Creativ­ity in Time of Cri­sis

ArabAd - - CONTENTS - By Nils Adri­aans, creativ­ity editor, Ad­for­matie

What role can ad­ver­tis­ing play when the world is fall­ing apart? Shortly af­ter Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion – and in the midst of judg­ing for the Epica awards – Nils Adri­aans of Dutch mag­a­zine Ad­for­matie talked to three ad­ver­tis­ing jour­nal­ists, an ad­ver­tis­ing strate­gist and an ad­ver­tis­ing thinker to find out. The con­ver­sa­tion fo­cused on emerg­ing forms of creativ­ity and cul­tural com­men­tary that are tak­ing brands into un­charted ter­ri­to­ries.

“No, we didn’t see Brexit com­ing”, says El­iza

Wil­liams, associate editor of Cre­ative Re­view. “I don’t think any­one can pre­dict what the con­se­quences will be.”

David Griner, dig­i­tal man­ag­ing editor of Ad­week in New York, re­acts: “The same thing is true for us. Hil­lary Clin­ton had an 85% chance of win­ning. That means peo­ple lied in the polls; even some of my friends prob­a­bly did. Which doesn’t mean Trump didn’t have a damned good cam­paign.” San­ti­ago Campillo-lund­beck, mar­ket­ing editor at Hor­i­zont (Ger­many): “It re­ally is dif­fi­cult to pre­dict where things will go. We live in a dif­fer­ent age, but we’ve seen ex­am­ples of things end­ing badly. We know all about that in Ger­many.”

Brands are re­spond­ing more ex­plic­itly to what is hap­pen­ing in cur­rent events and cul­ture. For in­stance the ‘en­gaged’ work Anom­aly made for John­nie Walker, like Ode to Lesvos (in which the in­hab­i­tants of an is­land are lit­er­ally flooded with refugees) and This Land, a film broad­cast shortly be­fore the elec­tions, with ‘Keep Walk­ing Amer­ica’ as a grand fi­nale. Is this the di­rec­tion the busi­ness should be head­ing in?

Wil­liams: What I will say, is this: we might be com­mer­cial­is­ing sen­ti­men­tal­ity here. But on the other hand: it was made beau­ti­fully, and with re­spect. And it’s a part of a John­nie Walker se­ries about in­spi­ra­tion, hu­man progress and en­durance. But still I won­der: why is a whisky brand telling us this stuff, and not a jour­nal­ist or a politi­cian? Amanda Fève, chief strat­egy of­fi­cer and part­ner Anom­aly (an Amer­i­can):

I can see that, be­cause it’s un­con­ven­tional. But I’m very grate­ful to­wards the client for let­ting us make this. It fits seam­lessly into the propo­si­tion of John­nie Walker. Do I think it’s emo­tion­ally ma­nip­u­la­tive? In fic­tion peo­ple go a lot fur­ther. We de­cided to tell a true story, and to al­low the story to speak for it­self. It takes courage for a brand to make that de­ci­sion. There is a lot of good in the world, why wouldn’t we show that? With the mes­sage: who­ever you are, you can make a dif­fer­ence.

Wil­liams: That’s true, but the end...it feels a bit like: This show was brought to you by. It re­minds me of that Christ­mas ad by su­per­mar­ket chain Sains­bury in 2014, with the foot­ball match be­tween Ger­man and Bri­tish sol­diers dur­ing the First World War. The mes­sage was cor­rect; it re­ally hap­pened that way and Sains­bury has al­ways had a con­nec­tion with The Royal Bri­tish Le­gion, the char­ity for war vet­er­ans. And still it felt like some­thing was wrong: are you al­lowed, as a com­mer­cial brand, to ap­pro­pri­ate some­thing as un-com­mer­cial as that?...though it is telling how dif­fer­ent peo­ple re­acted to that ad; from out­side of the ad busi­ness as well. Ap­par­ently pub­lic opin­ion is shift­ing in that re­gard.

What’s wrong with a brand try­ing to do good?

De Rita: There is noth­ing wrong with this “doc­u­men­tary”, ex­cept for the fact it’s an ad...

A brand doesn’t re­ally want my at­ten­tion, it wants my at­ten­tion in or­der to sell me some­thing.

A brand like Nike should in­vest in bas­ket­ball courts and ed­u­cat­ing coaches to re­ally take a step for­ward. It’s all well and good to en­cour­age em­pa­thy, that’s the most im­por­tant con­di­tion when you’re try­ing to com­mu­ni­cate a mes­sage. But brands will have to change medium and means to truly achieve some­thing so­cially.

