In the advertising business, either traditional, digital or somewhere in between, every so often you come up with an idea that you know will be amazing. So you do everything in your power to convince your client that it will be brilliant. You tell them passionately why it answers their brief, why the audience would totally love it, why it would get everyone talking about your product and that it can actually be made. Yet something happens, the client shows a flicker of fear or confusion, they might whisper to each other and you know that something isn’t going quite like you imagined it would. In your mind you pictured the client moved to tears of joy, leaping out of their seat to embrace you as suddenly you’re transport to a stage where you’re receiving that Grand Prix. But instead you’re faced with quizzical faces and a damp squid descends eerily over the meeting. Today that all came rushing back when I saw this project for Lexus featuring a car covered in LED. It’s a year since I presented the very same idea to a client. OK, it’s only advertising. But when you live and breathe this every day it’s heartbreaking to see that another client was brave enough to say yes – let’s do it.
How do you help clients be more brave, to take leaps and try things that have never been done before? Some agencies have a knack for it but then clients for there expecting it from Droga5 or R/GA. For many mere mortal agencies it’s a real challenge. Many clients have limited budgets and want to make sure that your project will get results. When you’re presenting an idea that is innovative there are no prior examples to use as backup. So you have to anticipate the arguments that will come up in the client’s mind. If you’re doing something new with technology try creating a prototype or demo to show something is feasible (this is how we sold another project to the same client which was a huge success). Your client’s priority is not being brave but selling cars, toothpaste, computers or whatever. Put yourself in their shoes and show how bravery can also lead to amazing results. Don’t just expect the client to feel the same way you do.
The fact is, you’ll probably lose more battles than you win. As a creative person you are the one that needs the most bravery. Not to come up with groundbreaking ideas but to see them burn down in front of you – only to come back later and haunt you. So I will leave you with this, another painful episode involving an idea we tried to sell to the same client and failing – then seeing it done a year later.
Business disruption is high on the list of hot topics being discussed in boardrooms around the world. After seeing the effect that innovations made possible by the internet have had on certain industries (from music to movies, travel to takeaway food), many companies are looking at how to disrupt themselves before the dirty deed is done to them. In this recent Fortune article, How the Best Business Leaders Disrupt Themselves, we read how Netflix CEO “Reed Hastings knew that online streaming would disrupt his successful DVDs-by-mail model. He committed to streaming in 2011—and Netflix’s stock plunged 76%. Wall Street called for his head. But Hastings pushed on, and today DVDs are just 7% of the company’s business, while the stock is up 150% from its pre-plunge peak”.
For those business leaders looking to disrupt themselves, the big consultancies are there to hold your hand (and take your money). Just last year Accenture published a Guide to Self-Disruption with a focus on “Driving Growth through Enterprise Innovation in the Digital Age”. It includes some compelling arguments for disruption such as a recent Accenture survey which showed that 93% of enterprise-level executives said they think innovation is critical to their business, but only 34% said they believe they have a well-defined innovation strategy in place.
One of the “digital” agencies that I most admire is R/GA. They have baked disruption into their DNA from the beginning. In a recent speech in London at a Guardian event, founder Bob Greenberg had this to say: “We’ve never been disrupted – we’re really thankful for that – so we create our own disruption every nine years”. He went on to say that he thinks the next version of R/GA, which is due around 2021, will be the ‘Agency for the Intelligent Age’. That means mixed reality, artificial intelligence and robotics.
So with all this disruption going on, why do so few people apply this to their own lives or careers?
The truth is, we set ourselves on a career path that can be very linear, determined to make it up the ladder but rarely questioning if that ladder is really right for us. Working in the advertising business for so long, I often wonder why in such a creative industry people tend to put themselves in the very box they encourage their clients to think out of. You’re an art director, you’re a planner – and so on. Stick to your chosen patch and wear the right shirt. But what if we could disrupt ourselves a little more? Maybe we would discover a whole new talent. In this 2012 article in Harvard Business Review, Whitney Johnson gives some examples of people that took a left turn and found exciting new opportunities. She writes about “Martin Crampton, a former research scientist and math teacher from Australia. He parlayed a stint as a developer and demo specialist for a software company in Melbourne into a decade-long marketing career, first at the software firm and then at two multinational manufacturing companies (Bic and Stihl), before starting his own consultancy. In 1993 he leapt into another profession and, with his partner, created Australia’s first national real estate portal (before Realtor.com)”. Being open to disruption can have a hugely positive impact on your life. It might not lead to dotcom fortunes but it always opens up new doors. More than anything, it stretches you, challenges your own set ideas and you always end up meeting some inspiring people along the way.
