Are Digital Services The New Ideal?

We all know what a mess digital advertising is. There are privacy concerns, ad blockers and quacks in every direction offering their innovative new solutions that are far from it.

The good news is brands can play effectively in the people’s sandbox — provided they learn to play a different game, a game with new rules.


Banner ads and YouTube videos are print and broadcast constructs, respectively. The need to push past these formats has never been more clear. But what else can we do in digital? What else should we do?

Dan Hon, an Interactive Creative Director at Wieden + Kennedy, is a champion of brands building out digital services like Nike+ Running.

A general mistake in thinking around digital advertising is that there are two binary choices: either provide utility and essentially create products; or create fluff or entertainment that reinforces a brand and relies on paid attention.

That ignores the tremendous but difficult space in the middle.

I do know what Hon means by the binary choices. I’ve laid them out for clients, and our readers here, for years. What I don’t accept is the notion that building digital services fails to fit into this simple equation. I hate to dwell in semantics, but Nike+ is also a product, and an excellent example of branded utility.

The truth is people are actively charting their own courses in digital via a plethora of mostly free and some paid tools. We are managing our real lives from a digital dashboard. It’s how we keep in touch with friends and family, pay our bills, shop, plan vacations, book travel, make dinner reservations, find dates and so on. Nike+ found a way to be useful, and that’s a fantastic thing. I would love to see this model repeated a thousand fold.

I will merely add that the brand who launches a lifestyle magazine or produces a feature film (both large scale content plays) is also finding a compelling way to be useful. Entertaining and informing people are both hugely useful.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.