Reimagining Advertising: The future of creativity is in lessons from its past

Earlier this year The Drum partnered with GumGum to challenge some of the industry’s best minds to reimagine iconic ads for today’s consumer. Now we have gathered leading industry thinkers to debate what will make today’s marketing communications tomorrow’s iconic ads.

Is great advertising evergreen? That was the question we sought to answer when The Drum and GumGum brought together some of Britain’s best ad execs to take seven of Britain’s favourite ads from the past 50 years and imagine how they would look in today’s digital age.

Five overall themes emerged in the process. Firstly, real-life experiences replace simulated ones; secondly, that consumers are no longer passive and want to drive the storyline; next, event-driven campaigns work well for product launches; campaigns are more personal than ever; and, lastly, brands must respond to the zeitgeist and be relevant in the here and now.

To interrogate these themes further and debate what will make today’s marketing communications tomorrow’s iconic ads, we hosted a breakfast briefing in London where some of the ad execs who contributed to the book could exchange views with a select group of other leading industry thinkers.

Is the idea of an iconic ad in the shape of Levi’s ‘Launderette’ or the Egg Marketing Board’s ‘Go to work on an egg’ even possible in today’s cluttered landscape? And in an age of precision targeting and increasingly efficient algorithms will even the idea of an iconic ad become an anachronism?

Ben Plomion, chief marketing officer at GumGum, explains: “We wanted to challenge our panel of experts to look at iconic ads and imagery and envision how to recreate some of those ads today using mobiles, tablets and desktop – which we didn’t have back in the 1960s and ‘70s.”

Nicky Bullard, chairman and chief creative officer of MRM Meterorite, says it felt “almost disrespectful” to recreate the ads, asking “how could we really improve on them?” For her, it was about taking the tools and new channels now available, making the ad more experiential and bringing it in to the physical world.

Poke co-founder and creative director Nicolas Roope says the ads selected were iconic because everyone around at the time still remembers them. He says that what connects them is their effect on the cultural landscape. “They permeated culture and spilled out of the TV ad break into general discussion. Yes, they were ads, but they were more than that at the time.”

For Caspar Schlickum, chief executive, Xaxis EMEA, the exercise proved that while so much has changed, much of what made those ads perennial favourites remains the same – something today’s marketers can learn from. “All of these adverts were created at a time when engagement was much more difficult yet the idea of engaging was very important. It was about moments of serendipity; creating need, want or desire. That’s still what it is all about and today we have got the tools to follow up, but the importance of serendipity, that is as important or even more important than ever before.”

Milton Elias, head of mobile and tech futures at OMD UK, agrees. “All of those ads were immensely powerful and would be still today,” he says, though with consumers facing information overload it is harder to stand out. The situation is exacerbated by the sheer number of bad ads out there, leading to an increase in adblocking and consumer instinct to “turn off today more than in the past”, he adds.

It is why Elias believes context is more important than it has ever been. “We go on about things such as location, especially us mobile guys. Location is great, but without context ads can come across as irrelevant or even creepy. What made those ads great was cultural relevance and they hit a nerve. There’s a lot to be learnt from that.”

Despite the challenges, there are brands today still setting the cultural agenda. Laura Jordan Bambach, creative partner at Mr President, points to Red Bull’s Stratos as an example. And Jonathan Akwue, the UK chief exec of DigitasLBi’s Lost Boys, concurs and also points to Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’, which has run globally since 2004, and ‘This Girl Can’, from Sport England – two campaigns that aim to set the agenda beyond mere marketing. “These are resonating today. It has got me thinking – what are the ads from today which in 10 or 15 years’ time will be the ones we remember?”

“It is harder,” says Jordan Bambach, “because it takes more investment, not just financial, from everyone, client and agency to create something amazing in the face of timelines and more reliance on automation.”

Another issue, according to Ross Sleight, Somo Global’s chief strategy officer, is that the successful ads of yesterday were both incredibly focused on the task in hand and beautifully crafted pieces of work. “Now as an industry we expect to turn things on a dime and automate that. The time doesn’t go into thinking – it’s volume over value.”

For Mary Keane-Dawson, the UK managing director of Neo@Ogilvy, it’s the risk factor that’s missing. “Brands aren’t prepared to take a risk as they were. 20 years ago they were probably interested in creating events and making brands famous. Now there’s a reluctance to take that risk, partly because there are so many variables in that channel mix, so many things to go wrong.”

Iconic ads are still possible today; indeed, new technology can help spread and develop a creative message like never before. With more channels, more devices and more real-time reaction there is more to go wrong – but for those brands who get it right the result may be an iconic communications campaign or platform that delivers more than ‘just’ brand fame.

As Plomion concludes: “We are a data-driven business nowadays, and advertising must be relevant. It comes back to context. It is all about reimagining what could make these images and adverts iconic – and we have the tools today to do that.”

The Reimagining Advertising eBook is available to download here.

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