Does Interactive Need A Bill Bernbach?
There are two theories of history. The "Great Man" theory states that history can be understood by looking at the impact of extraordinary individuals over the course of world events (Hitler, Napoleon, Cromwell, etc.). This theory is contrasted with the "World-System" theory. The "World-System" approach proposes that history can only be understood by properly examining macro-economic factors.
Advertising history generally espouses the "Great Man" viewpoint. In advertising lore, these giants of advertising (think Ogilvy, Bernbach, or in modern-day, Bogusky) shift the course of advertising history, and, through sheer charisma and willpower, they change the paradigms of the industry.
This leads me to the core question of this post: Does interactive need a Bill Bernbach to lead us into the next generation of digital marketing?
The short answer is yes. Digital marketing is ripe for the right person to take the mantle of creative leadership and drive the industry forward. This person's agency will move beyond the execution/production role that so many interactive agencies have been relegated to, and realize the opportunity that presents itself to the agency that can master the art of interactive narrative, culture crafting and customer persuasion.
But, there is a caveat. Bernbach wouldn't have thrived to the degree that he did without the social and cultural context of his time-period. So, you can't underestimate the impact of external factors on world events.
That being said there are several external factors currently driving our industry:
Tactical Execution Is Becoming Commoditized.
Interface design, search marketing, and development are all facing downward cost pressure as crowd-sourcing and in-sourcing eat away at the margins. The top 10% of talent will always be valued, but the bottom 90% are worth a fraction of what they were in the past. Mediocre work will not be rewarded.
Digital Agencies Are Evolving.
Digital agencies are either evolving into "production" houses, or "idea" agencies. The few and lucky might become both, and that is where the next Bernbach will come from.
Traditional Agencies Are Creating Digital Capabilities.
The idea that you have to hire a "digital" agency to create interactive marketing will become less and less common. Companies like Crispin Porter - Bogusky already have greater in-house digital capabilities than most of their digital counterparts.
So, how can someone become the next "Great Man" of interactive?
The answer is simple, but it won't be easy. This person must create a digital agency that is more than technicians; they have to master the art of interactive storytelling and persuasion. They have to develop a capacity and a passion for creativity that pushes the industry to create work on a new level. And most importantly, they have to figure out a way to use the medium to create and effect culture on a larger scale.