talk.
While Nick was at the IAB Ad Lab in New York to judge the 2014 IAB MIXX Awards, I asked him for a chat about this notion so we could share his thoughts with the industry. Our conversation is captured below and in the accompanying video.
Peter Minnium (PM), IAB: R/GA has a unique model of deploying talent in teams to get the best results; can you tell us the genesis of this thinking?
Nick Law (NL), R/GA: About a decade ago, I looked at the creative skill sets that we had at what was then a very different R/GA, and it occurred to me that if you were to be brutal in your division of skill sets, you would cleave the world into storytelling and systematic thinking. The important point about this realization, as much as understanding that these two ways of thinking exist, was to recognize that are both creative ways of thinking. So if you’re from Madison Avenue, over the last 50 years, what has been considered creative is storytelling, because the mediums that we’ve used are narrative mediums. And since the advent of digital, this type of architectural and spatial way of thinking has become very important. In the advertising world, I think the problem is that this hasn’t been considered creative. It’s been relegated to a sort of an executional or technical path.
So when people talk about the “big idea” in advertising, they still really refer to the ability to tell a story and to distill a brand down to a little narrative. And when they think about this sort of interactive, they think about it from a technical point of view. So then, having come up with the big idea, they wonder how to push that down into this new set of formats and channels. But what I realized was that the sort of creativity associated with systematic thinking was very powerful and very different.
PM: Why is the distinction between the different skills sets important?
NL: This is an important thing to recognize, because if you don’t recognize the difference between storytelling and systematic thinking as sort of categorically different ways of thinking, then creators—because they’re all vain and because there’s this sort of hubris associated with creative people—will say that because they’re creative, they should be doing it all, right? So I would have an instance where someone who grew up designing interfaces and was a systematic thinker couldn’t wait to get over to the content studio and do a film, even though for 10 years, that wasn’t the way they thought. And vice-versa. I think that early on in this sort of emergent digital world, there were many creative executions that came from an art director/copywriter type of narrative team, which in a systematic world, failed dismally, right? I won’t mention any big platforms, but there’s quite a few. And a lot of money was wasted.
PM: Are people born Systemic or Narrative Thinkers?
NL: So if you look at a human brain—and I sort of found out later that we don’t know a lot about neuroscience—we do know that the left-hand brain processes things sequentially and that the right-hand brain processes things simultaneously. So it’s this play between time and space, between the temporal way of thinking and the spatial way of thinking. Therefore, it stands to reason that if you’ve been doing something and you’ve gotten good at something from a creative point of view, the paths in your brain are in a very specific place. So for me, that explains why it’s very difficult for a narrative thinker to connect and design a systematic piece of work, and vice versa because they’re in a habit.
PM: Bill Bernbach revolutionized creative teams in the 1960’s by pairing art directors and copywriters. Is the model different now?
NL: So at R/GA at least, we think that the atomic team is not an art director and a copywriter, but rather a storyteller and a systematic thinker. Another way of looking at this is as a tension. Storytelling is the act of simplifying, because it’s about the revealed moment and good storytelling, good brand storytelling, is really about that distilled moment and how it’s revealed. And there’s this tension between that simplicity and the possibility provided by systematic thinking. So systematic thinkers are good, very good at possibility because they understand how each node plays with each other and can look at all these relationships simultaneously and generate many ideas.
So when you have a systematic thinker and a narrative thinker, you get this lovely tension between simplicity and possibility. When that is absent, when all you have is simplicity, you just have simple brand storytellers, really just a lucid brand but without innovation. And when you just have systematic thinkers’ input of possibility, then you get really interesting and multiple tactics that don’t ladder up to a simple brand idea. So that’s how I can tell whether or not we have the balance right—whether things are simple but not innovative, or innovative but not lucid. That balance becomes very important, that interplay. This doesn’t mean that underneath that organizing principle, we don’t have all sorts of different combinations: art directors, copywriters, data scientists, and strategists, and all sorts of other combinations, but that’s the sort of balance we’re trying to achieve, between storytelling and systematic thinking.
PM: Thanks, Nick; I now better understand the magic behind the award winning work at R/GA.
