We were invited by the VEA (Association of Ad Agencies) to attend the second edition of Creative Lounge on Monday in Pakhuis de Zwijger. The night was hosted by Jelani Isaacs (Brenninkmeijer and Isaacs) and Claire Finn (U-Turn). Guests of the evening were Matthew Atkatz (Riot, digital arm 180), Romke Oortwijn (N=5), Raphael Mazoyer (Asics) and – Skyping in from London – Florian Schmitt (Hi-Res). And this night’s topic was the controversy between digital agencies and non-digital agencies; is digital part of the idea or is digital the idea itself? A promising question, though it did take a while before the discussion stopped to bounce all over the place.  We do understand why it did though; there’s no unambiguous  answer to the question what the exact role of digital is in advertising. Some big ideas can only exist thanks to the technology behind it, while some ideas merely use existing digital tools to execute it.

Romke Oortwijn (Copywriter and partner at N=5)  showed Stanislav, a short video made by N=5’s digital agency Kong. It tells the story about criminals abusing profile photos from social website Hyves (Dutch Facebook). It was spread through the members of the platform and showed every user a custom made video featuring his/her own personal data. The big idea was not making a web film about the ‘cyber mafia’ abusing a social network platform, but the big idea was smartly (and digitally) integrating social profile data in  the video.

As opposed to Oortwijn, Matthew Atkatz (ECD Riot) clearly represents the digital generation. Atkatz showed another very strong online case for Adidas featuring Dwight Howard – playing basketball in the NBA. During All Star Weekend he was documented with modern communication tools (like vodcasts, Twitter, etc.) and could thus be followed by his fans. Again, you could ask whether ‘digital’ was the big idea here. Or was it closely following Howard for three days with existing communication tools? Probably the latter, but maybe a bit of both.

Another topic of the evening was – as Raphael Mazoyer, digital communications manager at Asics, put it – the difference between seeing and doing (or as Oortwijn put it: one-way vs two-way communication, or as Atkatz put it: bottom up vs top down). Asics wants to engage its consumers by letting them do something that is useful for them. Ironically he considered Nike+ as the benchmark, while at the same time showing an Asics website that did not support his point – the website clearly conveyed a message about Asics, but it didn’t seem useful to the consumer at all. The distinction Mazoyer made between seeing and doing did make sense though. As we would put it; digital helps brands to create brand utilities; digital tools that render brand related services.

Florian Schmitt (Hi-Res) dialed in to tell us something about the alternate reality game ‘The Lost Experience’ he built for Channel 4 and the hit TV program Lost. Creatively a brilliant case, but Schmitt always advised his clients not to try to do the same thing – keep it simple. The reason might be that clients will always be clients; they want return on investment. And the question is how many new viewers this ARG generated for Channel 4/Lost. Or as the marketer in Mazoyer put it typically: the success of a campaign can only be measured by the “KPI’s” (key performance indicators).

Finally the discussion went into the direction of production value. The hypothesis was that advertisers expect online film productions to be cheap. And this surprised us a little. If you only talk about ‘virals’ it is probably true. But we’ve seen so many good examples of long form content with big production budgets recently. To name a few; Martini, Ararat and McDonald’s. Therefore we would like to state the opposite; in the future advertisers will have more budget available for big productions, because they can create their own (online) channel and don’t need big media budgets to be wasted on (traditional) TV channels.

We still don’t know when exactly digital is part of the big idea and when it merely facilitates it, but it was an inspiring night and we look forward to the next one.