World Creative Rankings 2023: Liz Taylor talks AI, Coca-Cola and Ogilvy
We catch up with Ogilvy’s global chief creative officer, who has been named the world’s top CCO in the World Creative Rankings.
Ogilvy’s Liz Taylor leads this year’s World Creative Rankings list of top CCOs / Ogilvy
Ogilvy is having something of a moment. Last month, the agency was highlighted as one of WPP’s best commercial performers by chief exec Mark Read, while its creative output has seen it crowned best agency network in the world in The Drum’s Creative Rankings. It has lead duties on WPP’s crown jewel client, Coca-Cola, and is led by the top-ranked chief creative officer in the business, Liz Taylor.
Taylor, who is also the first woman to top the rankings, is about 18 months into the top job at Ogilvy – although it’s not her first rodeo. She spent four years as an ECD when it was still called Ogilvy & Mather, before taking on the global CCO gig at Leo Burnett between 2019 and 2021.
“I’m a boomerang,” she tells us. “It was always the favorite job I ever had and to be able to come back and lead this incredible connected, global, human network was a real honor.”
There have been some major changes, she admits. Ogilvy no longer functions as a series of regional fiefs that leave execs “bumping elbows to get the right people on the right assignment because there are different P&Ls and different leaders and different agendas,” she says. ”Those walls have all been broken down.”
Now, it’s on its way to becoming a “truly connected global network” that provides clients with “borderless creativity”. That phrase may be part of the network’s pitch, but it’s also true – at least for the clients that match its scale.
Number one among that short list would be Coca-Cola, Ogilvy’s flagship customer. “Coke is the big, beautiful beast,” says Taylor, and the brief is a dream one for most creatives. “Who doesn’t want to work on Coke? There are so few brands that are so globally recognizable and Coca-Cola has a whole portfolio.”
WPP (and Ogilvy in particular) has invested a lot of energy in satisfying that client, building an integrated agency (OpenX) just to service its brands. “Big global brands are what Ogilvy does best. Creating modern, forward-thinking work that solves the biggest business problems they have.”
Taylor says that arriving at Ogilvy just as OpenX was under construction was challenging. “There was a bit of an adjustment period in the beginning,” she says, with internal questions over how the model could work and which agencies would take precedence. “Now, we’ve hit our stride. We’ve got our system in place and we know how WPP and Ogilvy can fuel each other.” There remains a “healthy amount of competition” with the other networks involved (namely AKQA/Grey), but she says it’s in service of “wanting to do right by the client”.
Days before our interview, Coca-Cola’s head looked to have been turned by one of its other marketing partners, the consultancy Bain. The pair announced they would begin working together to integrate generative AI tools, including ChatGPT and Dall-E, “to enhance the creativity” of its marketing team.
Could such shifts threaten Ogilvy’s claim to be the alpha and omega of “big global brand” advertising? Taylor doesn’t think so. “Either everybody panics – ’is this the death of advertising as we know it, are we not going to have creatives?’ – or the opposite happens and everybody just vomits AI and every idea involves AI for no reason.
“Guys, it’s another tool! It’s another way that we can tell stories and experiences on behalf of our brands. I love it: one, it can take away mindless things that people don’t want to do and enable our brains to be free to do the things we want to do, and creatively it gives you scale – it’s so fast.”
She argues that agencies such as Ogilvy have a duty to engage directly with AI tools (its French office has done just that, opening an AI Lab in Paris). “As creatives, we have a responsibility to understand AI tools, to know how to work with them to figure out what we want to do with them. I think it’s really exciting.”
As a case in point, she uses the example of one of Ogilvy’s lauded ads from the last year, ‘Shah Rukh Khan my ad’. In that spot, the agency used AI tools to transform a footage library of Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan into a programmatic ad tool available to small businesses in India. “We got one of the biggest celebrities in the world to do an ad for every single small business, down to every zip code. You can imagine, a small tailor on the corner has an ad with one of the biggest celebrities in the world that he can put out across any digital media ad space. That would not have been possible without AI.
“Everybody’s talking about personalization at scale – it was the phrase that made me want to vomit because it didn’t mean anything. But that really was empathy and personalization and creativity at scale.”
Although she predicts there will be far too many bad campaigns made with AI, or made simply to show off an AI tool’s capabilities, she argues that creatives should be rushing to incorporate AI expertise into their toolbox. “I just want a bunch of curious souls leaning into what it can do. How do you hack it? How do you break it? How do you use it? Why do we want it?”
At Ogilvy, Taylor has tried to make sure her additions to the team bring that energy. “Piyush Pandey and Joe Sciarotta [Taylor’s predecessors] did an amazing job of setting up the talent and the network… which I inherited. But because we’ve had such growth… we’ve made conscientious investments in talent. I call myself a recruiter half the time.”
Creatives aspiring to a berth at Ogilvy as one of her “lieutenants” must, she says, master not just AI tools, but a “creative chest” that goes far beyond classic approaches. Without that approach, she says, careers are bound to be limited. Recalling her own early experience, she says: “I started as what I would call a traditional creative, on print and TV and radio ads. And then I went to a digital agency where I didn’t know what ‘rich media’ meant – I was googling words at the end of the day trying to understand.
“I never want to do one thing. It can be gone tomorrow when something new comes up. It’s another one of the tools in the chest.”
Explore the best-performing campaigns, agencies and brands in this year’s World Creative Rankings.