To learn more about creativity in digital advertising download the IAB MIXX Awards 2013 Insights Report: What Works & Why, which showcases examples of award winning digital advertising campaigns and the genius behind the creative work from thought leaders across the industry.
About the Author
As the Head of Brand Initiatives at IAB, Peter Minnium leads a series of initiatives designed to address the under-representation of creative brand advertising online. He can be reached on Twitter @PeterMinnium.
- Transparency is key, but as an industry we need to define - what does it mean to be truly transparent in the programmatic space?
- Now that programmatic technologies are in place, let’s find ways to implement more engaging and interactive creative in real time
- Now that people are getting more comfortable with letting technology do the heavy lifting, we can begin to take advantage of programmatic efficiencies
Nicole Horsford is the Member Services Director at IAB.
- Get noticed: 320x50 banners don’t do enough to get her attention.
- Don’t force it: Forced ad engagements, for example with time consuming auto-play video ads, leave a negative impression. Don’t let frustration trump the ad’s message.
- Relevance, relevance, relevance: Be relevant not just to her, but to what she’s doing at that moment.
- It’s all about her: Get to know her. Be relevant, and she’ll be much more likely to take notice.
- Keep it simple: An unclear message will be perceived as spam she’ll ignore them. Be simple, direct, and succinct.
Joe Laszlo is Senior Director, Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence, at the IAB.
About the Author
Alison Pepper is Senior Director of Public Policy, Interactive Advertising Bureau.
 Source: FairVote, The Center for Voting and Democracy, www.fairvote.org
 Source: FairVote, The Center for Voting and Democracy, www.fairvote.org
Julie Van Ullen
Julie Van Ullen is the Vice President of Member Services at the Interactive Advertising Bureau. Julie oversees a number of IAB’s elite Committees and Councils, charged with putting industry best practices and thought leadership into the marketplace. Those focal areas include Native, Programmatic, Digital Video, Advanced TV, Digital Audio, Social Media, Games and more.
From the Winter Olympics to a fantastic World Cup, it’s already been a great year for sports around the world. And as the summer baseball season unfolds in the US, the IAB Mobile Center and InMobi have collaborated to publish a look at how US consumers use their smartphones to plan and purchase tickets to sporting events.
This report completes a trilogy of studies examining mobile and ticketing. Previously we looked at mobile and movies and mobile and live theater and music performances. Like those event categories, sports benefits greatly from the ease and convenience of the mobile internet.
Among the key findings from the sports research:
- 85% of mobile sports fans turn to mobile after seeing ads for entertainment events on other channels.
- 49% of mobile sports fans say they find information about entertainment activities via mobile, making that channel more important than PC and print for entertainment information.
- 78% of mobile sports fans use their mobiles to help plan trips to watch live sporting events.
- Sports fans use their devices during games to record videos and watch replays.
- 1 out of 3 mobile sports fans purchases game tickets directly through their phones or tablets. Box office, online and mobile are now all major sources of ticket sales.
Like mobile consumers generally, mobile sports fans gravitate toward ads that combine fun and relevance. Sports marketers seeking to make mobile an MVP on their media team should remember that 36% of this group prefer ads that showcase video, sound, and photos; 33% like deals or other promotions; 28% like pre-sale ticket opportunities; and 27% like ads that feature their favorite sports team.
It’s hard to imagine a category of marketer that’s a more natural fit for mobile than entertainment ticketing. Whether it’s a spontaneous movie night, the game of the year, or the concert of a lifetime, mobile has the immediacy and relevance to help a fan learn what’s going on, act on that, and share the experience with friends and the world. We hope these three studies help open marketers’ eyes to the value that mobile brings to the world of event ticketing, and look forward to seeing even tighter and better integration of mobile into sports, music, theater, event, and movie marketing.
Joe Laszlo is Senior Director, Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence, at the IAB.
- What’s your measurable Rate? - This KPI measures the percent of impressions verified out of the total impressions delivered in the campaign. Your goal should be to get as close as possible to a measurable rate of 100%.
- Are you MRC accredited? - A solution that carries the MRC seal means it is a trusted solution that has gone through a rigorous set of tests and has been validated to meet a certain set of guidelines and industry standards.
- What’s your level of publisher transparency and cooperation? - Keeping your media partners in the dark is counterproductive and ensures the negative outcomes you are trying to avoid. Make sure the relevant data is available to your media partners in real time and that you frequently communicate with them to address any issues that may come up.
