Kris Hoet of Duval Guillaume Modem, the Belgian agency behind Push to Add Drama and Smirnoff’s Mindtunes Project, shares his insights on creating brand conversations, saying the mindset of what it takes to create these conversations has changed.
Despite being more used to conducting social experiments than playing a part in them himself, Kris Hoet seems no stranger to the spotlight as he takes his place in the goldfish bowl that is The Drum Live. And having picked up some 10 awards at this year’s Cannes Lions and nine at the New York Festivals, it is understandable that the Duval Guillaume Modem head of digital is getting used to the public’s gaze. Perhaps best known for ‘Push to Add Drama’, the viral ad for TV channel TNT Benelux which sees a quiet square in Flanders, Belgium, transformed into a hive of live action drama after an unsuspecting passer-by is tempted into pushing a big red button, the Belgian agency has steadily built a reputation for big, off-the-wall ideas that catch the public’s imagination.Not least among these is the agency’s Gold Lion-winning ‘Mind Reader’ campaign for Febelfin, the Belgium federation of the financial sector, which promotes safe internet banking by urging people to be vigilant and to never share personal and banking information online.Starring a grey-haired, new-age spiritual fortune-teller named Dave, unsuspecting customers get more than they bargained for as the soothsayer’s visions become ever more precise, to the point where he’s able to reel off their card numbers and bank balances. A curtain then drops to reveal a team of balaclava’d hackers trawling through the victim’s online footprint and feeding their findings to Dave through an earpiece.Notching up some 10m views on YouTube, such was the success of this Jeremy Beadle-esque approach to viral advertising at raising awareness around how much of our private lives are disclosed online, the Belgian agency last week followed up the spot with ‘See how easy freaks can take over your life’. Granted, the title isn’t quite so snappy, but by stealing the identity of a real life victim and showing the results online, Duval Guillaume Modem achieves once again what Hoet calls the agency’s main role – “provoking conversations”.Hoet told the audience at The Drum Live that while the briefing document itself hasn’t changed a great deal over time, the mindset of what it takes to create conversations has.On his agency’s approach to creating conversations, Hoet says: “Some people call it ‘prankvertising’, but I don’t think that is a good description.”Instead, Duval Guillaume Modem creates work that people can relate to. “You can imagine what it would have been like to be there. You can imagine how you would have reacted,” he stresses.And you can. A quick look at the 5000-plus comments below the Mind Reader video on YouTube shows genuine reactions and conversations thrown up by the points brought to light by the ads. This is particularly positive given what Hoet admits is usually a boring topic for consumers to engage with. But how do you go about creating ads that provoke conversations? Well first off, while the agency is comprised of the traditional line-up of creatives and copywriters, these creative teams rely heavily on external technologists to implement their ideas as they have very little technological knowledge themselves. Because of this however they can come up with “some pretty crazy stuff”.“They’re not limited by thinking of what is or is not possible,” he says. “Technical knowledge can limit creative thinking, but creative teams need to be inspired constantly through what technology can do.” With the agency’s ‘Mind Tune’ project for Smirnoff, which enabled physically disabled musicians to create music using nothing but their minds, the team worked alongside technologists and neurologists. “We don’t know how the brain works,” admits Hoet. “We say, ‘we have a great idea of making music through brainwaves. What do I need? Tell me’. We give them ideas we don’t know will work.”Another key element to creating provocative ads, Hoet explains, is a brave client. “The brands who are making a difference and provoking conversations are those who are willing to be brave.“And I don’t mean brave for brave’s sake. I’m not saying go send a load of nude people into a train station just to piss people off. But at the same time you can’t hamper creativity just because you’re scared of upsetting people.”Clients will come to the agency asking for a viral. Hoet says instead, however, “clients need to know their customer, their KPIs, their brand goal and flip that all on its head”.“It’s a good thing if your client has a bit discomfort at the start,” he says.“We’ll look to give them content that will get people talking about their brand, but it is up to them to be creative with their product. If they can be creative with their products then we can be creative in getting it out.”Referring to ‘Mind Tune’, Hoet explains that the agency doesn’t do storyboarding. “In a presentation we’ll say ‘We’re going to make music using brainwaves. Do you like it or not?’”The idea behind that campaign is that there’s creativity everywhere, in places where people don’t necessarily see it, and so the agency tried to convey that Smirnoff creates creativity where others don’t.“At the start the client needs to feel the core idea. It’s not drawings, it’s not storyboards. Also, if you stick to the script simply because that’s what’s signed off, you lose a lot of the magic. “Too often an agency will have a client sign-off on scripts, on casting, and then if it doesn’t work the client is responsible because that is what they wanted.”Instead, he says, “give us some trust that we can find the emotion and bring it out”. Kris was interviewed by Dave Birss at The Drum Live. The Drum Live issue, published on 19 July, is available for purchase at The Drum store.