I’ve been disrupting myself since I was 20 years old and decided to overcome being an introvert and bought the loudest shirt I could find. Disruption seemed to be instinctual. Yes, it has been very hard at times and hasn’t always led to success. From mounting an exhibition of modern art in a Paris gallery (and not selling one item) to producing an electronic music soundtrack for a Chinese photographer’s slideshow at UNESCO, to moving into digital marketing in 1996 when it was still in its infancy or shifting continents more often than most people change hairstyles, it has been and incredible journey which hasn’t always been comfortable. You’d think by now I’d want to settle down. If anything, I’m being more disruptive to myself now then ever before. A year ago I decided to do something I’ve never done and write a book. It’s already published and helping me shift my career into a whole new area – including making the decision never have a permanent job again. Disruption became a way of life for me and I realise that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But I do believe that we can all benefit from a little auto-disruption in our lives. They say “change is good”, but I’d go one step further. Change that you actively choose can be a truly liberating experience.
At the start of your career, you don’t really have any idea how long it is going to feel. A lot longer than you imagine! Perhaps, like me, you’ve reached a point where you’ve worked for 30 years and are thinking that you’ve still got half that time still to go. Whichever situation you’re in, without having a purpose it’s going to feel like a long hard slog and potentially very unfulfilling. Worse still, by just drifting and not really committing to making a mark in your chosen career, you might find it cut short as others with more drive than you pass by. There is a danger that you’ll become obsolete.
Thinking about this brought to mind a clear example of two, dramatically diverging careers in the world of music. Back in the early 80s, the UK music scene was thriving with many new bands competing to be the next big thing. There were two groups that shared a similar sensibility, combining post-punk with new wave and a bombastic rock style. The music papers were buzzing about them. Their names were Simple Minds and U2. Both were young and energetic, but only one group became (and still remain) megastars. It was the band that was on a mission, one with a strong point of view that believed in something bigger.
U2 annoyed many people along the way and continue to do so today, especially when they give away their album for free by dumping it in everyone’s iTunes library whether people wanted it or not. Their combination of quasi-religious, save the world, “we are one” rhetoric has driven them forwards. Mostly thanks to Bono and his crusades for justice that always gave him something to say, even if their longsuffering drummer would rather he didn’t. Of course they are all excellent musicians, songwriters and performers who’ve chosen great producers to work with, but those things are not enough to sustain a music career. Meanwhile, Simple Minds (who I still love by the way) didn’t have much to say. They took a shortcut to success by recording someone else’s song (Don’t You Forget About Me) for the popular movie “The Breakfast Club”. They became massive for a short while, but without a strong purpose or message about what they stood for people eventually did forget about them. They are still around, releasing albums and touring the heritage circuit, yet they never did fulfill their potential.
Some people are naturally charismatic. Bono is one and Jim Kerr (lead singer of Simple Minds) is less so. I’m not suggesting we can all be like Bono, but we can think a bit more about trying to define what we believe in, to find an expression for that and let others see that we have something we stand for. It could help you sustain your career and make it more meaningful too.
An excerpt from The UX of ME: Career Optimisation Through Design Thinking. Available now on Amazon Kindle.
In a recent keynote speech, the controversial and celebrated architect Rem Koolhaas (who’s company designed the infamous CCTV building in Beijing) complained that far too many architects only talk to other architects and share the same views. The negative result being that they were becoming increasingly irrelevant and architecture as an industry is not keeping up with the “revolutions” that are shaping the modern world. Koolhaas said that “architecture has a serious problem today in that people who are not alike don’t communicate, I’m actually more interested in communicating with people I disagree with than people I agree with. We’re working in a world where so many different cultures are operating at the same time, each with their own value system,” he added. “If you want to be relevant, you need to be open to an enormous multiplicity of values, interpretations, and readings.”