- Blacklists - A list of domains is created where your ads must not run. Ads can run on any site that isn’t on the blacklist.
- Whitelists - A list of domains is created where your ads may run. Ads must not run on any site that isn’t on the whitelist.
- Impression-level analysis - Inspecting each impression and determining whether it meets the advertiser’s specific criteria, including brand or message conflict, along with fraud, brand safety, and other requirements, and denying ad delivery when these criteria aren’t met for the specific impression.
Ronnie Lavi is vice president, product, at Innovid, a technology platform for delivering immersive video advertising anywhere. Ronnie is a digital advertising technology veteran with nearly a decade of product development and product marketing experience.
With less than two days left to submit entries to the IAB MIXX Awards, you might be asking yourself should you enter. Here’s a handy flow chart to help you decide.
The IAB MIXX Awards screening committee, comprised of marketing and advertising pioneers, determines the pool of finalists from which the IAB MIXX Awards judging panel will select this year’s winners. Each one of these leaders individually scores each submission to ensure the world’s most creative and high-impact digital executions are recognized. The decisions this group makes helps shape the industry by highlighting what they think is important and innovative in interactive marketing as well as educates the industry on what’s happening and what’s next.
Every entry is evaluated by multiple committee members for an accurate, thorough review. The five entries with the highest
scores become the finalists for each category. Finalists will be
notified by August 8, 2014.
The 2014 IAB MIXX Awards esteemed screening committee are comprised of:Guillermo Abud - Vice President, Digital Director, MV42 | MediaVest Multicultural
Aliza Adam - Vice President, Interactive Design Director, Deutsch
Azher Ahmed - Senior Vice President, Director of Digital Operations, DDB
Paul Alfieri - Vice President, Global Marketing, Turn Inc.
Gil Arevalo - Senior Creative, VML/Red Fuse
Cynthia Ashworth - Senior Vice President, Innovation Marketing, Univision Interactive Media
Joe Barone - Managing Director, Digital Advertising Operations, GroupM
Bex Bartolo - Planning Director, Iris Worldwide
Andreas Baumert - Associate Creative Director, kbs+
Dan Bensman - Associate Creative Director, Wunderman
Heather Bergstein - Director, Corporate Digital Marketing & Media, The Estée Lauder Companies
Christian Borges - Senior Vice President, Marketing, true [X] media
Natalia Borges - Vice President, Marketing, Batanga Network
Mitch Brandow - Vice President, Energy, BBDO
Kedma Brown - Vice President, Director of Integrated Production, Saatchi & Saatchi
Evan Caffee - Senior Manager, Reporting and Analytics, National Markets Sales Operations, YP
Adam Cahill - Executive Vice President, Media Director, Hill Holiday
Jaimie Camesano - Mobile Marketing Lead, Lenovo
Juan Cano - Account Manager, The Vidal Partnership
Matthew Carollo - Executive Director, Digital Marketing & Sales Enablement, Hanley Wood Media
Julia Casale-Amorim - Chief Marketing Officer, Casale Media
James Chester - Senior Analyst, Digitas Health
Federico Churio - Latin America Digital Marketing Manager, Lenovo
Harry Clark - General Manager, Underwriting & Integrated Marketing, New York Public Radio
Erin Clift - Vice President, Global Marketing & Partnerships, Spotify
Serena Connolly - Group Creative Director, LBI
Danny Cordella - Senior Copywriter, Creative, Digitas
Makiko Cronin - Vice President, Client Partner, Chango
Tom Davis - Chief Marketing Officer, Forbes Media
Karen Dayan - Vice President, Corporate Marketing, AdTruth
Sefanie Digianvincenzo - Associate Creative Director, Wunderman
Rachelle Digregorio - Strategist, Big Spaceship
Dabney Donigan - User Experience Designer, Big Spaceship
Kelley Drake - Director, Trade Marketing, AOL, Inc.
Kevin Dreyfuss - Vice President, Creative Director, Deutsch
Alice Dure - Digital Group Director, MEC Global
Sia Ea - Senior Creative Director, Ansible Mobile
Keith Eadie - Vice President, Marketing, TubeMogul
Carla Eboli - Chief Marketing Officer, Dieste Inc.
