Just last week Facebook’s vice president of EMEA Nicola Mendelsohn proclaimed that creativity has “never been more important” in the industry, as rapid technological advances have shifted the power from the hands of the few to the many. But while Silicon Valley might be spearheading innovation, what are the risks associated with an over-reliance on tech, and how can companies breed creativity both internally and externally?
Such questions were put to a panel of agencies, brands and publishers at The Drum’s Creative Transformation breakfast event this month, in order to address the opportunities and woes of creativity in the industry during a period of rapid change.
Panelists included Chris Bennett, managing director EMEA at Pixability, a video ad tech platform that works with the walled gardens to help clients understand data; Jez Clark, head of Fuse OMD, the partnerships and experiences subset of Omnicom; and Rebecca Fennelly, head of brand at Joe Media, the male-focused publisher finding much of its fame on Facebook.
While the panel discussed a wide range of issues facing creative transformation within the industry, key takeaways include the changing nature of communication, ensuring that investments in data science don’t risk creative strategy or emotional intelligence, the role of video in levelling the playing field, and encouraging brands to stop thinking of short-term gain but long-term brand-building.
Bennett said the challenge for businesses like Pixability is continual communication across scattered offices.
“It’s communication between teams as much as sharing information," he said. "What are my team doing in the States? What’s working? What’s not? Creativity in that aspect is around us using the best tools available to talk to each other. As a business we do video conferencing, and we use Slack as a core communication tool. We are embracing new tech to help that communication flow."
Fennelly revealed that Joe Media also relied on the communication capabilities afforded through technologies like Slack to interact across offices, but added that the the publisher was “very careful” not to rely too heavily on that tech “because at the end of the day you can't beat that face to face communication”.
Fennelly believes that some of the best ideas within a business come from ensuring there are clear lines of communication internally, and that everyone within the team feels that they are a part of the success.
“A huge part of our business is to empower everyone,” she said.
When IQ trumps EQ
Clark spoke of how the media industry has changed from a traditional structure of planners and buyers, strategists and “old-school negotiators” to an “incredibly diverse range of people” including data scientists, designers, and teams like Fuse that are devoted to branded content and engagement.
“That is the way it is going to continue, a massive diversification of different skills and talent that you need, because it is not as simple to launch a campaign any more,” Clark said.
But launching headlong into hiring a team of data experts doesn’t always translate into creative campaigns, believed Bennett.
“A third of our business have some capacity and role around data science. But they have no experience of understanding the practice of media, and that is a challenge for us and it's a challenge for everyone like us. How do you fuse the requirement of having deep capability in a very new space with the practice of our core business and how we make our topline bottomline revenue?” he said.
Clark agreed: “What I’ve seen in the last year or so, while a lot of companies have rushed out to hire data scientists, there is still for me a massive need for more people who can articulate that into a story for a client who can understand the implications that has and how you turn that from information into an insight and something that is valuable to a client.”
What’s more, both Clark and Bennett admitted that staff with deep techonological skills can often lack in the emotional intelligence needed for a business to thrive.
“Emotional intelligence is hugely important,” said Bennett. “If I think back to what creativity was, it was all about the ad. Creativity was defined by how good is the ad, how good is the billboard. Today it is more about innovation.
"Go back to Don Draper and his Mad Men, that was highly emotionally charged advertising, that was all about brand building on a long term horizon. These days, the horizon has got much shorter, we have gone from EQ to IQ. You need those two together, both internally and externally in their communication.”
“In our team we are as reliant on our data scientists and people who give us great insights into data as we are creative strategists. The two of them should be working hand in hand to look at what insights we can find from data but how can you turn that into something that is emotionally appealing to an audience?” said Clark.
“You can pull up all the data in charts that you want, but unless there is something that is really going to get consumers excited and emotionally engage them, then that data is rendered useless.”
Silicon Valley leading the charge
While there are many brands trialling new ways of using technology to communicate with consumers, with Lego, Jaguar Land Rover, BBC and HelloFresh named as examples, Silicon Valley is driving a lot of innovation in the industry.
“A significant amount of innovation is coming out of companies like Google and Facebook. Their ability to make very big bets on a longer term horizon is helpful to everybody in this room and to every brand on the planet, like them or loathe them,” said Bennett.
Perhaps surprisingly, all three panelists viewed the walled gardens of the internet as a positive force in affecting creativity in the industry, despite their flaws.
“One of the biggest criticisms of the walled gardens is that they mandate how you have to work, they mandate the platform, the format, the pricing mechanic, the data you can put in and the data you can take out. But they have given access to millions of companies to market and build businesses,” said Bennett.
“These companies from a creative perspective give us a roadmap towards which we should have confidence that we can invest at the right time. They are creating a tarmac that runs well into the future that gives us confidence that we can invest in innovation.”
“It allows any player to be a player,” said Fennelly. “It gives everyone an opportunity to demonstrate who you are as a brand, which means it is more of a level playing field. From a consumer point of view, it is a much more interesting landscape and all of the platforms are benefitting from that.”
The role of video in levelling the playing field
Video is commanding an ever-increasing chunk of marketing budgets, while many publishers are pivoting their whole business around video to fall in line with consumption habits from social media users.
Fennelly believes video opens up a “huge opportunity” to any brand that is willing to invest, but for all the talk of lowering the point of entry for the smaller players, warned of the still significant investment, time and energy required to “get it right”.
“Brand building is massively important, but it needs to be done in the right way,” she said.
Expanding on this point, Clark said that while video is an ideal medium for brand building and acting as a differentiator, brands have to “pay to play” on these platforms and as such a small juice brand cannot compete against the budget of Pepsi, for example.
“While there is big opportunity with video, we would be naive to say it is levelling the playing field across the across,” he said.
While technological advances open up opportunities for brands to innovate, such brands often fall into the trap of obsessing over the newest innovation at the expense of longevity and brand health.
“We are all so focused on why our phone is buzzing, what is on Facebook. Our field of vision has gone from the horizon to our toes, and that is not good enough. Brands build over time. I would love us as an industry to lift the gaze, look longer term, think about brand,” concluded Bennett.