My name is Suhana Gordhan. And I’m terrified of Digital.
So, I got a job as a Creative Director at a Digital agency. I figured that I would walk amongst digital gurus, behave like a spy, blend in when I needed to, drop a tweet here and there, absorb as much as I could and finally learn to walk comfortably in virtual stilettos.
When I made my move from Above-the-Line to Digital, I received reactions ranging from frowns and puzzled faces to blatant disapproval to gracious blessings. “Why on earth are you moving to digital?” they asked.
Well firstly, I wasn’t just moving to Digital, I was becoming a NATIVE.
I wanted to think about ideas growing in the digital space and find a voice for brands within this world – not just a whisper in the world-wide-wind but actual conversations between brands and the people that engage with them.
When it comes to defining different areas of advertising, we’ve often heard people say, “It’s always about ideas, anyway” or “Idea is King”. Yes it absolutely is. And Digital is just another realm in the Kingdom of Ideas. If this were the fantasy series, Game of Thrones, Digital would be Winterfell, built on a hotspring of fascinating potential. But I would have to say that it isn’t winter that is coming, it is full-blown summer – beautiful, buoyant summer.
We are in the midst of some very interesting times in advertising. The boundaries between Above-the-Line, Below-the-Line, PR, Activation and Digital are slowly being eroded as if the Blur tool on Photoshop has suddenly found new purpose. And frankly…it’s about time. Creatives were never trained to think in boxes. So ideally, we shouldn’t fear digital the way we do. I don’t think we have to change the way we think. We just have to learn to find new homes for those ideas. An idea can be born in radio, develop legs and walk itself onto a Facebook page or vice versa.
There exists in advertising an ‘US and THEM’ scenario between disciplines. We do this even in the names we give ourselves – “Traditional”, “Alternative”, “Above-the-Line”, “Below-the-Line” – what is that line anyway? And can we start crossing that line more effectively? Being on the ‘other side’ brings perspective. The sooner we realise that we are all parents of brands and that we all have a role to play in their upbringing, the better our advertising will be and the more well-adjusted our brands will turn out.
Admittedly, in my first few weeks of joining NATIVE, I was quite petrified and wanted to run screaming back into the safe arms of a TV Script or a Print Shoot. It was an acronym avalanche – USSD, CMS, UX, APIs and FEDs and BEDs (Front End and Back End, which I soon found out has nothing to do with porn). Yes, there is a lot of technical knowledge to gain but while it helps to know what an Arduino board is, I don’t really need to know that the blue wire is connected to the green wire. I just need to know that an Arduino board can provide a catalyst for a great idea. While Levon Rivers, Head of Innovations at NATIVE, can flood my ears with Technical Britannica, all I need to do is collaborate with genius Lev and suddenly ideas go on road trips and find new and surprising outcomes.
If anything, climbing over the wall to play with the Digital Kids has woken me from my slumber. It has made me see advertising as the Magic Faraway Tree rather than a cabbage patch. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all Enid Blyton out there. Digital shares the same demons as Above-the-Line. Clients still look the same. They still want their logos to be bigger and still believe that their purpose is to draw scamps and rewrite the precious words of copywriters. Budgets are still tiny and there are still the same battles to fight. And our purpose continues to be about building brands that people love and respect and don’t mind interacting with.
When I took the leap into Digital, I couldn’t have landed in a more exciting space. NATIVE is a rich Brains Trust. It is young, flexible, un-jaded and perfectly poised to do amazing things in this industry. The aim is to no longer be called a Digital Agency but rather a Creative Agency. And this is already embedded in their philosophy – NATIVE believes wholeheartedly in doing purpose-driven work that lives in people’s lives.
A few nights ago, I was thinking about NATIVE and the marriage of technical prowess with traditional conceptual skill. I happened to think about this just before I went to bed. That night, I dreamed that NATIVE was busy developing a glass corridor that would allow people to travel along the earth’s surface – around the Equatorial Belt. It was a spherical, glass tube complete with people in Trekkie-like uniforms, a travelator floor and of course…a view of the entire Universe.