Friday, October 28, 2016
  • Wednesday, May. 14, 2008
iChat: Grey's Don McKinney, Executive Creative Director, Discusses Broadband Video
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Don McKinney, who joined Grey as executive creative director/director of digital development on May 2, takes a truly creative approach to the profession. He's not a technologist and doesn't overly concern himself with broadband video formats, but concentrates on the creative execution of client campaigns, such as the E-Trade talking baby ad, which had eight million views on YouTube and played on the Super Bowl. McKinney plans to utilize broadband video at Grey, and discusses the way clients who are "participants" in their campaigns will be willing to use it. He also discusses the way video ads can be used in social media and mobile.

iSPOT: How has your background at other agency jobs prepared you for Grey?

McKinney: I am not a technologist. I started in this business as a writer in traditional advertising. When I went to Chiat I decided to make the leap and after a few months there the creative director said why don't you straddle between traditional and interactive, even though at that point I'd only written a couple of banner ads. We've come a long way since then.

iSPOT: Are there separate divisions for traditional and digital at Grey?

McKinney: It is a lot more open then it is siloed. I find that it's not so much being media agnostic, it's about starting somewhere else. If you spend the majority of time thinking about the idea, then the executions just begin to fall out, and the executions can be pretty surprising, pretty different.

iSPOT: Can you talk about what you've done with broadband video advertising, and how you'll use it at Grey?

McKinney: This may be a philosophical approach to video online. When you start talking about media or advertising in general, what you're really talking about is contrived communication. The E-Trade spots, where you've got a talking baby trading stock, I'm not sure you can get much more contrived without getting into heavy duty battles with science fiction. But it worked really well, people loved it, so we put it on the Super Bowl which was perfect because it's the right kind of context, a manufactured context. What is interesting on the web is now you're dealing with an increasingly non-manufactured context, there's no single purpose to it the way a TV show has breaks where ads run. When brands put video on the web, it's how do you get to places that are most valuable. I think that the non-manufactured contexts are the most valuable places to be on the Internet. The rise of Internet TV is the best example. You've got network sites and now I'm over on Hulu. And of course there's YouTube with the E-Trade spot getting eight million views. Those eyeballs are a little more valuable.

iSPOT: How will you use broadband video at Grey?

McKinney: It's probably going to be a lot of things. It's a broad question because every client is different, there's a different level of comfort with using video. Some clients won't give up control at all. Ze Frank [the online humorist] said something about compression and how it changes the way we view things. Web video is very compressed so the quality isn't the same as clients might expect from TV. A lot of clients are really interested in maintaining control and keeping people in squeaky clean rooms, but others are willing to run broadband video spots that are a little rough.

iSPOT: Clients sometimes play distorted videos to make them look like they play on YouTube to reach that audience.

McKinney: Yes, they actually spend a lot of money to make it look bad. I think the real revolution is when clients realize they have to be participants. That's where the big mind shift will come. I hope we don't end up boxing ourselves back into that media mind set. I think it's going to come down to the ideas we have for clients at Grey. My overall philosophy is I want to be in a more non-manufactured context with communications that aren't contrived. That's broad, but I can't give you specifics. I think the E-Trade stuff is a good start. When you look at YouTube, those things are effective. It's an attempt by the brand to control their communication. They don't really need a channel when they have YouTube, people looking for E-Trade baby just typed in E-Trade baby.
    I have another theory based on what Neil Postman [author and media critic] said that the way in which a society can communicate has a profound impact on the things it communicates. If you write on stone tablets, you have stone tablet ideas. Today, we have this amazing array of media out there from cell phones to YouTube that impact the kind of ideas we have. The explosion of ideas hasn't been possible before now. I believe that the media itself is enabling ideas that we never thought of.

iSPOT: The IAB announced new format guidelines this week for the traditional forms of video advertising. What do you think of the formats and is there an agency role in developing new ones?

McKinney: I'm not going to be that helpful in that area. I focus on creative ideas and don't touch that part of it that much.

iSPOT: Can you talk about the role social media will play in the expansion of digital video advertising?

McKinney: I think it's huge from the distribution, if you got a million people distributing things on MySpace and Facebook. I'm not sure the format on Facebook is as conducive for that. I tend to ignore the stuff that shows up on my wall, it's like static white noise getting in the way of more interesting things. But I will say that there's a dynamic in mind, the curator creative dynamic. It used to be that being a creator was more important than being a curator, but now being a curator is as important or more important because it allows you to have broader things to pull from. There are wonderful blogs that are very popular. Curators are the guys who are out there distributing and without social networking it wouldn't have been adopted.

iSPOT: Do you think you'll use mobile video at Grey?

McKinney: I hope so, I really do. We have a client we're talking with about a big global play and mobile seems like the logical place to go. A lot of it has to do with how the medium and ideas interact. I feel like mobile video gives us the opportunity to be more immediate and the immediate spontaneity of it will form some really interesting ideas. I'm not a technologist and don't lean on executions for ideas but taking into account the way people use the mobile media should have a huge impact.

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