Creating a brand that communicates to both a traditional and an on-line audience can be tough, but brand owners that embrace emerging technology and defy the classic marketing services hierarchy can build stronger relationships with consumers, argues David Benady
ON-LINE DESIGN has unleashed a surge of creativity from a number of brand owners and it has offered them stunning new ways to interact with consumers.
Every day it seems that new technology and software are launched that allow ever more daring interactive creations.
Yet many clients appear wary of digital design. Nagging doubts persist about how far on-line and off-line creativity can be integrated. Is it simply a case of adapting an off-line logo for the Web? Or should Web design come first, with subsequent adaptations for print and other media?
There are concerns that straddling both horses could be a recipe for trouble. Wolff Olins’ logo for the 2012 London Olympics is a brave attempt to create a design that works both in print and on the Web or television. But while the identity is powerful in its moving form, many believe it fails as a static image.
Meanwhile, some believe the logo for mobile phone service 3 looks great on paper. But when it comes to fitting it on a mobile phone
screen, critics see it as too small and indistinguishable to stand out. It should be remembered that, in terms of creativity, on-line design splits into two broad areas. For functional sites such as Google, Amazon or Ebay, ease of use is the prime consideration and artistic considerations play second fiddle to usability.
In contrast, the most creative solutions are usually produced by brands that use digital platforms to promote rather than sell. For instance, Smirnoff’s website features a spectacular interactive film about the life of Pierre Smirnoff. This makes use of the red band on the Smirnoff bottle to create an intriguing, sweeping motion. Then there’s Innocent Drinks’ website, with its bobbing graphics and mix of cartoon iconography and rural camera work. Innocent’s logo was originally designed by digital consultancy Deepend, which disappeared in the dotcom collapse in 2001, an early example of digital design crossing over to the off-line world.
That said, there are transactional sites that push the creative boundaries, such as those for clothing retailers Topshop and Howies, which feature users’ content.
Indeed, the growth of social networking, music downloading and mobile interactivity are creating new opportunities for invention. The Nike+ system allows shoes to send data (about a runner’s distances and times, for example) to their iPod, which can then be downloaded on to their PCs. The success of the programme has led to the creation of an on-line community dedicated to the technology.
Another Nike campaign held up as an adroit use of on-line technology to promote a brand message is the Nike on-line ‘chain’ execution launched at the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Football fans from around the world upload videos of their football ‘embaixadinha’ (keepyuppy) skills, finally kicking the ball to their right, where it passes on to the next contributor in the chain, all set to a pulsating Brazilian beat. Created by Framfab in Copenhagen, it is intended to demonstrate the global nature of the game. Designers are surprised by how few clients have woken up to the creative potential of the Web.
As Ben Wolstenholme, director of corporate identity consultancy Moving Brands, says, ‘I don’t think clients get it, they still see digital as an add-on.’ He questions the way designs usually start off as static images in print or packaging and are then extended into moving images, arguing it can be just as effective the other way round. He thinks brands could do far more to promote on-line communities by featuring user-generated content on their websites. ‘Companies need to stop pushing and start pulling stuff in, there’s so much you can do,’ he says. Some believe that the structure of the branding and design industry is another factor that is holding back the integration of digital and off-line design. Digital design specialists criticise established design consultancies as top-heavy, with old-world skills such as graphic design dominating digital.
Established branding consultancies have to link up with digital designers as the need arises. Landor was recently brought in by Moving Brands to implement work it created for the new Nokia identity. Meanwhile, Interbrand links up with sister Omnicom-owned groups Agency.com and Agency Republic for digital work. Ad agency JWT, meanwhile, is working with digital group Digit, part-owned by its parent, WPP.
Mike Bennett, Digit’s co-creative director, says, ‘All of our thinking is now JWT’s thinking and we sit in at board-level meetings with its clients. That sort of integration is where the future lies.’ One indication of the rise of digital consultancies was the appointment of on-line specialist Albion to create television and on-line advertising for Ebay. It has almost no experience of creating television advertising, yet beat competition from established ad agencies. Albion founder Jason Goodman says, ‘Digital design is getting more complex as it becomes more mainstream. A few years ago, people thought of a website or banner ad or the interface on an interactive unit at an event. But now digital design is so much richer than that.’ He gives the example of the design work Albion has done for Internet television service Joost and on-line telephone service Skype. Joost has a powerful, lower-case logo and Albion also created the promotional film on the website.
Meanwhile, Jonathan Wilson, senior account director at Red Bee Media, says, ‘What we want to do is pull on the strengths of each platform. Television is very emotive, while the Web is immersive and mobile is omnipresent and one-to-one.’ Red Bee produced an interactive viral campaign to promote the BBC Three show Gavin & Stacey, directing people to the Dish Your Dirt website. Wilson says, ‘We came up with the “dish-your-dirt-O-meter” to capture a relatively elusive audience who are turning away from TV to go on-line.’
But integration can also be held back by a lack of integration within brand-owning companies themselves. As Daniel Lewington, head of digital at Enterprise IG, says, ‘In many companies, there’s a separation in organisational structures, with one group responsible for physical marketing and another for on-line. It might be the way the organisation is structured that [explains why] the two don’t get together.’
Peter Beech, a director at digital group Poke London, says since the on-line world thrives on innovation, it gives businesses an opportunity to streamline their business with on-line methods. He adds, ‘It is not that clients don’t necessarily “get” on-line, it is simply that most haven’t been buying it year in, year out. They are on a steep learning curve and my advice would be to be brave, experiment, innovate and commit to changing your business with on-line initiatives.’
As Apple’s iPhone spurs on the growth of mobile Internet, the day will come when people carry brands in their pockets. Creating designs that work on a small mobile screen, a giant poster site, on the Web and perhaps through a TV campaign will eventually become the defining task of brand designers. But it will be down to brand owners to spur them on to this wide-ranging and challenging task.