You could say that the advertising industry suffers from a similar problem. Too many people looking for inspiration from what other agencies are doing. Creative teams scouring the award annuals to see what the best work is right now and looking for ideas how to do even better. If we could be more like sponges then perhaps our work would be more relevant and more innovative. I’m not talking about the kitchen or bathroom sponges but those still alive in the wild where coral has not yet been totally bleached.
According to Wikipedia, sponges “are multicellular organisms that have bodies full of pores and channels allowing water to circulate through them.” We should try being more open minded and let all kinds of elements flow through us. From pop culture to the high arts, youth movements or culture trends, science, politics etc. – the more we are aware of what’s happening out there the better we’ll be at transforming this information into communication strategies that will truly connect with the people we want to reach.
Another aspect of sponges that we can inspired by is their wide range of collaborations with other organisms. Shrimps set up whole colonies on the surfaces of sponges while green algae acts as an endosymbiont organism to help feed sponges in exchange for providing shelter. Before you sound the geek alert, consider how being much more collaborative could feed your agency with new ways of thinking or new technologies that will allow you to evolve, changing with the times.
The advertising industry is becoming increasingly competitive so we have to find a competitive advantage. Just battening down the hatches and protecting what we have might not be the best solution. It might be just the opposite. Being open, collaborative and adaptable to the sea of change could be the answer. Sponges have been around for at least 580 million years so maybe they’re doing something right!
This post was inspired by reading this article on Dezeen. Thanks for the (non-advertising industry) inspiration.
Imagine if the Oscars and the Golden Globes had almost the same trophy, a bald nude muscled man standing on a plinth holding a sword. Like Jason Stratham in a homo-erotic King Arthur movie. Wouldn’t it be confusing? Well in the past week both the One Show and D&AD handed out pencil trophies to the advertising and design industry. Which pencil is more coveted than the other? Is one sharper than the other in terms of reputation? Let’s have a duel to the death as I take a look at what these two award festivals recognised as some of the best work.
Round 1 – It’s a virtual world
Virtual reality is the buzzword of the moment. Until recently everyone talked about “transmedia storytelling” until the word trans came to mean something quite different. So what did the these rival pencil select from all the innovative VR submissions this year?
Y&R New Zealand picked up a Wood Pencil from D&AD in the Branding/Brand Experience & Environments category. But it’s not VR as we know it. With a real twist, customers thought they were in a driving simulator, only to find out they were experiencing the real deal.
In the One Show corner we have a different approach with this Gold Pencil winner in the mobile category. VR doesn’t have always mean wearing an anti-social headset. McCann Paris developed a mobile app for L’Oreal which let’s anyone apply makeup virtually. D&AD just gave this one a Graphite pencil 🙁
Round 1 winner – Hard to compare such different uses of virtual reality from two very different categories but I would go for One Show’s choice with the Make Up genius. A more useful and smart way to use VR that drives buzz and sales.
Round 2 – Advertising isn’t dead
Yes, there is so much talk about how traditional advertising is dying because everyone is too busy watching cat videos on their mobile phones. But even if the TVC doesn’t have the same power it once had when the whole family would sit around the goggle box for hours each evening, there is still nothing quite as brilliant as a highly-creative, well-crafted piece of film. Both One Show and D&AD celebrate this art and each has given pencils to what they think is the very best of the bunch.
adam&eveDDB continue to produce outstanding work for Harvey Nichols and this film using CCTV footage of real shoplifters continues that tradition. D&AD gave out a coveted Yellow pencil for this. One Show gave it gold but it seems just that bit harder to get the Yellow pencil.
As for One Show, my pick of the gold winners has to be this spot for Old Spice. They continue putting a splash of humour on everything and “Rocket Car” from Wieden+Kennedy is a worthy successor of the previous (legendary) Old Spice films.
