Can agencies make "old" media look like new media?

I had a conversation with an account director from a digital agency a couple of weeks ago, after noticing that a relatively conventional TV ad for one of its clients had 450,000 views on YouTube.

I expressed surprise at how popular it was, when she corrected me: "No, the views are all paid-for pre-rolls on YouTube, but some of the clients are thrilled because they think they've 'gone viral'."

That same week, I had a separate conversation with a games developer, about the role of mobile games for building brands. We were talking about how important it is to be in the list of most-downloaded apps in the app store. I asked what characteristics the most popular games have. He told me not to worry, as you just pay for all the downloads to get in the top 10 and then it takes on its own momentum from there.

All this got me thinking about what we used to call "new media". Freeconomics were meant to rule, and creative ideas would be set free to worm their way toward audiences, propelled by nothing other than creativity and love.

It hasn't turned out that way.

Then I got thinking about what we still sometimes call "old media". This is the media that is broadcast, monolithic and unresponsive, right? Well, last week, on one day alone, I saw a poster telling me what the headlines were in The Sun that day, a bus shelter suggesting what I should watch on the Discovery Channel that night, and a 30-second TV ad from Ladbrokes inviting me to place a bet on a specific event that may occur in the second half of a football match.

Media channels are increasingly wearing each other's clothes, driven by the rules of free markets.

Media channels are increasingly wearing each other's clothes, driven by the rules of free markets. If a technology exists that allows a company to make more money or profit, it will explore and exploit it. And if you have a position of market dominance, you will increase your prices accordingly.

Old media was always going to become new and free media was never going to remain free (as the users aren't going to pay for it, the media-owners sell the users to advertisers to fund the service - it's not magic, it's just business).

If you think through the implications, this begins to smash many of the certainties that marketing directors have used to create ideas and work with agencies. If "new" media is increasingly about buying attention for pre-crafted messages, then you need brand and broadcast skills, not interactive skills; and if "old" media is increasingly "live", responsive and interactive, then you need nimble-footed creative responsiveness, not inflexible craft.

So who do you choose to work with? I'm not going to trot out the old "it's all about the idea" line, as I simply don't think that's true. It's about what you can do with ideas and how well you can work out when it's right to be planned and bought in advance, and when it's right to be live and always-on. So the first question for agency and client (in this new world) is, can the agency demonstrate the time and cost flexibility to make old media look like new media? And does it have the systems in place to do this at high quality (so the interaction looks invisible and inevitable, not bolted-on)? Then the question is, does it have the strategic acumen to know when it's right to interact and engage and when it's right to broadcast?

It doesn't matter whether your agency is digital, traditional, big or small, the readiness to act, and the acumen to decide whether to act, is all.

Craig is the joint chief strategy officer of creative agency Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and chairman of the Account Planning Group (APG)

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