Campillo-lund­beck: I don’t agree. It’s com­pletely au­then­tic for a brand to try to sell some­thing: that’s why it’s a brand. But it’s about per­spec­tive. When John­nie Walker makes a doc­u­men­tary about the refugee cri­sis out of noth­ing, then that’s strange, be­cause a whisky brand doesn’t have moral au­thor­ity in that field. But if it’s made out of the per­spec­tive of in­spi­ra­tion, about the peo­ple there, then that’s be­liev­able con­tent. I don’t think a lot of peo­ple will be against that.

De Rita: It’s not about moral­ity, it’s about cred­i­bil­ity. Whisky and refugees, do you see a con­nec­tion? Wil­liams: As a sus­pi­cious watcher I fear for a post-truth-like ef­fect in cases like this. It was made re­spect­fully and it to­tally chimes with my be­liefs, but how do I know if the mes­sage is pure? Griner: There is no right an­swer to the ques­tion about what we’re al­lowed to do. Be­cause when­ever it’s un­clear a brand is be­hind what’s be­ing com­mu­ni­cated, you’ll get slaugh­tered.

I feel sorry for brands when that hap­pens.

Fève: Peo­ple are quick to judge, which makes it ex­tra dif­fi­cult. To make the story richer, we’ve made films about in­di­vid­ual in­hab­i­tants of Les­bos as well. But in a lot of cases, the judge­ment is there al­ready.

HOLD­ING BRANDS RE­SPON­SI­BLE

De Rita: Have you read the book ‘A Brief His­tory of the Future: A Brave and Con­tro­ver­sial Look at the Twenty-first Cen­tury?’ It’s by Jac­ques At­tali, for­mer ad­vi­sor of French pres­i­dents Mit­ter­rand, Chirac and Sarkozy. He pro­poses cre­at­ing a sec­ond UN par­lia­ment, with brands like Mi­crosoft and Face­book. Be­cause those brands have the money to re­ally make a dif­fer­ence… In a cer­tain way, this is al­ready hap­pen­ing: you don’t stand a chance in elec­tions if you don’t have a lot of money to cam­paign.

Wil­liams: It’s an in­ter­est­ing thought, but health care and pub­lic trans­port in Eng­land haven’t re­ally im­proved since the emer­gence of pri­va­ti­za­tion. It can ac­tu­ally be quite de­struc­tive.

Campillo-lund­beck: It’s about trust; which isn’t there. When Adi­das says they are go­ing to turn plas­tic waste into sneak­ers, and it turns out they’re only mak­ing 3000 pairs, then you’re ex­posed. Or take Star­bucks. They’re do­ing ev­ery­thing right when it comes to sus­tain­abil­ity, but they’re hardly pay­ing any taxes. It makes you re­alise: brands aren’t try­ing to change any­thing, they just pig­gy­back trends to be­come more pop­u­lar and make more money.

De Rita: The idea is that we re­ally hold brands re­spon­si­ble. Bill Gates has been fight­ing malaria for years, so give Mi­crosoft that task. Take brands away from the small world of sales and mar­ket­ing. They can do so much bet­ter than that! They have the means to do some­thing while gov­ern­ments are broke.

Griner: Even though cre­ative mar­ke­teers often have re­ally good in­ten­tions and de­spite the sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween banks and util­ity com­pa­nies – talk­ing about vil­lains. But we shouldn’t drift away from re­al­ity: we’re all work­ing in an in­dus­try pri­mar­ily con­cerned with mak­ing money.

Fève: It’s im­por­tant to be hon­est. But one thing doesn’t ex­clude the other: Unilever is work­ing hard to make planet Earth cleaner. And yes, even­tu­ally that will be good for Unilever.

De Rita: There is a mid­dle road to be so­cially re­spon­si­ble as well as prof­itable. I think Philips is a great ex­am­ple. They make med­i­cal ma­chines cost­ing mil­lions, which is way too much for pub­lic hos­pi­tals. I’ve heard they’re look­ing for al­ter­na­tives now, like lease con­struc­tions or build­ing Philips hos­pi­tals, where they train doc­tors to use those ma­chines. Again, it’s about hav­ing vi­sion. The al­ter­na­tive is that we keep look­ing away from the future.

Philips is a good ex­am­ple, but what could a brand like Coca-cola do? You can hardly ex­pect them to truly make hu­man­ity happy.

De Rita: The com­mon in­ter­est and the hap­pi­ness of all should be our pri­mary con­cern at all times. Only then do you look at your own in­ter­est, the smaller hap­pi­ness. Not the other way around. That sounds log­i­cal, but in the world of brands the mantra is: look at your own in­ter­ests first. But brands live in the real world, not in a seem­ingly per­fect par­al­lel uni­verse. At least, not any­more.

