Owen on digital media: Leave the big dumb agencies by makingpoverty your friend

Digital budgets are never enough. Ask any agency. Like most, we also tend to believe the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. Or, more accurately, the other side of the pond. This, we tell ourselves, is why some of the most award-winning work comes from the US.

Well, although it is tempting to comfort ourselves with these thoughts, the evidence is that they're not true. Certainly not the one that US agencies have more money to play with, anyway. On a recent trip to Miami, Dare's creative directors were surprised and reassured to find the cream of US agencies struggling with the same issues as the rest of us: how to realise their creative ambitions on shoestring budgets and tight timelines.

So, they came away with a clear message for our agency and it's one that's worth sharing. It is simply this: make poverty your friend.Ideas aren't expensive, but they can be priceless, so let's focus our energy where it matters.

Leave the big dumb agencies (BDAs for short) to rely on polished direction and post-production wizardry to make their half-baked efforts into something worth showing. Let's do what we do best: simple ideas that strike a chord with the new generation of internet users because they don't preach and don't exclude. Ideas that are fun, participatory and unpretentious.

Leave 'grand' themes and worthy philosophising to the TV and cinema screens. The internet doesn't do that kind of thing very well. What it does do is allow people to get involved in causes and activities they consider worthwhile. So, while we're at it, let's make our ideas useful too.

That's what we should be doing. But, right now, it seems to me that digital agencies are trying too hard to be like their BDA cousins. We've become obsessed with the possibilities that broadband gives us to use video.

In some cases, we're actually in danger of producing mini TV ads within banners and MPUs - exactly the sort of thing we used to decry when clients streamed their actual TV ads in these formats.

Perhaps this transitional stage is inevitable. Perhaps we'll learn some valuable lessons along the way. But, I do hope we soon get back to doing what we do best. And we might start by making poverty our friend.

- John Owen is planning director of digital agency Dare. John.owen@haymarket.com.

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