Thursday, September 24, 2009

Traditional vs. Big Table Agencies

The latest issue of Communication Arts (Photography Annual 50) profiles Boone/Oakley, which I believe is one of the coolest, smartest boutiques to come along since VitroRobertson. They've got some solid print and TV, as well as some great ambient and outdoor stuff. And although I kind of miss the music and interaction of their old website, their latest homepage is downright brilliant.

The profile talks about their multi-player creative approach to each assignment, which involves more than just a copywriter/art director team reporting to a creative director. From the article:

"Think about how Bill Bernback revolutionized our industry simply by pairing a copywriter and an art director," Boone said. "Now the creative team is the copywriter, art director, interactive person, media person and the strategist/planner/account person. That's our industry's revolution today."

This reminds me of another CA article from this year's Interactive Annual (May/June issue) called "The Big Table: A New Model for Creative Work" by a freelance writer named Joe Shepter.

Shepter says the traditional model of AD/CW reporting to a CD "rests on the belief that creative ideas are independent from production. Copywriters and art directors are not required to have an intimate understanding of how work is produced." It's hard for me to disagree with that. I'm used to using my producers as a crutch (which is why I've always tried to surround myself with great ones).

Shepter uses the term "Big Table" to describe collaboration like Boone/Oakley's: "The list of participants varies, but usually includes writers, designers, Flash coders, database programmers, creative directors and, sometimes, even the receptionists who greet clients on their way in the door."

My initial reaction to this is resistance, and it's based on three of my favorite quotes:

A small group of A people can run circles around a large group of B people.

-Steve Jobs

A camel is a horse designed by committe.

-Sir Alec Issigonis

If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be: meetings.

-Dave Barry

To me, Big Table gatherings are open invitations for Design by Committee and it's big brother, Groupthink. I'd rather be in the more nimble, decisive A group. Even if it were just me and my partner.

But here's the thing. There are two statements in Shepter's article that clearly make the case for Big Table agencies. Here they are:

"Big Table agencies...believe that media is evolving so quickly that it's impossible for a copywriter and art director to know every way that ideas can be deployed...The only way to ensure that you have the best possible idea is to bring in creators and producers at the onset."

And he quotes an anonymous creative director saying, "The things we build aren't what an art director and copywriter can dream up. They wouldn't know that it was possible."

Again, it's hard for me to disagree with either of those. There are people out there writing code that goes over my head and blows my mind at the same time. Obviously this stuff can be used in fantastically cool ways to sell products and solve clients' problems. And most AD/CW teams I know would have a hard time going beyond, "Maybe we could do an iPhone app."

I'm not sure how to reconcile this yet. Maybe it's a Big Table agency with a benevolent dictator at the helm. Maybe it's separating teams and even agencies (like BBDO and ProximityBBDO). But it's pretty clear old school creative teams are more likely to be confined by old school solutions.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

42 Entertainment

42 Entertainment is a pretty fascinating company.

They're best known for the "I Love Bees" ARG which launched Halo 2, as well as the "Why So Serious?" work they did as a teaser for The Dark Knight.

They're also behind the "Flynn Lives" site that's teasing the new Tron movie.

If you go on their home page, you can opt in to follow them down the rabbit hole into their own ARG by providing your email address and phone number to receive text messages and other hints.

While their work is frequently featured in Creativity and other pubs of the ad industry, I'm not sure you'd call them an advertising agency. Their Wikipedia entry says they specialize in "creating and producing alternate reality games." Which means they know how to work online and do ambient/guerilla media - two areas traditional agencies have been trying to master themselves.

They probably don't pitch for accounts against traditional agencies like Chiat or Goodby. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if some clients would work with 42 Entertainment and their agency of record on certain projects.

So while they may not be the next evolution of ad agencies, they're definitely a social media-catalyzed mutation. And their Grand Prix win at Cannes this year shows that mutation is pretty legitimate.