The Commercial side of DPA

Occasionally I’m asked about the title of this blog, and the significance of Dirt | Pixels | AIR. While the core message references the creative process and how it’s impacted by digital and organic influences, I confess that there are two different ways that I go about explaining it. One is from the fine arts perspective, and one is from the commercial perspective, since my creative and strategic practice is also called Dirt | Pixels | AIR.

Todays entry presents the commercial side of DPA…– DG


The core marketing task of identifying an audience and reaching them with a pointed and relevant brand message seems more complicated than ever. Traditional communication touch points such as print, TV, and radio are being replaced by an evolving digital landscape that now includes mobile advertising, social networks, and three other trends that have launched since you started reading this. Just when you thought your web strategy was becoming more stable and measurable, these new variables dot the horizon, raise questions and doubt, and throw everything out of balance.

This climate of new trends and technologies often causes companies to make one of two fatal errors. Some will erroneously sit back and do nothing until the trend is so well entrenched that they have no choice but to react and play catch-up. Others mistakenly jump in and wrestle with the new trend without thinking about the brand, the business, or the overall communications strategy. Like the Marketing Director who told us that her boss just got back from a conference and wanted her to get them involved with social networking by next quarter. Never mind that they had huge gaps in their web strategy and overall audience communications…they were going to do “something”.

Dirt | Pixels | AIR takes a holistic, audience-centered approach that identifies and the target(s), formulates a strategy, and uses high and low tech tools to execute and measure results. It sounds simple, and yet, with so many new innovations and buzzwords, things can get convoluted very fast.  What’s relevant for my core business? Do I really have to loose control of my brand to do social networking? What about mobile…or video? And how do I identify the tipping point that indicates when I should adopt a new technology? It can be like an elusive tomato seed that squirts out from under your thumb just when you think you have it pinned down.

Finding ideas in the Dirt
The good news is that marketing campaigns and effective web strategies have always had certain commonalities; they’re intuitive, memorable and they resonate with their audience. Simply put, effective brand messaging is emotional and personal, forging a bond of trust and understanding between brand and audience.

This is our starting point for any project… in the organic, occasionally random, and sometimes messy emotional messages that are so rich with significance. We all know firsthand that human emotion is never neat and tidy, and it resists being overly packaged or formulated. How do you convince your audience that you’re trustworthy, innovative, or timeless?  How do you convey core value propositions like integrity, honesty, and strength. This is the Dirt in our equation…the gritty, tangible and real elements that make people respond, remember, and act. And it always lies at the heart of a great idea.

The Pixels facilitate
This is the part most agencies focus on. They love to talk about the next new thing, be it Facebook widgets, coupons on cel phones, body scanners in retail stores, or outdoor digital. These new areas are like a series of waves that follow one after another in succession…and agencies love to climb atop them and promise they can harness their power for the good of their clients. Their ability to master these waves is a point of differentiation, and they use it to set themselves apart (it’s also used to justify high bill rates).

The elephant in the living room in all of this is that new technologies are seldom if ever measurable, and it’s hard to discern when to climb atop the wave. In the absence of real metrics, agencies will often make broad assumptions along the lines of “since all teens have cel phones, sending a mobile coupon to them will work wonders!” They never consider that perhaps teens will resent this as an intrusion rather than a welcome message. This is a basic example, but the point is that it’s difficult to evaluate new technologies on their own terms, and it’s hard to resist oversimplification in the quest for validation.

And yet, pixels are the building blocks that all design is built on- and pixel-based technologies such as social networks and mobile advertising are the conduits that deliver our messages. They’re powerful, flexible, and very effective, and yet they’re just a collection of tools in service of the idea. They should be used carefully, within the proper context…and as a bridge to creating meaningful dialog. That’s why we place them in the middle of our equation; helping facilitate and express an idea…making the concept tangible.

The ethereal lightness of …
Well executed ideas embody a delicate and absolute perfection.  As a result, they exceed expectations and forge lasting and memorable relationships. It’s important to realize that it doesn’t have to be a “big” idea. In fact, it’s imperative to right-size all design and messaging efforts for the needs of the business and the audience. A small trucking firm that operates within a limited geographic area can achieve this delicate balance with a clean web design and a basic marketing strategy, while a larger company will be more strategic and diverse in its message and touch-points. Conversely, an audience may not want to be inundated with excessive messaging when a simple text message will get the point across quite well.

In the end, a well-crafted idea reveals itself at the convergence of brand, message, technology, and a dozen other factors. It’s also accessible, relevant, and meaningful to its target audience as well as the culture at large. It’s something that floats and breathes… suspended between the tactical and the strategic; Actionable, aspirational, and irresistible.

The AIR is the space where these lofty elements combine and interact. And while it’s not always possible to bring all of these variables together in this synergistic nirvana, it certainly is something to strive for. Not only that, the results are always interesting, fresh and compelling, which goes a long way towards facilitating a meaningful dialog between a brand and its audience.

That’s what we strive for with every project…

Dirt | Pixels | AIR

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