Round 2 winner – I have to hand it to D&AD for choosing a worthy winner.
Round 3 – Let’s make a change
It’s still the hottest trend in award shows, brands trying to do good by showing the world how they should live, think, feel, act etc. Maybe I’m being a little cynical but we do live in a hyper politically correct world these days. Brands have to walk the talk or be slammed for not doing the right thing. So what stood out in these two rival award shows?
One Show gave a Best in Show Award to a brand that said no to consumerism. You might have seen videos of shoppers on America’s Black Friday fighting in the aisles for discounted biscuits. Outdoor retailer REI decided to live by its beliefs and close their stores on that day and encourage people to go outside instead. D&AD only gave a Wood pencil for this project – that’s harsh.
But there was one project that ruled both pencils…
It’s Y&R New Zealand that strike again with a winner that was recognised by both sides of the pencil war. It’s only fair to make peace and declare round two a draw as both the One Show and D&AD gave out lots of pencils for the McWhopper Peace Day project. Even if McDonald’s didn’t accept to pool their resources (and ingredients), the public took it upon themselves to unilaterally unite the Big Mac and the Whopper.
Round 3 (and overall) winner – In the spirit of peace we’ll bring the pencil war to a close, bringing these rival award shows together and declaring the final winner One&AD.
If like me, you’re one of the people wishing you were at SXSW in Austin Texas (and not just for the BBQ), let’s take a look at what is happening this week that is truly innovative or utterly nonsense. There is a fine line between “what if?” and “so what?” that we all have to tread when we’re in the cutting edge game. Without exploration there are no breakthroughs but along the way there are so many ideas that leave you wondering “what were they thinking?” For those of us working in the commercial reality of marketing communication, we desperately want to propose the latest innovations and help brands do things first before anyone else – but often can’t justify it. Clients want to know what the ROI is. Not easy to provide when something has never been done before. It takes a brave client to go where no other brand has gone before without guarantees.
Let’s put aside the practical world for the moment. What interesting things have been happening at SXSW that could become future trends? For me, one of the surprising stars of the show has been Deloitte Digital with ARC (Audience Reactive Composition) that enhances the experience of festival goers through an “exploration of the future at the intersection of light, music and technology”. To me it looks like the interior of the Tardis from Doctor Who which is always a great place to start.
At first glance it could come across as something only Bjork might love but few others would appreciate, but take a step back and there is an interesting exploration around moving away from interacting through screens alone and giving people a more physical, tactile way to experience technology. In an interview with its creators Dave and Gabe, they talk about how “we are very visual as humans, but our muscle memory and tactile intelligence is incredibly powerful. The future of digital technology and interaction should speak to those physical properties”. Definitely an area which could develop into new ways for brands to interact with consumers. Find out more here: http://sxsw.deloitte.com/
One participant at SXSW that intrigues me (and definitely worthy of an OMG) is Japan House. I’ve always had a thing for Japanese innovation and Japan House continues to push the boundaries in strange ways that only the Japanese have a knack for. Just their description alone says it all as they “invite you to re-explore with us the eternal mystery of human nature. What constitutes human nature? What form will the extension of humanity take?” Go along for a taste of tomorrow’s world with robots, AI, new forms of mobility and 3D printed human organs. Find out more http://jpnhouse.com/
Still in the land of the rising sun, Sony is showcasing a lot of new tech with their Future Lab Program. While the name may not be very creative, what they have put together shows how much Sony is still a true innovator. One of the projects is simply known as “N” and is essentially (to quote 9to5google.com) a “neckband-like device that provides a cloud of audio that you can hear without the need for headphones. With no headphones attached to your ears, you can wear the device while running, biking, or driving without needing to worry about safety issues. The device also has motion sensing and GPS location tracking capabilities”. Get the full story here > http://9to5google.com/2016/03/13/sxsw-sonys-future-lab-shows-off-its-n-audio-based-wearable-other-projects/
One brand that is working hard to be seen as more innovative is Gatorade. Ahead of SXSW they launched a challenge called Bolt Breakers where tech companies such as Google and Twitter were invited to imaging how technology could help young, competitive athletes. The results can be seen at SXSW. The full story behind the initiative can be read here on Adweek. Not wanting to be left behind by other sports brands like Nike and Under Armour, Gatorade is really looking to transform itself to be known as a forward-thinking company dedicated to using innovation to help fuel performance.