Tom Eslinger - WW Creative Director Mobile and Social, Saatchi & Saatchi
Linda Evans - Vice President, Cross Platform Marketing, Time Warner Cable
Rita Ferro - Executive Vice President, Disney Media Sales & Marketing, Disney Interactive Media Group
Joel Fisher - Vice President, Creative Director, Verve Mobile
Craig Furlong - Senior Creative Technologist, PointRoll
Fred Gerantabee - Director, Technology, Grey
Adam Gerber - Vice President, Sales Development & Marketing, ABC National TV
Ali Ghuzzi - Creative Director, Voltari
Jason Gomez - Digital Supervisor, BPN
Nicole Granese - Global Brand Marketing and Strategy, Visa
Lindsey Greathouse - Email Program Manager, Lenovo
Paul Greer - Associate Creative Director, Digitas
Nancy Griffin - Media Director, Tapestry Partners
Jose Guizar - Art Director, Huge
Steve Haroutunian - Vice President, Digital Production Manager, Mullen
Walter Harp - Vice President, Product Management & Marketing, Mixpo
Marc Hartzman - Group Creative Director, kbs+
Nikki Hawke - Marketing Director, North America, The Exchange Lab
Josh Heitsenrether - Director, Marketing Services, Summit Business Media
Elizabeth Hellman - Chief Marketing Officer, Dstillery
Bobbie Herbs - Vice President, Marketing & Insights, Rovi Advertising
Stephanie Hing - Campaign Planning and Delivery Manager, Lenovo
Amber Horsburgh - Strategist, Big Spaceship
Ryan Hose - Creative Director, Red Fuse
Christopher Howell - Associate Director, Digital, BPN
Erin Hutchinson - Director, Events Marketing, Merkle, Inc.
Greg Johns - Client Director, Digital Strategy, Initiative+
Craig Johnson - Global Account Director, Oracle, ZenithOptimedia
Pete Jones - Executive Creative Director, McCann XBC
Jae Sung Jung - Art Director, kbs+
Erin Kapczynski - Vice President, Marketing, Purch
Nancy Katz Aresu - Director, Client Services, Young and Rubicam
Brittney Kernan - Senior Technologist, Big Spaceship
Eric Kingsbury - Head of Marketing and Creative, FetchBack
Lindsay Kirkman - Project Manager, Worldwide Web Campaigns, Online Web Marketing, Lenovo
Jack Koch - Director, Global Marketing Insights, Electronic Arts
Kamil Kowalczyk - Copywriter, Leo Burnett
Lisa LaCour - Vice President, Marketing, Outbrain
Justin LaFontaine - Art Director, Huge
Claudia Lagunas - Senior Director, Global Digital Marketing, Visa
Scott Lahde - Director, Corporate Marketing, YuMe
Gian LaVecchia - Managing Partner, Digital Content Marketing, MEC
Tim Leake - Senior Vice President, Director of Growth & Innovation, RPA
Brian Leder - Senior Partner, Digital Director North, GroupM
John Leeman - Senior Vice President, Marketing, RMG Networks
Chris Lehault - Associate Creative Director, Wunderman
Michael Lepkowsky - IT Director, Digital Marketing Services, Unilever
Penn Li - Associate Creative Director, Razorfish
Tom Limongello - Vice President, Product Marketing, Crisp Media
Jane Lin - Director, Marketing, Gravity
Daniel Littlefield - Search Strategist, Morpheus Media
Ewa Lonska - Senior Art Director, Cramer-Krasselt
Karmen Luznik - Vice President, Marketing, Celtra
Mike Manganillo - Creative Media Director, McKinney
Chanel Marks - Senior Strategic Account Manager, Electronic Arts
Ryan McKone - Vice President, Strategy Director, Interactive, Cramer-Krasselt
Kirsten McMullen - Director of Marketing, Chief Privacy Officer, 4INFO
Suzanne Molinaro - Senior Vice President, Director Of Digital Production, Deutsch
Chuck Moran - Chief Marketing Officer, Burst Media
Rodrigo Moretz - Senior Digital Marketing and Innovation Manager for Latin America, Unilever
Alex Morrison - Senior Vice President, Director of Digital Marketing, Grey
Mark Mulhern - Senior Director, Mars Petcare, BBDO NY
Marco Muzzi - Marketing Director, AcuityAds Inc.
