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Interactive Art Direction explained

Digital creativity blog by Flow Bohl, 2.3.2011

It has always been the conviction of copy writers and art directors that creativity in marketing and in particular advertising, increases the chances of breaking through the information clutter. Ads based on solid concepts have better chances of being memorized by prospects than pure information-driven campaigns, which only recently has been proven by empirical research.

What an interactive art director does

Some art directors do "little more" than giving birth to big ideas and present them to clients, while some oversee almost all aspects of the design and production process. Traditionally, art directors worked above-the-line (ATL), which refers to the term formed in the 1960’s by advertisers who got paid on commission basis (above-the-line) and charged normal rates only for additional services (below-the-line). Nowadays ATL refers to advertising in media such as TV, outdoor, internet etc. while direct-mail and print refers to below-the-line.

With an increasingly saturated online advertising market, more fields in this versatile industry emerge, demanding more specialization. The major difference between TV, print, mobile and the web is that digital channels have more possibilities to target to relevant consumers while only expensive research can estimate effectiveness in TV or print advertising. These possibilities in digital channels enable art directors to create more precise messages tailored around the needs and wants of specific consumer segments. One advertising campaign for example may contain several distinct creative executions that are displayed to different consumer segments at different times in different places, based on available demographic data.

Traditional ideas and concepts embodied a one-way communication, a brand pushing messages towards consumers, whilst new approaches pull consumers towards the brand by creating a dialogue, stimulating a conversation between a brand and consumers with web sites, mobile apps or social media. Personalization of messages and social interaction between companies and consumers require an in depth knowledge of technological possibilities. Stanford University is currently conducting research on a new field called persuasive technology, which deals with implementing creative ideas with technologies. In digital channels, time and space constraints are very different and an understanding of both user behavior and technology is central in creating digital concepts.

An interactive art director should have basic knowledge about: Marketing, user experience design, copy writing, information architecture, HTML5 and the ability to communicate technical and social possibilities compellingly to clients who may have a limited understanding of both.

An art director is normally only as good as his/her brief. These briefs are created by account planners or digital strategists. Knowing the basics of a planner’s objectives enables a mutual understanding between departments. Ideally planners base their strategy on consumer insights, which consists of data created through extensive and often expensive marketing research. The data is analysed using theoretic models and frameworks, such as the Rossiter-Percy or FCB grid. However many practitioners in advertising criticize these approaches.

In an attempt to modernize the advertising business and tackle consumers' desensitization to advertising due to an increase in noise across channels, Rory Sutherland, president of the IPA refers to behavioral economics for cues to new approaches. He argues that advertisers shouldn't solely rely on large media-buying budgets but instead aim cutting through the information clutter by communicating more effectively and cost-efficient, with ads that are based on good ideas, the outcome of solid strategies.

Sutherland sees the value in behavioral economics, a sub category of economics created by Daniel Kahneman, in the theory's focus on consumer behavior and decision-making. He states that behavioral economics provides insights into consumers' emotional and cognitive motives, which are central to creating ads that are more effective. Even though Sutherland himself is not an academic, his influence in the industry may result in a change for advertiser's approaches looking forward. He demands new frameworks and models for advertisers based on behavioral economics that "use ideas to turn human understanding into business and social advantage".

And yet, following stringent processes may not always generate the best outcome. Often art directors create ideas based on intuition, an arguably difficult standpoint when selling a costly concept to businessmen who are risk-averse and number oriented left-brainers. An art director should therefore be a good persuader to sell his/her own ideas credibly.

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