The SXSW Interactive Innovation Awards is another chance to see what the future might look like. It really covers a broad spectrum of topics that you won’t see at other festivals. From Health, Med & Biotech to 3-DIY (best use of 3D printing tech), New Economy to Audio, Responsive Design to Visual Media and Wearable tech to name just a few. My favorite award is called SCIFI NO LONGER which recognizes achievements that before 2015 were only possible in science fiction. Check out the shortlist now and the winners after March 15 http://www.sxsw.com/interactive/awards/innovation-awards
I will end with what I think is a perfect example of a WTF moment at SXW. Budweiser is using the event to launch “Tackle Impossible: a Force for Safer Roads”, a U.S. initiative to “ignite the entrepreneurial spirit of young adults to tackle global road safety and help find innovative solutions to the problem of drinking and driving”. Good one, that’s like Burger King promoting veganism. Wassssuuuuuppppp!??
In Back to the Future 2, Marty McFly’s future teenage children wore VR headsets at the dinner table. The year was 2015 and as well as VR we also had flying cars plus fax machines in every room. Watching the movie when it came out in 1989, I wanted to be part of that future. Well here we are and VR is on everyone’s mind (if not yet stuck their faces), especially after Mark Zuckerberg appeared on the stage with Samsung at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week. No, he was not a hologram or VR avatar, he was there to praise Samsung’s advances in VR with their latest headset and 360 camera as well as plug what Facebook are doing with Oculus technology. This was possibly the tipping point, the reverse of jumping the shark, the moment when VR became serious and too big to fail.
Although I’ve been working in “digital” for 20 years now, I still try to maintain a level of cynicism when it comes to the next big thing. It’s that little devil’s advocate sitting on my shoulder that tempers my natural enthusiasm for all things tech. But I’d like to silence him for the moment and look ahead to where VR might go in terms of being a powerful marketing tool. Just think, when Facebook appeared nobody, guessed that it would become the advertising powerhouse it is today. When I was getting “poked” by people in the early days of the platform, I didn’t say to myself “this is going to transform the ad business”. Facebook wants to make VR a social experience, even though slapping a headset on is possibly the most anti-social thing you could do. But I won’t listen to my internal naysayer. As they said in the X-Files… I want to believe. So even though VR is a novelty right now let’s fast forward five years and imagine what it might become.
Welcome to 2021 –the age of VR. Just like the early days of the internet, the biggest success stories of VR are porn and gaming. Being able to immersive yourself in the thrill of the moment has become the key selling point for VR. But brands have had to work harder to capture people’s attention in this VR future. Way back in 2015 we had already seen some early attempts at using VR as a marketing tool. Google’s Cardboard VR was used by Volvo to deliver an amazing Virtual Driving Experience.
We’ve come a long way since then. Here, in good old 2021, VR has become mainstream. It has helped Facebook become the most valuable company in the world and every home has at least one VR headset. Samsung, Google, Microsoft, Apple along with Facebook are dominating the VR industry. Brands have discovered how to connect with consumers in new ways, delivering compelling experiences that capture the attention, are highly social and personally relevant. OK, enough marketing blurb. What does that mean from an end-user point of view? Many of my favorite brands are offering what has become known as ARX – Alternate Reality Experiences. I get to be hang out with celebrities as if they are right in front of me. My friends are there too, they look real thanks to high definition 3D avatars that are totally lifelike. Yes, these spaces we visit are full of product placement but these are brands I actually like. They are there if I’m interested and can interact with them, but otherwise I can just enjoy the moment, as a member of Beyonce’s band or helping Sherlock solve a crime. This isn’t storytelling – it’s storymaking. I’m amazed how personalized these experiences are. But then again, Artificial Intelligence is an everyday thing in 2021, so if it wasn’t tailored perfectly to me then something would be wrong. I spend hours wearing my VR headset since this reality is much prettier than the “real” world, especially now there are no more trees or wildlife in the city. I do all my shopping in the VR mall and my handy tactile orb gives me the sensation of touching (or even smelling) what I want to buy. It uses microjets of air to project sensations onto my hands so it feels like I’m holding that pair of shoes, those headphones or touching that self-driving car.
