Anthony Reeves, executive creative director of Amazon, has quit. But the web giant shouldn’t expect to see the back of him for good – he’ll be back as he helps clients of his new startup navigate the plains where ecommerce meets advertising.
Reeves found this year’s Cannes to be one of the hardest to decompress from. The Aussie ad man, who has built a varied resume via Grey, Ogilvy, Y&R, FCB and almost everywhere else in between, was still surprised at the consultancies’ mighty presence.
He must also have been feeling a little out of orbit: it was only weeks before the industry descended on the Riviera that the programme changed from listing Reeves as ECD of Amazon to former ECD of Amazon. The creative finished up at the brand at the end of May after a stint just shy of two years; it appears that all he discovered there led him to have somewhat of an epiphany regarding the next move in his career.
“Jumping into the client side [was] a big step and it's a step do not regret in the slightest,” he says, having reflected on the “years and years” he spent in agency land. “I feel like we [advertising] have lost that innovative edge and have become rule followers rather than rule breakers. Amazon is a rule breaker.”
And so armed with all that he’s learned about being a creator in Jess Bezos’ universe, Reeves is starting up shop from scratch. ReevesJones, his freshly launched business, wants to “throw gas on the e-marketing brand fire by enabling brands and agencies to learn and innovate even faster”. It will do so by going after cash that has previously not been eked out by ATL creative types like him – trade budgets, or shopper marketing dollars.
“As a client you have brand budget, you have your digital budget and you might have some retail budget, but then shoved away on the side is your activation or trade budget, which normally belongs to the sales people,” he explains. “How do you keep them all siloed in a world where the customer isn’t siloed anymore – when you can go from awareness, to buying something and then to a CRM model within seconds?
“When I was cutting my teeth doing 30-second TV spots the job was truly to push someone down the aisle of the grocery store, so that when they’ve two screaming kids they’re going to recognize the logo you put at the end of the spot. That’s gone. We need to find new ways to be able to articulate the brand message and drive people to that to point of sale.”
How will ReevesJones operate? Firstly, its ethos is one of revolution over evolution. It wants to help marketing leaders “rediscover their day one”, rebuild their internal structures for the new online shopper, establish digital-first brands and create “singularly-focused, awareness-to-ecommerce campaigns”.
The set-up follows the matrix organsational structure, which is "similar to consultancy firms". However ReevesJones plans to keep "everything small and tight to see what happens" for now.
Secondly, the radical operational changes the startup is endorsing mean it is only interested in partnerships at c-suite level. And thirdly it will be based near to Amazon in Seattle, a city Reeves dubs “the ecommerce centre of the world”. The close proximity will allow Reeves and his clients to pop in when the web giant needs something testing, or if they need a problem solved.
It’s a symbiotic relationship that’s formed on the back of a truly amicable split between ECD and brand.
Customer over brand
Reeves already had experience crafting campaigns under this pioneering approach to marketing. Back at Amazon he worked with Droga5 to create an initiative for the US paper merchant Georgia-Pacific to help them sell more toilet rolls (not the sexiest of case studies to recall, he admits).
Instead of talking about how ply, or how the paper was “the softest ever” like most competitor brands, Reeves and his team set up a simple ‘subscribe and save model’ whereby Amazon calculated and delivered the exact amount of toilet paper that was needed to households exactly when they needed it.
The experience proved that “creating a TV ad that drove Amazon to sign up to subscribe is a totally different way of going to market than forcing someone down a supermarket aisle to buy the product”. It also propelled him to truly understand that customer intent is key – a platitude often repeated but also often distorted by marketers suffering from a chronic case of assumption – via the Cannes project with Deloitte Digital.
Together with a team led by chief marketing officer Alicia Hatch, Reeves wrote two creative briefs: one traditional and one fuelled by AI. The latter manifested itself with “a totally different format, priorities and drivers” and was a “true customer-first brief as opposed to a brand/product-first brief”. Simply put the difference lay between the brief’s lead character: the brand (“What do we want to tell the audience about the product or service?”) or the customer (“What does the audience want and need?”)
The results were presented on stage at the festival: the AI brief generated 57% more ideas than the traditional. Reeves believes this enhanced generation of brief is a derivative of cultural anthropology, one that is “based in truth” as opposed to a planner’s subjectivity.
Making CMOs famous
Working at the company over the past two years has, for Reeves, confirmed just how important voice will be to the future of ecommerce, so the search for the holy grail of 21st century brands – their sonic identity – will also factor heavily into the consultancy business. In fact he’s so interested in this aspect of the marketing evolution that he’s been working with colleges in the US to workshop curriculums for voice designers.
Since Amazon has cemented itself as a constant in the advertising world – one that for better or worse will factor into brands’ decision-making – a host of consultancies have sprung up helping grassroots sellers climb its rankings and make some cash. Reeves’ crucial point of difference will be the size of these clients: they will be multinationals, conglomerates – not jewellery sellers.
“I’m going to create some great work but also at the same make some great brands profitable and make some CMOs famous,” he says.
It’s a confident statement – but one perhaps only the former executive creative director of Amazon can make.