Heineken bemoans creative agencies' digital disinterest as major barrier to change

Creative agencies’ obsession over the 60-second spot continues to the detriment of clients, who are finding it a significant barrier to the pace at which they shift focus to digital channels. Heineken is one such advertiser which, despite, being two years into a digital transformation strategy - and upping its digital spend from 15 to 25 per cent in the space of 12 months – is still battling with its agency to make content that is fit for purpose.

Speaking at the 'TubeMogul University' event in Lisbon, Heineken’s media manager Elizabeth Hodson illustrated the point with an example from its Foster's brand which has this year moved from making two 30-second TV ads to over 100 pieces of content. However, in one instance its creative agency had been briefed to produce a series of short-form videos but the director was so insistent on making a 60-second spot that he offered to do it for free.

"It’s really frustrating when directors and creative directors try and make these cannon-water creatives. The 30-second ad is still seen as the king by the creative agencies, when in fact this should only be a part of the overall creative asset production,” she said.

It comes at a time when Heineken is shifting how it buys media. This year in the US up to 10 per cent of its digital budget will go through programmatic channels, particularly video, while Hodson said in Europe the overarching strategy is leading towards better targeting. The brand officially tapped TubeMogul as its preferred video partner earlier this year to facilitate the push but is now in need of a greater breadth and depth of creative executions that can be used across a vaiety of platfroms.

But while Heineken is working to shift its tact, the creative shops simply aren’t getting it and have thus far failed to understand even basic factors such as Facebook’s videos auto-playing in silent. As such Hodson said she is seeing a real shift in agency capability and structure.

“One of our most ‘fit for purpose’ creative assets this year was created by our DSP partner, TubeMogul,” rather than a traditional creative shop, she revealed.

However, Johnson & Johnson’s head of media Katalin Spielman challenged the suggestion that it is a lack of understanding but rather that the basic structure of creative agencies is not conducive to the changing needs of clients.

“Their business model is not built to function in this new world. They make more money creating 30-second ads,” she said. “First you need to change as a company and then work with the right agency partners.”

One solution Johnson & Johnson has identified is to continue to work with creative agencies for “the big ideas that tap into the emotions of the consumers” but engage a specialist agency for the implementation.

“That seems to be a more feasible model than having one agency,” she said, later adding that it would be "easier for us if it happened with one agency”.

Despite the apparent call from clients, and capability according to Heineken, TubeMogul will not be venturing further into the creative agencies' territory any time soon. Chief executive Brett Wilson said that while it is “very much a hot topic” and TubeMogul does have its own internal creative department, it is still keen to work with partners on ideation and implementation.

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