If I get bored of being myself I can step inside the head of any of my friends. See and hear what they are experiencing, reliving their (or our) best moments in full 3D video. If they’ve bought something new then I get to try it too, all thanks to the hyper-realistic experiences that VR brings.
Back to reality now. It’s 2016 and VR is still in its infancy. For it to become mainstream and for brands to find it worth the investment it has to do several things:
1 – Be affordable (Samsung Gear VR is being given free with their new S7 phones)
2 – Be worth people’s attention (because there are plenty of other distractions)
3 – Be socially engaging (otherwise it will become a platform for loners and perverts – remember Second Life anyone?)
The geek in me hopes that VR will take off in a big way. After all the investment and excitement it would be a shame if it simply fades away and ends up forgotten in my drawer alongside my Minidisc player.
It’s the New Year and we all like to make resolutions. Some of us want to lose weight, exercise a little more and change some of our bad habits. What kind of resolutions could advertising & marketing agencies make to be better, leaner or more energized in 2016? For those that are still trying to become “digital” it’s maybe the moment to realize that the boat has already sailed. We now live in a post-digital world where it’s the new mainstream. But don’t despair, even the established “digital” agencies are not sure where to go next. Many are finding that what they offer is now a commodity and can be done faster and cheaper elsewhere. Some have also become lazy, copying the latest craze, getting consumers to do all the legwork (tell us your story!!), ####hashtagging their way to content overload or just being downright boring. As we look forward to 2016 it might do us all some good to capture the spirit of the pioneering work done during the first few years of the millennium before we all became so digitally savvy. Back then there wasn’t a bunch of successful cases as blueprints to follow. Everything we did was being done for the first time.
So my first resolution is to listen, take time to hear what the experts outside the traditional agency world are saying about what is coming next and how we can use this as a springboard for innovation. The fact is, consultancies could end up eating agency’s lunches for breakfast if they don’t invest in intelligence.
Forrester, in their 2016 Age of the Consumer predictions, puts forward many trends that any agency should be taking a closer look at. I picked out three that I think hold big potential for brands in the coming few year:
1 – Personalization.
As industry leaders we have to “understand and anticipate individual needs to deliver personalized experiences”. We have to be better at leveraging customer intelligence to gain real insights that can help brands gain mindshare and share of wallet.
2 – Customer Experience.
Forrester predicts the need for “multi-discipline CX strategies to change internal operations”. While some companies are just “executing CX tactics”, the ones that will succeed leverage a “combination of people, process, and technologies” to “anticipate, and deliver on those experiences every day”. We need to think “above and below the visibility line”.
3 – Digital Leadership.
Today “digital” isn’t a discipline but the energy force that connects and runs through everything. Agencies need to understand how to work with their clients and help them to “embed digital into all parts of the business, harmonize virtual and human (e.g., in-store) experiences, and be able to rapidly shift to meet the hyper-adoption/hyper-abandonment behavior of customers”.
My second resolution for agencies is to be more observant. Be aware of what is happening in the industry and be ready to seize opportunities or react to threats. Social@Ogilvy issue an excellent report each year that observes and comments on current or future trends. This year is great reading as usual and also features predictions from 2015 that came true.
One of the topics that stood out for me was ad blocking. Just when mobile finally came of age as a powerful marketing tool we’ve seen ad blocking technology being unofficially endorsed by Apple. Agencies are going to have to work harder in order to earn the attention of the public. The Ogilvy report mentions how microtargeting is going to be necessary to reach people with content that they actually want to see. As agencies, we need to make it relevant and wanted. Otherwise our audience will be suffering from content indigestion.
