From the backroom to the boardroom

Creativity and new technology are breathing new life into the ad industry; by taking them back to their roots

By Echelon.

Published on November 01, 2012 with No Comments

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Department store pioneer John Wanamaker’s exasperation at knowing that half his advertising is wasted, but not knowing which half couldn’t be more relevant today as advertisers call for more effective advertising and demand to know who is receiving their message. Advertisers aren’t as keen now to put money into big campaigns across mass media because it may not be the best way to get their message across, according to Ben Lightfoot, Chief Executive of McCann Worldgroup Singapore.

The internet and smart mobile devices that can support rich content has opened a new series of opportunities that give advertisers a better view of whom they are targeting, according to Lightfoot. However, new media isn’t about to trump traditional or vice versa. While, the euphoria for new media builds and internationally online ad spend catches up with the traditional, it boils down to the simple things advertising was built on – positive word of mouth generated from effective advertising. The new demands are pushing creative talent to the front of ad agencies. Ben Lightfoot, one of an increasing number of company chief executives hailing from creative backgrounds, says data is actually driving the innovation. Echelon spoke to Lightfoot, who is also the Chairman of the Effies Singapore, during his recent visit here.

More creative people are leading agencies now compared to about 10 years ago. What has influenced this shift?
One of the biggest influencers of the shift is the fact that the world is moving at such an incredible pace and the ability to come up with innovative solutions is exactly what a creative person does. The ability to think beyond the normal, the tradition, is again what we are asked to do.
As solution finders, we need to look in the areas that we have never played in before. Creativity used to be about painting, it used to be about music, it used to be about arts. The massive influence of Steve Jobs and what Apple has done has redefined creativity to also mean innovation. Innovation can exist anywhere.

Data: how significant is that in these shifts you are describing?
The Facebook ‘like’ is an interesting one. Reach also; when you think of reach, it is the same as it was traditionally, say, reach from a TV point of view. When we say ‘we reached two thirds of the country’, in fact only a third of the country was our target audience. I think we have the same issue with social media where reach can be easily achieved but engagement is the score we tend to look at most.
So we are actually looking at how we are interacting, what conversations you as a consumer are having with us on our Facebook page, how often are you contributing to our Facebook page, how are you helping grow that page and that is when it really becomes interesting. That is no difference from the real community, whether it is face to face, whether it is within groups you are focusing on, there is still a relationship. That is where I think things need to go from a data point of view. The trends we can see from that are really exciting.

In this context how do you balance what the clients think they want and the agency’s insight into effectively communicating a message?
I think the balance has shifted a great deal over the last 10 years and I think a lot of that shift has happened because of the fragmentation of media. People have become weary of spending money and not getting results. We are starting to see conversations taking place again like ‘what is the business issue or what is that you need to change or address with this campaign?’ So we know that you want to sell more hamburgers or you need to sell more credit cards and what is getting in the way of that. It goes back to consumer truth. Often we can find a truth, whether it is a business truth or a consumer truth, a category truth or something we can get hold of, that will mean the conversation is quite different.
For a long time agencies have been briefed, saying, I need a print ad that does this or I need a TV ad that does that. But ten years earlier, clients were saying– here is our product, we want you to go sell it and the agency was left with deciding how it could be best done. What we are finding now is a lot more integration between the client and agency to identify what is the business issue and what can be done about it.

With the emergence of mobile internet, is TV being replaced?
I think there is an element of truth to that. But what is really changing is that a lot more TV is going online. Again, I don’t believe TV will ever be less effective but the way we determine whether to call it TV or digital, that is something we are still working out. What technology, the Internet and social media have made a lot easier is reaching more people quicker. Actually social media is only a digital version of word of mouth. So again when we did community or CRM -based activities, where we are one on one, the digital version was one to many, because they are taking the message and sending it out to everyone. Digital is going to get stronger and there is going to be a convergence of these two ways of working.
A company called Newton Circus ran Singapore’s first so called big data weekend. The Singapore government and private enterprises helped by giving us all of the transactions. We had all GPS for the taxis, all the telephone calls, there was credit card spend data, there was hospital data, there was power data and a whole lot, and it all was for the same day.
With all this data what we did, was a hackathon for two days, 200 people competing against each other, for the coolest way to solve a community issue using the data. Now 10 years ago that would not have excited a creative person, today it’s like you’re changing the world through the data. Part of what we did was we took what we learned, out of those two days and presented it at the World’s Cities Summit.
Ten years ago, private enterprises protected that data, there was no way they would share that information. Now we’re starting to see companies understand that data is actually what is driving the most innovation and giving access to people who think beyond the square, we live in the most incredible time.
There’s another point, which is 10 years ago I would never have been given my job, it would have been way too risky. Often the creative types are kept in the back room because they were a little strange, they did not like wearing suits and stuff like that. But now we’re seeing companies that are led by creatively open people and they are the ones progressing fast.

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