We've been talking about it for a decade or more, but this was the year when everything started to join up. "Digital" is no longer seen as the poor cousin of "advertising". Suddenly, I'm going to the right meetings and seeing the right briefs, and everyone's playing fair together. People aren't so worried about defining work in terms of media; they're thinking more about the motivation for producing work in the first place. It's about value and information, a combination of content and signposting. That's a really important shift, and about time, too.
One of the most exciting things about the year that's nearly gone is the growing understanding of what it takes to produce something that's really, genuinely, breakthrough good. Cast your mind back to not so long ago when everyone and his dog had a camera. Everyone was snap-happy, but they didn't all call themselves "photographers." Most people understood that what they were doing was completely different from what a professional photographer did. Officially, of course, you could talk up your own abilities however you liked, but everyone was pretty clear who did what and why.
The Business of Content Creation
Then it all went crazy. Everyone got access to creative tools, blogging tools. They could write copy and stories, produce their own adverts, record their bands, tell everyone where they were 24 hours a day. There was a gold rush of content creation. "User-generated content" prompted all sorts of feverish talk about sparking a revolution within various industries. Turns out, it really didn't. Some of that stuff is great. A lot of it is crap. Web 2.0 just means there's twice as much rubbish out there. Still, the good stuff floats to the top. Look at YouTube (GOOG). Look at Flickr (YHOO). Are all the photographs on Flickr brilliant? No. What floats to the surface? The stuff that's well done.
And that reminds people that this content creation business is not easy. When you write a blog every day, you realize how difficult it is to write compellingly, regularly. It's the same with creating advertising or branding messages. To have an opinion, to be consistent, to put out a branded message with a meaning is really difficult. And often—though of course, not always—the professionals do it best. There's room enough for anyone with passion and talent.
Know Your Audience
Another thing I hope we've learned from this year is that advertisers need to learn a lot more about their audience. And they need to start thinking a little more smartly about the new forms of media that have been dominating the headlines. Everyone wants a piece, but do they really need it? MySpace (NWS) has 150 million users. It's almost as big as Brazil. You wouldn't—couldn't—put an ad on Brazil. So why would you put an ad on MySpace? It'd be like sending one ad to a local branch of the Boy Scouts and expecting the entire global organization to listen to—or care about—your message. So how should a company looking to get the attention of a youth audience reach out to them? By being intelligent. A lot of young people are anti-advertising. So don't advertise to them. Enable them. Empower them. And never, ever patronize.
The Mobile Landscape
Right before the iPhone came out, I phoned every person I knew and said it was going to change the world. Then after it was released I rang them all back and apologized for lying. But I was only a little bit ahead of myself. Mobiles really are going to change the world. All the hacks that people in my studio did to their iPhones made them better. And this is just the beginning. Europe is light-years ahead of the U.S. in this realm. America's still looking forward to 3G, which is old news over here. The network in the U.S. is completely fragmented; text messaging has been gaining importance as a snap message in the U.S., yet it's bigger than voice here in Europe. It's almost like America doesn't own a color TV yet when it comes to phone networks.
In Europe, we expect our phones to be free. The idea of having to buy a mobile phone is anathema to us. As a result, I have a relationship with my service provider, Orange, not the company that makes the handset, Nokia (NOK). Put as diplomatically as I can, Apple (AAPL) has gone with possibly not the best network in Europe, O2. I know someone who decided to trade in and get an iPhone. It took him forever to swap service, and then it turns out he doesn't have any coverage in his home. It's a brilliant, beautiful phone, but he can't use it. In Europe, at least, the question of which consumers would rather have a relationship with, the enabler or the device, is going to occupy us for a while yet. But it doesn't matter if you bank, bet, run a business, or use a business. You're going to be able to do it on your phone soon. It's going to be a fantastic place. Come and play.