2016 will be the year everyone wants to try Virtual Reality. The Ogilvy report has several pages looking at this. With everyone launching VR viewers and various platforms offering immersive video there will be an avalanche of experiences to choose from – some much better than others. Of course, with all of these things you want to be part of something so new and exciting but there will be many hiccups along the way. Don’t expect VR to be the answer to everything. Anyone remember Second Life?
My final resolution for agencies is to never stop learning. It’s a scary fact but clients are now more knowledgeable about the latest innovations than their agencies. They take the time to run workshops, they visit the headquarters of social media platforms and many clients have their own in-house innovation labs. How many agencies have the freedom or budgets to do that? Don’t rely on a “Head of Digital” to educate everyone in the agency. Make it part of every team member’s job description to stay up to date with developments. Give out subscriptions to websites like Contagious so every few days they can see what new things are happening out there. Start by sharing their 2015 summary of the Most Contagious work >
So those are my three resolutions for any agency (or agency person) wanting to stay relevant or even still exist in 2017. This coming year marks 20 years since I started working in what we once called “New Media” yet I’m determined not to stay in my comfort zone or repeat the past. Digital might be mature now but many agencies have stopped pushing the boundaries. If we all keep listening, observing and learning then we’ve got a good chance of inventing the next 20 years.
I will leave you with some opinions of what was the most innovative work from the past year. Let’s see if we can all do even better in 2016.
The DMA Awards in London recently announced the 2015 winners. What I particularly like about these kind of awards is the fact that you can’t scam your way to a trophy. You need real results which means your campaign can’t have just appeared in an ad agency’s office building lobby or nearby cafe. The DMA’s celebrate real insights and intelligence combined with creativity and effectiveness. So let’s look at some winners…
Leo Burnett London – NSPCC Share Aware
Anyone with kids knows how scary it is with them sharing who knows what on social media. You can talk about it but most kids think their parents are not cool so whatever. This series of videos for the NSPCC brings to life the dangers of sharing in an entertaining way but still with a hard hitting message.
To quote the DMA website, “With a total of 65 million social impressions from a relatively small budget, the initial Facebook video post reached more than two million people on launch weekend – half organically, without paid media support. In six weeks, #shareaware achieved a Twitter reach of 54.8 million, helped by huge celebrity support, while the films were still watched on average every second and in 62 countries”.
The project won a gold for best film or video.
OgilvyOne UK – Battersea Cats & Dogs Home Looking For You
Another gold winner was a really innovative way to get people to care about adopting a dog. In real life, if a cute stray dog followed you it would tug at the heartstrings and make you want to take it home (as I’ve seen with my wife many times). OgilvyOne took this and harnessed RFID leaflets with digital outdoor and brought this to life. A virtual dog would follow people who took a leaflet and surprised them as they wandered around a mall.
According the the DMA website there were, “nearly 2,500 unique visits to the campaign microsite, more than 320,000 video views and 99% positive social sentiment. This amplification helped drive new visitors to the main Battersea site, with 79% of site traffic during the two weeks of our campaign period never having visited previously. The #lookingforyou Twitter feed was kept constantly updated with new dogs looking for homes and played its part in generating more than 200 new enquiries about rehoming specific dogs”.
Wunderman – CHECT The Next Photo
More gold, and another project that is all about doing something meaningful. Either I’m feeling emotional and choosing lots of projects with real purpose or the judges were moved to choose winners that do good. This won for best use of technology but wasn’t any huge, brain-straining leap in innovation. It simply used a phone camera flash and reflective paint to show how easy it is to detect a specific form of eye cancer in kids. Really nicely done.
It’s over, three intense days locked up in a room looking at work submitted for the One Show China Festival and trying to choose the best examples of creativity from agencies across Greater China. Of course it’s an honor to be selected but it is very tiring, especially as you still have to keep up with your day job in between the judging. It all starts on the first day as the judges from different agencies arrive in the room. Some you’ve met before over the years and you wonder if you’re looking as old or tired as they are now. Others you’ve never seen before so you try to guess where they work by their clothes. No doubt the guy dressed as a fashion pirate works at the latest cool boutique agency. It’s a melting pot of designer glasses and designer haircuts as the “rock stars” of advertising take their seats. After the greetings and the sizing up of each other there is a welcome speech from the organizer. Then the fun begins. The lights dim and you’re facing hours of looking at videos that will hopefully inspire you but might possibly make you want to change career.
