It's called the World Wide Web for a reason: anyone from practically anywhere in the world can look at the same Web sites and interact with each other. But in terms of online advertising throughout the world, much like traditional media, not all things are equal. The infrastructure is obviously the biggest factor with some countries well ahead in terms of broadband access and others lagging behind. Regions like Scandinavia have an unusually high number of award-winning interactive firms while others like France have few. But interactive advertising is also starting to show more cultural flavors as the technology evolves. For example, last year's Gold Pencil-winning site by quibibi called "Daydream" captured Japanese cool, while Farfar's "Stockholm the Musical" was a hilarious romp with Swedish humor. In the following pages, we take you on a trip to several places around the globe and check out the digital scene. We spoke with some creative directors, many of whom are One Show Interactive Judges this year, about how interactive agencies are evolving in their home countries and what they've been working on lately.
Let's face it: there are too many interactive agencies in this country to even talk about a "scene," let alone figure out who's doing the best work. But this year's One Show Interactive judges Lars Bastholm from AKQA/New York and Kris Kiger from R/GA are a good place to start.
Bastholm and Kiger are two visionaries in the interactive field, working for companies that are, well, visionaries in the field. AKQA has been creating a buzz recently with two extremely popular projects for Xbox's Halo 3 and Coca-Cola's Happiness Factory. And R/GA swept last year's One Show Interactive by winning Client of the Year and Best of Show with their innovative Nike+ Web site.
For Kiger, 2007 was a busy year. "Our work was incredibly diverse—ranging from innovative proprietary technologies, to retail experiences, video mobile campaigns, digital signage, and systematic site overhauls," she says. R/GA is continuing work on the Nike+ system with a recently added "challenge feature" as well as projects for Nokia and Verizon.
Bastholm and AKQA have been handling a broad range of projects as well and are running into the problem of what to call themselves. "There's a hugely diverse group of agencies creating great work," he says. "Some are traditional ad agencies, who basically outsource the digital work. Some are mostly production companies. Some are digital agencies, even though that term is hard to define these days. For instance, AKQA is doing video, events, OOH and radio. Do we still define ourselves as a digital agency? I'm not sure."
Though the US is still a dominant source of award-winning work, Bastholm points to agencies in Asia as the technological front runners. "I'm deeply impressed with the work coming out of South Korea's D.O.E.S. (www.d-o-e-s.com)," he says. "The massive broadband pipes that they have in South Korea allow for the incorporation of video and interaction with video that points towards a future that has not yet arrived in most of the world."
"There are a few things that could potentially make US agencies suffer in the near future," he warns. "One is the horrific stranglehold the mobile carriers have over anything that goes on their networks. Networks that are incredibly slow compared to e.g. Europe and Asia. Unless they start opening up 3G networks and allow good ideas to flourish on their networks, the US will lag hopelessly behind in the mobile sector. The same goes for American broadband. It's just not very fast when compared to many other places in the world."
Kiger cites Goodby as one of the top US shops, but like Bastholm, she is impressed with non-US agencies like North Kingdom in Sweden and Taxi in Canada. "Taxi created a great campaign for a beauty care line called Reversa," says Kiger. "It's an interactive video site that features hunky men in various 'fantasy' roles (e.g. a fireman that mows the lawn) to sell anti-aging skincare. Finally! A campaign that objectifies men to sell personal care. It's very unexpected and refreshing."
But when it comes to the best creative in the world, Kiger looks to the southern hemisphere. "I think some of world's best talent is still coming from Brazil. The online work is very beautifully crafted, with an eye for the details, and always seems to get my attention."
In terms of the future of interactive advertising, Kiger sees brands having an even closer relationship with consumers. "I think what makes digital advertising so compelling is that it is relevant and useful for consumers," she observes. "In the future, it will become even more personalized as we, as an industry, get more sophisticated with technology and data analytics."
Ah, the Brits. They gave us the Beatles and the Beckhams, we gave them McDonald's and the iPod. They've certainly had their share of legendary ad agencies like AMV BBDO and Leagas Delaney, but in terms of interactive, it's taken the country a few years to flourish. But Sam Ball from Lean Mean Fighting Machine believes that digital advertising in the UK has finally come of age.
"At present, the digital scene in the UK is outstanding," he says. "A few years ago you could count the number of agencies making interesting work on one hand, but now everyone has raised their game and you see flashes of genius from the most unlikely places. It's like a mini space race over here, the rivalries between each agency driving each other to push further."
Lean Mean is one of a new breed of boutique interactive agencies in the UK that have moved to the forefront, with award-winning work for clients like Emirates Airlines and Virgin. Other outstanding local shops include AKQA, Dare, Glue and Poke. "You can see by their work that the kooks over at Poke are having fun with digital," observes Ball.
Though the competition is fierce, London's creative community has gained a sense of camaraderie. Says Ball: "There are a good bunch of people working in the industry and very few wankers."
As for predictions about the future, Ball cites the following examples as to why he doesn't make them:
"And for the tourist who really wants to get away from it all, safaris in Vietnam…"
—Newsweek, predicting popular holidays for the late 1960s.
"Nuclear-powered vacuum cleaners will probably be a reality in 10 years."
—Alex Lewyt, president of vacuum cleaner company Lewyt Corp., 1955.
"Computers in the future may have only 1,000 vacuum tubes and weigh only 1.5 tons."
—Popular Mechanics, March 1949.
"Television won't last because people will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night."?—Darryl Zanuck, movie producer, 20th Century Fox, 1946.
"There is no doubt that the regime of Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction."
—General Tommy Franks, 2003.
Forsman & Bodenfors/Göteborg
What is it about Sweden that produces so much award-winning interactive work? Maybe it's the legendary Swedish design sensibility, or their love of pop culture, fashion and all things hip. But ask Mathias Appelblad, creative director at Forsman & Bodenfors, and he'll tell you it has to do with size.
"Most Scandinavian interactive agencies are quite small," he says. "Actually, even very small from an international perspective, the majority of agencies here are 10 people or less. This fact paired with a relatively large number of workaholics creates an environment where people will do just about anything to find that new idea and keep at it day and night to perfect the execution. We also have a very strong tradition of flat company structures without much internal hierarchies. Everyone contributes and is a part of the team. That makes people have more fun and work harder, and expands the pool of talent contributing to each project."
And talent isn't something the relatively small region is running short on. With some of the most award-winning interactive firms on the planet like Farfar, Daddy, Great Works and Forsman & Bodenfors continually dominating the awards circuit, Scandinavian agencies have won a total of 23 Pencils since One Show Interactive started ten years ago.
"At Forsman & Bodenfors, we've had the approach to look at interactive work the same way we look at traditional advertising," says Appelblad. "That means that all the creatives and account people that work on traditional media campaigns also work on interactive projects. As we always are the lead agency for all our clients we have a unique possibility to create integrated campaigns where interactive work often is the core media."
To read more of Around the Digital World and hear from agencies from Brazil, South Africa, Southeast Asia and Japan, pick up the latest copy of one. a magazine.