For 13 years Nick Law has helped shape R/GA’s strategic and creative vision, winning a D&AD Black Pencil along the way. In 2015 R/GA were D&AD's Most Awarded Advertising Agency - so he must be doing something right.
In this article, Nick investigates digital marketing trends and highlights how we can learn from ideas, execution and use of technology.
I first coveted a Pencil in 1988. I was 21-years-old and had just arrived in London from the far-flung design province of Sydney. My bible was the D&AD Annual. I’d skim through the advertising on my way to the design categories; where I’d genuflect over every page, studying the craft and enjoying the wit of each piece. And even though every year showcased yet another fresh stylistic and conceptual approach; for my first 10 Annuals the work lived in the same formats, organized by the same time-honored categories.
And then along came the Internet, confusing everything: rapidly multiplying, and reordering the categories. Fifteen years later we are still trying to figure out how to organize the winning work, but there can be no doubt that the Internet won.
Digital went from marketing marginalia, to the center of everything. Contemporary culture now lives online, so marketing has had to follow. Last year's winners from the Digital Marketing category represent the breadth and richness of the human enterprise. From causes to commerce, cyberspace to physical space, entertainment to enablement.
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The ease of creating and distributing ideas on the web has, among other things, lead to a flowering of cause related work. A resonant idea in social media can now connect millions of people around an idea - quickly and inexpensively. “Nazis against Nazis” was an idea too deliciously perverse not to share. “Spot 4 Sale” was an idea that turned the hype of consumerist culture against itself.
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Social media is now the primary place people find great work. Great films, the thing that the Internet was meant to kill, are now being viewed and shared by numbers that dwarf broadcast. The language of film is evolving to accommodate a social audience. What message a company wants to push down into the world is not as important as how that message lives in the world. Does it entertain, inform or demonstrate. Does it belong in the moment, and what does it say about the person sharing it?
Millions felt the delightful and intelligent “Like a Girl” film was worth sharing; and by doing so we all thought about an issue differently and gave ourselves credit for helping others do the same.
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Last year showed how digital media has broadened the language of film used by marketers. From documentaries about cities and cars, to a detergent product demonstrations. The category also showed how the idea could reference the format itself. There were two examples that took advantage of the unloved pre-roll: the absurdist “Unskippable” and the opportunistic “Skip Ad Festival”.
Digital media is really just distributed software, so it should come as no surprise that the Digital Marketing category included work that looks nothing like an ad, or for that matter marketing. Last year there were tools to help you donate, design a car, learn a language and fall asleep. Some of these were built as serious business tools; others were built to get attention. The elegantly inventive “Hope.ly” will live on as a donation platform, whilst the audaciously farcical “Favorite Child Detector” looks and behaves like a tool, but is really campaign, as perishable as a punch line.
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And finally, last year there was work that showed how digital marketing is infecting physical space; a trend consistent with the relentless march of the internet into things. The winners included traffic lights that danced, posters that accept credit cards, basketball courts that light up, and buoys that detect sharks. The experience of these connected spaces were then shared with the world on the Internet as films; a Mobius strip from digital to physical to social.
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Twenty-seven years after my post-pubescent adoration of the Yellow Pencil, winning one matters more than ever. Our world has got bigger and more competitive. The Internet has simultaneously expanded and connected everything. There are now more people, creating more things, across a network of more disciplines.
Good luck distinguishing yourself in this company.
If you think you have a campaign that deserves a Pencil, enter your work into the D&AD Awards and see if our judges agree. When it comes to awards, nothing matters more.