Scott Navarro - Agency Lead, AOL
Piryanka Nayak - Global Brand Strategy and Communications, Lenovo
Paul Neto - Research Director, YuMe
Chris Nicholls - Communications Director, Saatchi & Saatchi LA
James O’Neill - Vice President, Director of Interactive, Assembly
Brian Orlando - Senior Brand Manager, Unilever
Jabez Palmer - Executive Director, Creative, Mixpo
Juan Paredes - Brand Manager, The Vidal Partnership
Lisa Parente - Vice President, Millward Brown
Crystal Park - Senior Director, Marketing, AOL Networks
Catherine Patterson - Senior Vice President, ex. Integrated Production, McCann
Rob Peragine - Senior Account Executive, North America, BPN
Rey Peralta - Senior Vice President, Director of Creative Technology, Deutsch
Constanza Peuriot - Senior Vice President of Global Marketing and Expansion, BPN
Lea Platz - Associate Creative Director, kbs+
Ben Plomion - Vice President, Marketing, Chango
Joanna Popper - Vice President, Marketing, NBCUniversal Telemundo
Erica Pressly - Copywriter, The Barbarian Group
Erik Rabasca - Senior Vice President, Digital Integrated Lead, BPN
Rajesh Raina - Senior Director Global Marketing, Abbot
Mohan Ramaswamy - Partner, Strategy, Work & Co
Kerstin Recker - Vice President, Marketing, NTENT
Alex Reinoso - Art Director, Razorfish
Christine Roeder - Associate Director, Marketing, AT&T AdWorks
David Rosenberg - Associate Creative Director, SapientNitro
Soizic Sacrez - Trade Marketing Director, Terra Networks Operations, Inc.
Kendra Salvatore - Strategy Director, Bartle Bogle Hegarty
Matthew Sandercock - Program Manager, Consumer Digitization, GE Appliances
Paulo Santamaria - Digital Marketing & Social Media Manager, Lenovo
Shelby Saville - Executive Vice President, Managing Director, Spark
Marla Schimke - Vice President, Marketing, ZUMOBI
Laura Schooling - Chief Marketing Officer, Jumpstart Automotive Group
Adam Seymour - Senior Vice President, Managing Director, Carat SF
Naim Sheriff - Senior Designer, Big Spaceship
Deb Siegel - Associate Creative Director, Digitas
Hunter Simms - Associate Creative Director, Razorfish
Dahee Song - Art Director, kbs+
Angela Steele - Chief Operating Officer, Ansible
Kerry Steib - Product Marketing, Spotify
Patrick Stern - Chief Creative Officer, iCrossing
John Swadener - Principal, Consumer Impact Consulting, PricewaterhouseCoopers
Ryan Tetuan - Creative Account Director, Google, Inc.
Andrea Thompson - Vice President, Creative Director, McCann Erickson
Julian Tippins - Copy Writer, Huge
Alex Toledo - Senior Manager, Interactive Development, SapientNitro
Matt Trego - Associate Creative Director, McKinney
Zak Treuhaft - Chief Digital Officer, Grey
David Urbano - Director Digital Strategy and Production, The Vidal Partnership
Sean Vanderdasson - Senior Vice President, Games Service & Retail Marketing, WildTangent
Daniela Vojta - Group Creative Director, McCann XBC
Kip Voytek - Senior Vice President, Director of Digital Innovation, MDC Partners
Sean Wachsman - Brand Manager, Chambord Trademark, Brown-Forman
Rick Weir - Director, Business to Business Marketing (Local, Mobile), Yahoo!, Inc.
Eric Weisberg - Executive Creative Director, JWT
Esmee Williams - Vice President, Brand Marketing, Allrecipes.com
Donald Williams - Chief Digital Officer, Horizon Media
Jeffrey Woelker - Vice President, Director of Digital, Zócalo Group
Lise Yellen - Creative Director, VML/Red Fuse
Susan Young - Group Creative Director, McCann XBC
Felicia Yukich - Director, Marketing Communications and Content, Four Seasons Hotel and Resorts