Interview: Colleen DeCourcy, CDO, TBWA: ‘Looking For Silver Bullet Is Killing Us’

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imageMost of the money and attention traditional ad agencies lavish on digital goes to the media buying and planning side, while creative lags. It makes sense — with the online ad business dominated by search, targeting and metrics mean more than an eye-catching banner ad. But the growth of online video is slowly changing that dynamic. Few know more about it than Colleen DeCourcy, chief digital officer for Omnicom Group’s TBWA Worldwide, who becomes president of the Cyber Lions Jury at the 55th annual Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival in mid-June. With Cannes in the offing, DeCourcy, who will lead the effort to evaluate online creative ad work, and I spoke about the uneven pace of digital ads’ creative side. As for the CyberLions, DeCourcy doesn’t expect any earth-shattering nominees this year.

The problem of online creativity: “My fear was that from an actual creative perspective, we hadn’t grown this medium the way I’d hoped. It’s an issue of volume; agencies don’t have an infinite number of people that are available to work on different kinds of media. I think we’ve all been really distracted the last 18 months. Talent has been moving around, companies have been bought and sold, lots of energy has been put towards integration and merging. It’s all been a very specific corporate exercise. Developing the tools to form a foundation for creativity is not primary for many agencies in a lot of cases.”

Getting creative: “A creative approach, whether it’s online or traditional, depends on the needs of the campaign. It depends on what the brand is, who its audience is and what the goals are. There is no ‘this is how you do it’ — click. That kind of approach — looking for the silver bullet, the one big thing — is killing us. Digital cannot be limited to one or two or three expressions. There’s nothing wrong with viewing a TV commercial online, per se. But there simply has to be more that goes along with that.” More from the interview after the jump.

And the winner is…: This is DeCourcy’s third year on a Cannes jury. She also recently served as chair of the digital portion of the Clio Awards. “It’s a bit like the Oscars’ time of year. You watch things move up through the Golden Globes, the Foreign Press awards and then you get to the Academy Awards, which is what Cannes is for the worldwide ad industry. As for the work we’ll be judging this year, I don’t see anything like last year’s Nike-Plus type of spot, which broke a lot of new ground. I do some great entertaining, Hollywood-esque type work, such in the case of the campaign for Xbox’s Halo [by McCann San Francisco, T.A.G., AKQA, and Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) Global Marketing]. We’ll also be considering some work from [Publicis Groupe and Droga5’s] branded entertainment site HoneyShed.” Last year, Burger King took a Grand Prix at Cannes for a multimedia promotion touting three other Xbox video games starring BK’s King. DeCourcy: “[Burger King] took a chance. It was a new way of getting compensated for work. They licensed a character and shared the profits with the client. It was creative content, it showed learning through gaming.”

Run of the mill: “This year, if you want to attach a theme to the kind of creative work we’re seeing on the digital side, it’s mostly about continuing the expertise around advertising. Sadly, we’re going to continue to see run-of-the-mill display ads, not creative widgets or apps. When agencies get more into product design, application design, the industry as a whole is going to have to try and figure out ‘what does my copywriter and art director do with that?’ That’s part of what’s slowing things down.”

Learning stages: “We’re all in this very sophomoric stage, trying to figure out a new medium. The way you approach anything new is you hold it in your hand and try to see if its shape matches anything that you already know and understand. You look at display and I think media companies look at it and say, ‘I sell real estate, you can put a price on that,’ or ‘This is like print, but you can know how many consumers have seen the ad, so let’s do display advertising.’ I don’t think that’s going to hold up long term. I think we’re going to get into application development, product design, things that can become extension of brands like Nike-plus. What about extensions of campaigns, that can take the form of gaming, like what Burger King did last year? What about managing conversations online? Is Twitter a word-of-mouth application or is it a PR function? Should brands even take part in that? Those are the kinds of conversations that we’re going to be having on the creative side for the next year.

On Tequila: Interactive shop Tequila is part of the TBWA network but over the past year, there has been some speculation as to whether it will remain there or become an independent entity within Omnicom. DeCourcy says that talk comes from the different levels of attachment the two have in different parts of the world. “Tequila will be part of our plans and always will be. They’re further inside the agency than most people would think. Their core expertise varies across the globe. When you look at the history of direct marketing, understanding consumers and ROI, those are great disciplines that go hand and hand with digital. And that’s where they specialize for the most part. They’re both integrated and standalone, depending on different parts of the globe. They’re at a defined point where they can choose one or the other. The more integrated you are, the harder it is to stand alone, but I think we’ve kept that healthy balance.”

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Dave Kustin

– Learning stages: “We’re all in this very sophomoric stage, trying to figure out a new medium…."

Say hello to the new medium – WrapMail – which is the use of the 'everyday' external email from every employee to market, promote and drive sales for organizations. This may be the most targeted direct mail tactic available, as these emails are typically between people that know each other, guaranteeing the marketing message will be seen.

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