The future of digital advertising can’t be contained: An interview with Brad Brinegar - McKinney

The future of digital advertising can’t be contained: An interview with Brad Brinegar

September 18, 2013

What we call “advertising” today is less confined to paid media efforts. Advertising can also be a multiplatform experience, a useful app or even a new product. Shows like the IAB MIXX Awards recognize this shift by creating new categories that champion the newest innovations in digital advertising.

Last month, the MIXX Award jury met to review scores of entries showcasing the industry’s most creative, interactive and innovative work to determine the 2013 winners. I sat down with McKinney CEO and 2013 MIXX Award jury chair Brad Brinegar to talk about the latest challenges and opportunities of digital advertising. The show’s most surprising new category — Special Innovation: Can’t Be Contained! — practically requires it.

Q: In a recent IAB MIXX Awards press release, you were called a “digital advertising business pioneer.” When they hear “digital advertising,” some people think of banner ads and search, others think anything that uses digital technology to connect people and brands. What does it mean to you?

First, it was very flattering to be called a digital advertising business pioneer, but I accept that accolade on behalf of all who helped us build a reputation as an agency leading digital and integration.

To your question, digital advertising was built by direct response experts and measured in click-thru rates and other direct response measures. But the potential was always so much greater, and it keeps evolving. So, I guess for me a simple definition of digital advertising is anything delivered in ones and zeros that creates emotional or transactional connections between people and brands.

It’s now been 10 years since McKinney made the move to integrate digital into all of our existing disciplines. We believed that as bandwidth grew, digital would open up all sorts of creative avenues to bring people and brands together. At the beginning it was “two-way, lean forward” interaction. Now it’s location-based group interaction and social sharing…and it’s “one-way, lean back” viewing of your favorite TV show or movie when and where you want to see it. And of course, it’s all happening at once, with the average American now consuming over 12 hours of “media” per day. The whole point of digital advertising is that it’s creating new forms of interaction with people. And the data from that interaction — particularly from the mobile phone, the most essential device we have, our digital portal to the things we care about — offers advertisers ever-richer insight into people’s wants and needs.

Q: How should advertising agencies integrate today?

At the core of integration is a great idea, nothing else. If you put digital or TV at the core, you’re putting technology and channel ahead of ideas and people. The whole point of trying to break down the barriers between traditional and digital thinking at McKinney was to create a new kind of conversational expertise. Come up with a great idea and then let it flow wherever it needs to go to connect with the right people.

We got famous doing that with The Art of the Heist for Audi. And we continue to do it in a powerful, visible way today with ideas like the Mezamashii Run Project for Mizuno and Chip It! for Sherwin-Williams.

Q: What about ROI? It’s hard to measure a target following an idea around.

If you’re talking purely about digital measurement, the flaw is to look at it from a purely DR response perspective. We tend to value what we can measure instead of measuring what we value. There’s also the risk of measuring too much, which can take all of the creativity out of the conversation.

But there is an even bigger issue — digital advertising is just one piece of the communications ecosystem. There are lots of issues with copy testing (not the least of which is that it’s called “copy” testing), and those issues become even more problematic when you’re looking at a campaign using a variety of online and offline, paid, earned and owned media. So back-end measurement should be most focused on how the entire effort is working in market, using tools like in-market tracking, and understanding the contribution of each of the tools to the whole.

Q: In an article in Business Insider, you say that of the seven new IAB MIXX Award categories, Can’t Be Contained!, is the most interesting. What do you expect to see there?

Winners in this category may or may not have digital at their core. Digital may instead be one component of the overall idea. We entered The Last Barfighter into this category. Is it digital because it is a game? Or is it physical with a digital component?

I am hoping that the winners of this category show ways for brands to behave in entirely new ways.

I am also hoping to see efforts that bring a whole new level of emotional resonance to the digital world. For example, it may be a matter of moving the emotional power of video into the digital space like Dove did with “Sketches.”

Winners in this new category may also offer surprising, exquisite utility. We have to be careful not to rely on traditional definitions of advertising but recognize instead that every conversation with a brand has many pieces to it. Some of those pieces may be about emotional resonance. Other pieces may be about being useful, especially on mobile. Utility, done creatively, has a different kind of emotional relevance that is more about enhancing a user’s physical experience in the world because it’s with them in the world.

Q: What’s going to happen to the stalwarts of digital advertising: banners and search?

Search isn’t going to go away, but two things are going to happen. The first is that advertisers are going to get smarter about how much search they need to do at what stage of their relationship with people. We’ve already seen a reduction of search from our clients as they’ve figured out the efficiencies of what really works and how much they need to spend. The second is that we’ll start using search not just as an advertising medium but as an insight tool — search signifies people’s intent, so search patterns provide insight into how people behave and how ideas move through space. Following people’s patterns in search using these powerful tools will help us better understand what happens when we put ideas in the world.

Banners persist because, like TV :30s and :15s, they are built around defined standards — you don’t have to reinvent the unit every time you do something. But that’s also their limitation. When I chaired the IAB Agency Advisory board, we really helped the IAB and its publisher members get focused on the scalability of creativity. We were dealing with standard units that were over a decade old and born from the direct response model of the early Web. With the IAB Rising Stars, which several McKinney folks helped develop, we gained a broader range of units that combine both standardization and a better creative palette. I can honestly say that until these units began getting popular over the last year that I never, as a consumer, actually saw any banner ads. Now I am starting to become aware of online advertising because it’s getting more creative, and that’s in part because of these units. We’re finally breaking the shackles of DR.

MIXX Award winners will be announced at a gala on September 24.