Every judge in the room has the power to make the work submitted a winner or face instant death. As you put your vote into the system via an iPad mini you desperately hope that the next project is going to be better than what you’ve just seen. You try to be generous then remember that the ultimate winners will reflect you as judges just as much as the agency that submitted it. What’s interesting is how repetitive the work is. You can immediately spot the projects inspired by previous winners at international awards. China is known for copying bags, cars and fashion. It goes the same for advertising campaigns. A clone of Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches – check! A Dumb Ways to Die rip off along with cute song – check! To be fair China isn’t alone when it comes to copying successful campaigns. One thing that seems unique however is the need for Chinese advertising campaigns to make the viewer cry. If I had to give awards for the number of tears shed in an online video there would be a global trophy shortage. Tragedy sells here, as does melancholy, yearning, self-sacrifice and utter sadness. If you are too happy then shame on you. Let’s turn that smile into a guilty frown. No matter if the product is soft drinks, USD sticks, infant milk formula, cars or insurance – leave them crying and it seems that brands will be laughing all the way to the bank.
Enough of the ranting. Emotion sells in China and if I don’t like it then I should go work somewhere else. It just gets a bit monotonous after watching TV ads and viral videos for 8 hours that tug the heartstrings so hard. I even felt myself tearing up at one point during a video from a fizzy drink brand about a daughter living far from her parents. Too close to the bone! But I shook it off like Taylor Swift and switched on my cold cynical mode. As a judge you’ve got to look at how original the idea is. How much it taps into a real insight and understands the target audience. You look at the craft that has gone into the work. Art direction, music or sound design, video editing, typography etc. China has a long history of beautiful craftsmanship and you see that coming through from time to time. Above all you have to ask yourself if you wished that your team had made this work. Does it make you jealous, full of admiration or left in total awe?
Hour after hour looking at case videos can be exhausting. You don’t want your attention to drift otherwise it isn’t fair to the people whose work you’re judging. Weeks or months of work have gone into every project. It’s what you do for a living so you know from experience the pain of giving birth to a great campaign then turning it into a brilliant case video. But in that darkened jury room you begin to get cabin fever. Soon you start to notice how the person next to you always smacks their lips annoyingly or breathes too loudly. Luckily the snack table is there as a welcome break. It too starts to be a distraction, calling out to you as the hours tick by, tempting you to walk over for one more cookie. Then before you realize it is all over.
After all the individual judging the most interesting part begins. This is where the work with the highest marks gets debated by the jury. We need to choose the best of the best. Award the gold, silver and bronze along with the best in show.
It starts with some friendly debating as each judge brings up a project that he or she believes either should or shouldn’t be in the shortlist. Quite often there is a real consensus but sometimes opinions clash. We go around the room to hear what everyone feels strongly about. Also, what the awards stand for and represents to the industry in China or further afield. Isn’t innovation more than just new technology but rather new thinking? Do we reward work that is beautifully crafted and ticks all the boxes or something that is anarchic and brave? One jury member points out that being safe is risky for clients today. In a digital era we have to recognize work that is game changing and captures the public’s attention in unconventional ways. The One Show Festival is meant to be the keeper of the creative flame as other award festivals become more and more corporate. China has changed so much in the past few years so the work that we award needs to reflect this. It’s a chance to show the world how creative China can be and inspire China’s next generation of advertising professionals.
The final judging takes place with everyone pressing their iPads to select the best in show. Even we don’t know which project won but we all have a good idea. We will all find out, just like the audience, at the award ceremony two days from now. We burst out into daylight, eyes blinking, feeling tired but inspired. Being a judge is a great reminder what we must aim for as an industry. We may not be saving the world but advertising can be as much a cultural force as any of the arts. It’s up to us to make what we do amazing, entertaining and innovative.