Campillo-lund­beck: If it’s au­then­tic for a brand to do good, then I’m all for it. But Benet­ton’s anti-racist shock mar­ket­ing was re­ally an at­tempt to be vis­i­ble, and not a goal in it­self. I’m scep­tic about Phillips hos­pi­tals as well: are we al­lowed to put a ma­chine made by Gen­eral Elec­tric there, if it’s in the in­ter­est of med­i­cal science or the pa­tient?

Griner: I worked for an agency for ten years: if it wasn’t prof­itable, brand man­agers of the fi­nance de­part­ment weren’t al­lowed to spend a penny on ‘good’ in­vest­ments. And then they are blamed for the so called cold and busi­ness-like men­tal­ity of the brand.

But is it all the fault of busi­nesses? Or are con­sumers re­spon­si­ble as well? They haven’t turned their backs on Volk­swa­gen en masse af­ter the diesel scan­dal.

Campillo-lund­beck: The Amer­i­can govern­ment pun­ished Volk­swa­gen harshly. But the con­sumer didn’t, no.

Griner: There’s never a lot of con­tro­versy in Amer­ica when it doesn’t af­fect the con­sumer di­rectly. Two ex­plod­ing smart­phones are more dam­ag­ing than the rev­e­la­tion that mil­lions of cars are more pol­lut­ing than buy­ers were told.

Campillo-lund­beck: The brand loses a part of the value they man­aged to build. Volk­swa­gen would show off those Blue­mo­tion la­bels they had, but they’ll have to put that strat­egy away for now. And in the grow­ing mar­ket of sus­tain­able, elec­tric ve­hi­cles that’s not a good thing.

NO MORE BIG IDEAS?

Fi­nally it seems that in or­der to stand out, you need so much emo­tional im­pact that it takes away from the idea.

Griner: What stands out for me is that lit­tle ideas can grow to be­come mas­sive move­ments. Like #Optout­side by out­door re­tailer REI as a re­ac­tion to Black Fri­day. The only thing they did was give their em­ploy­ees the day off, but they won mul­ti­ple Grand Prix in Cannes with it. There was a mar­ket­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions idea be­hind it, by the agency Ven­ables Bell & Part­ners from San Fran­cisco, but still…

Fève: Trump’s idea was re­ally sim­ple as well: a base­ball cap with the text “Make Amer­ica great again.” But it was a “big idea”. I agree that ideas often need time to grow strong – even re­ally good ideas. But often they don’t get that time. There needs to be a di­rect im­pact. The at­ten­tion is very fleet­ing. Not only with con­sumers, but with a lot of mar­ke­teers too, when they can’t stay in the same place for very long. Then you can start again. We chase our tails a lot!’

Wil­liams: The Next Rem­brandt is an ex­am­ple of huge im­pact with a cen­tral com­mu­ni­ca­tions idea. What’s the mes­sage there? I thought it was a bril­liant PR stunt, ask­ing a very mod­ern ques­tion: how does art re­late to tech­nol­ogy? News floors can re­ally work with that thought. But again, not many peo­ple know that ING was be­hind it; let alone that its ad­ver­tis­ing cre­atives came up with it.

Griner: For me The Next Rem­brandt is proof that data isn’t bor­ing. Tech­nol­ogy is creativ­ity. For me, that was the big idea.

Campillo-lund­beck: It’s true that the “Big Idea” doesn’t need to be com­mu­ni­ca­tions in a di­rect sense. The idea could also be be­com­ing part of pop­u­lar cul­ture. R/GA did that very well with Beats by Dre: they in­fil­trated the 2012 Lon­don Olympics. Even Michael Phelps, the king of the Olympics, wore a pair of Beats head­phones when he was pre­par­ing for his matches. That was lit­er­ally gold.

Fève: I agree. Let the prod­uct “play” a cen­tral role and cre­ate cul­tur­ally rel­e­vant con­tent around it. That’s how we work with our clients, and it starts with the un­der­stand­ing that com­pelling prod­uct demon­stra­tions can take mul­ti­ple shapes, in­clud­ing but not lim­ited to ad­ver­tis­ing. De Rita: The re­al­ity is that we can’t re­ally af­ford to let big ideas fly any­more. Only a few par­ties can do that – if they wanted to. The good news of this de­vel­op­ment is that it’s wise to try out mul­ti­ple, smaller ideas and to just wait and see what hap­pens. I’ve al­ready wit­nessed that big brands are look­ing into of­fer­ing mi­cro-bud­gets to mul­ti­ple mi­cro-agen­cies. The mar­ket has be­come un­pre­dictable…. Ideas that re­ally start to fly out of noth­ing, whether it’s The Ice Bucket Chal­lenge or Trump’s vic­tory, it’s all proof that the un­ex­pected is com­ing back to our busi­ness. De­spite all of the data and re­search. That’s the pos­i­tive thing about all of this: more is pos­si­ble cre­atively than ever be­fore, and that’s ex­cit­ing!

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