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Page1of 1 Avatars Wanted
by Ernie Schenck

Like many of you, I’ve been thinking for a while now about the need to shake up the status quo with regard to how ideas are generated.

With all due respect to Bill Bernbach, the creative team, as we’ve known it, though it has served us well these last 40 or 50 years, is getting a little long in the tooth. The creative landscape has changed much, so cataclysmically has its topography been reshaped, it’s difficult not to think that a new kind of partnership might lead to fresher, more inspired work.

For sure, there are places where such partnerships are already redefining how we work. Young companies, with no allegiances to an organization chart or the baggage that comes with having cut your teeth working one way, are now confronted with entirely new perspectives: Digital and traditional creatives are as one—talented people moving seamlessly from one medium to the next.  

Most agencies are struggling; desperately floundering between what was, what is and what’s coming. If it were Star Trek, they’d be the poor souls who never quite got beamed up, whose disassembled molecules got stuck floating around in space, never to be put back together again.

Recently, I decided to try an experiment. What if we blew up the Bernbach model? What if we just said to the creative teams, what the hell, we know you guys have been joined at the hip for the last ten years, but on this project, you’re going your separate ways? And so it began. The award-winning AD was teamed with the award-winning digital guy. The copywriter would lay down with the UX guy. The emerging media guru would hook up with the cultural anthropologist.

The hope was that the resulting torrent of fresh thinking would more than make up for the initial discomfort of strange bedfellows. The reality was something else entirely.

At the end of the day, instead of breaking cool new ground, the results were arguably one of the worst episodes of creative constipation I have ever witnessed. Atomic sparks? More like a bunch of fireflies on life support.

So what happened?

Was it a lack of talent? Not really. Most of these people were smart, talented, many of them brimming over with creative ability. Not a few had shelves of awards to prove it, too. Was it the agency culture? Maybe. But I’ve talked with a couple of CDs struggling to integrate creatives into a simple idea reactor that knows no borders, and they all pretty much have been experiencing the same growing pains. 

It’s a tough nut to crack.

But I think I know who might have the answer. James Cameron. Yeah, OK, laugh if you want, but when I saw Avatar, well, there it was looking right back at me. The solution to one of the biggest problems confronting so many agencies right now. 

In the movie—like I really need to tell you this—Earth people, in actuality a mining company and a contingent of military troops to support it, occupy the alien moon of Pandora and have devised a technology that lets them transfer their conscious selves into avatars, manufactured replicas of the indigenous people known as the Na’vi. The avatars are able to move seamlessly between both species.



That’s it right there. That’s the crux of it. That’s the key to integration. We need someone who can move seamlessly between here and there, this side and that side, someone who can speak in the language of concept and story, but who can also speak in the language of digital technology. A bridgeling. A straddler of worlds. An avatar.

There are no sides anymore. Embrace technology without embracing the fundamental tenets of human nature and all you will have is a cool and funky toy, no more substantive than a pair of 3-D glasses in search of a script. Embrace brand story without a deep awareness of emerging technologies and you are as vulnerable as a buggy whip salesman who’s yet to hear of the internal combustion engine.

Find that person who is as comfortable in another’s skin as she is in her own, find that borderland dweller, the go-betweener, the hybrid communicator, and you will be on your way to evolving into a truly agnostic and idea-driven company that knows no borders, one that’s truly worthy of the new and constantly shifting creative landscape. CA Schenck
Ernie Schenck ( is a freelance writer, a creative director and a regular contributor to CA’s Advertising column. An Emmy finalist, three-time Kelley nominee and a perennial award winner—the One Show, Clios, D&AD, Emmys and Cannes—Schenck worked on campaigns for some of the most prestigious brands in the world in his roles at Hill Holliday/Boston, Leonard Monahan Saabye and Pagano Schenck & Kay. He lives with his wife and daughter in Jamestown, Rhode Island.