The art of crafting an iconic ad: No more safe bets

The most iconic work is heart-warming, thought-provoking, business-building, and culturally relevant. During SXSW, Adobe Stock held the 'I Was There' panel at The Drum Arms, where industry leaders considered the significance of popular culture within advertising and art of crafting memorable legendary advertising. Moderated by The Drum’s senior reporter, Katie Deighton, the conversation also questioned the effect that technology and consumers have in creating outstanding work.

There was no one formula decided upon by the panelists for creating iconic advertising. JWT’s creative innovation director, Emma Chiu put it succinctly: “It has to connect with people in a very human way. That’s something we're losing touch of because of technology.” But all panelists did agree that production value and craft played important roles in creating long-lasting impact.

Stand up for beliefs

The media landscape and production of iconic, standalone commercials may seem fragmented but Adobe’s senior manager of business development, Meg Moss, urged brands and agencies to speak up about what they really believe in. While this may have been a big no-no in the past, she suggested that the tide has now turned in their favor. “Brands don’t necessarily have to be controversial in a political way,” said Moss. “But do something that’s unexpected; something that breaks through. Look at KFC’s apology campaign after they ran out of chicken in the UK. They switched the letters from KFC to FCK, which was a brave choice. Apparently, the CMO said, ‘You want me to write what on the bucket?’ But it’s that kind of thinking that cuts through.”

Iris Worldwide Singapore managing director, Sorcha John, agrees and warned marketers not to fall victim to fluctuating trends: “Creating 19 versions of something can never be iconic.”

Creative collaboration

“Dreaming big” is the way to do it, according to TBWA\Media Arts Lab group creative director Arnau Bosch, who works with Apple and was behind the recent HomePod spot featuring FKA Twigs. The ad scored a Grand Prix Entertainment Lions for Music. Bosch cites the power of teamwork as one of the main reasons the ad worked so well.

Of course, he credits director Spike Jonze as a genius but he went on to add: “It is not just the director [that makes the ad great]. There are so many other people involved with every piece of detail; from the person designing the cloth that goes into the coach to the person who's figuring out how that coach will expand. It’s insane the amount of craft involved. Obviously, you need someone to lead the vision, but there are so any people below that too. It’s key for an iconic piece.”

John agrees: “Every part of the creative process is extremely important if something is going to be iconic. The insight has to be rich and interesting and the idea has to be simple and delivery, exceptional. There isn't a single part of the process that can’t be 10/10.”

Iconic purpose

Craft may be one way to make an ad iconic, but John also cites purpose as a key ingredient. She highlighted Philips’ transition into the health tech space, having gone from creating consumer goods to progressive health tech. Iris had worked on a Singapore Heart Foundation campaign to sell defibrillators around Asia, while also teaching people how to use them – thus ensuring greater safety in the community. There’s still a role for incredible aesthetic; style never goes out of fashion,” said John. “But I think purpose without action passes very quickly. Brands need to act on their promises.”

Brand approval?

While many blame the client’s involvement as a hindrance to creative progression, John suggests involving the client as early as possible in the development process: “The more involved and ownership a client has over a creative product, and the more their opinion is developed alongside an agency, it should hopefully be easier to persuade internally. Working very closely is the best way to be.”

Moss thinks that ultimately, it’s millennials who will dictate what works, not clients. “They’re spending the money and they’re being pretty picky about where they spend it,” she said. “They want to see bold choices. Brands aren't just a by-product of how to get to somewhere anymore, they’re a conscious decision that people are making on that brand's choices, which is backed up again by the visuals. It has to appeal to them visually; it has to be new and bold and connect with them. The only way you can do that is at the risk of losing some people and not making safe bets anymore.”

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