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A Conversation with Nick Law, Global Chief Creative Officer, R/GA

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 revelatoryNL2.jpg; I saw dozens of pens busily scribbling during his short talk. 

I asked Nick to stop by the IAB Ad Lab in NYC 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
peter-minnium-headshot.jpgPeter Minnium 

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.

Terms & Conditions 3.0 in the news

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blog-header-around-web.gifJim Ewel, CEO of Adometry, wrote an article for MediaPost’s Blog today about the IAB’s updated Standard Terms & Conditions. Check out his post, “Why The New IAB Guidelines Are Good For Everyone and discover how the IAB is moving interactive advertising toward becoming even more transparent and accountable. To learn more about one of the industry’s hottest topics, be sure to sign up for our  Terms & Conditions 3.0 Webinar taking place January 26th at noon.

VAST Buzz

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Andy Atherton, co-founder and chief operating officer of Brand.net, wrote an article that appeared in today’s AdAge about VAST (Digital Video Ad Serving Template). We think  ”Ad Network? Video Network? Why Not Both?” takes an interesting look at how VAST opens the door to new innovations and technical advancements in online video advertising. Digital video’s growth is a hot topic in the industry, and its supporting architecture between video players and servers is something the IAB has standardized. In fact, it will be the subject of a panel at the upcoming IAB Annual Leadership Meeting: Ecosystem 2.0 on February 21. Don’t miss it, register today.


The Buzz Around Mobile Marketing

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With our Mobile Marketplace coming up on July 13, we’ve compiled a few articles to help bring you up to date on what’s going on in mobile marketing today.


In this ADWEEK article, branding and action begin to merge in cyberspace marketing messages

“Marketers see a benefit of using display to support brand building on online as well as on mobile channels, especially through use of the rich media [interactive display],..”

 It’s never too early to start learning about Mobile Marketing according to this ClickZ article

“Mobile marketing is more about consumer touchpoints than media math. Before the question of whether to use mobile gets to the plan level, which is fraught with tough decisions and fights for survival, marketing leaders should be planning to use it far earlier in the decision process.”

A few good tips from Eric Bader on how to market through mobile:

“Unlike static and one-way communications channels, mobile is about context and behaviors — great things for marketers. Here are a few ways to market through mobile that can be especially effective in reaching mobile consumers.”

Adage reveals How Mobile Makes Bricks-and-Mortars Retail Accountable

“This is vastly important right now. In this economic environment, consumers are spending less, switching brands and going online to hunt for deals. Still, almost everyone makes unplanned purchases, and half of those purchase decisions happen in the aisle. Mobile presents a tremendous opportunity for brands to claim the last few feet and turn browsers into buyers.”

View our full agenda and register today!

What:   IAB Marketplace - Mobile
When:  Monday, July 13
Where: The Roosevelt Hotel
            Madison Ave at 45th St.
            New York, NY 10017









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Our friends at Smartbrief just did a great interview with Sarah Hofstetter, VP of Emerging Media and Client Strategy at 360i, who is a keynote speaker at our upcoming Social Media Marketplace on May 18.

Now is a fantastic opportunity for brands to not only learn from those mistakes but take a disciplined, smart approach to social marketing, understanding how to motivate and engage audiences in their environments, resulting in advocacy, preference, sharing and loyalty.



Read the full interview on SmartBlog here: If You Can Get to Just 1: IAB Social Media Marketplace

And don’t forget to register for the IAB Social Media Marketplace.



8 tips for Social Media

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blog-header-around-web.gifWith our Social Media Marketplace coming up, we’ve been combing the web for examples of what’s happening here and now with social media.

4 simple rules for generating traffic from forums

Don’t mention your Web site. Yes, you read that right. Do not mention your Web site in posts or refer to your signature, unless it is abundantly, extremely clear that it is acceptable. This isn’t your Twitter account or your Facebook page - this is the community space. The way you generate traffic from forums is generally through your signature. You do great things, you help people, and you make good posts. That makes people look at your signature and your profile, which is how you receive traffic.

via smartblogs.com

4 Lessons for Social Media Marketers

4. Creativity wins A marketer with an understanding of social media and the need for engagement online tends to think outside the box. They don’t see Facebook or blogging, instead they see vessels for a conversation. Because of that mindset they’re poised to be creative with their social strategy.

via mashable.com

plus, here’s a video describing Social Marketing in Plain English

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter

blog-header-rr.gif…or Vice Versa, Depending On How Good a Partner You Are (or Aren’t)

Rob Norman — CEO, Brit, renaissance marketeer… and now locutionist. At the IAB’s Agency Summit last week, he loosed on the world a new, and in our world necessary, noun: clompiler.

Why necessary? Because there’s nary a conversation in the marketing-media landscape these days that doesn’t touch on the issue of co-opetition — the increasing tendency in decentralizing industries for competitors in one arena to become collaborators in another. Yet there doesn’t seem to be a good term for those that engage in co-opetition. “Co-opetitors” never did seem to cut it.

Enter Mr. Norman and his word: “clomplier.” The Chief Executive of Group M Interaction defines it on his blog thusly: “A company which in its various guises is a client (cl), competitor (omp), and supplier (lier) to another company.” For an example, I’d be remiss if I didn’t refer you to Rob’s site.

Mr. Norman describes himself as the only Brit capable of explaining the infield fly rule to his mother. I believe it.