The end of the line?

Really interesting article from Nick Gill in last week’s Campaign. Especially the bit about how the notion of fragmentation between digital agencies and so-called traditional ones is no longer a workable one. Of all his predictions for the year ahead for creativity, it was this one which struck us as the most interesting:

‘I hope that agencies labelled ‘traditional’ will get the opportunity to take more of their ideas into the digital space, and that digital agencies will get the opportunity to do the big idea and not just spend their time bringing another agency’s brainchild to life.’

There’s always been this perceived hierarchy between ATL and ‘other’ agencies. Traditionally, non ATL creative teams would ‘inherit’ an idea which they’d then asked to do something with in another media or format. So much so that the opportunity to originate a ‘Big Idea’ from scratch was a rare one.

As a result, there used to be a kind of snobbery about which side of the line you sat. Maybe there still is. Either way, in this sense, the ‘big idea’ is awarded such an elevated status that it’s always reminded me – in darker, tangential moments – of Plato’s Theory of of Ideas and his allegory of the Cave. Perhaps I’m wrong and philosophy has no business in Advertising, but it got me thinking. If you’re not familiar with the Cave thing, here’s a quick recap (with a little help from Wikipedia):

“The Cave is where Plato imagines a group of people who have lived in a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall by things passing in front of the cave entrance, and begin to ascribe forms to these shadows. According to Plato, the shadows are as close as the prisoners get to seeing reality… The philosopher is like a prisoner who is freed from the cave and comes to understand that the shadows on the wall are not constitutive of reality at all…”

The interesting thing about it is that the people in the cave only ever see a glimpse, or shadow of the great Ideas above in their ‘true form’. Of course, in an ‘ideal’ world, an idea should be an idea, whatever the media. But, (Tongue firmly in cheek) this cave image could be an amusing way of looking at on this perceived difference between ATL and BTL. Of how it must feel to never be able to originate ‘the big idea’ – and to always have the much smaller budget, metaphorically scraping at the ‘shadows’ on the walls.

Do BTL creatives still feel like this? There was a lot of debate in an old Scamp entry that seemed to suggest there was some feelings of inferiority/superiority on either side. “It’s definitely true that we letter writers have an inferiority complex the size of Soho towards ATL-ers,” wrote ‘Real Men Write Long Copy’ a while ago. 

But these days some might say that this perceived ‘line’ is now more of a dotted one. Not only are the major ATL agencies doing great digital work – AMV’s Take the knife, BBH’s Break the Cycle, and VCCPs Meerkat online campaign to name a few. But the digital agencies are also winning major ATL work. Glue has 3 and The Green Party, while Anomoly swooping Sony off Fallon sent ‘shockwaves’ through the industry if the forums are anything to go by. 

Glue’s recent work for The Sun has kind of broken the rules. The iPhone spoof viral ended up being so well received that the client asked for it to be put on TV. And coming in a few weeks there are some films for The Sun which were briefed as MPUs, but have now been booked for TV space. Both of which lead the creative director Seb Royce to coin the phrase, ‘it’s gone TV’ (as opposed to viral, ba doom ching).

So maybe this whole line thing is dissolving. Maybe it’s as archaic
as Mr Plato himself, and the hierarchy is slowly levelling
out? Either way, as Nick Gill puts it, ‘whatever happens in 2010, the sun will continue to rise.’ (Or not, if this winter is anything to go by)


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