You can’t just pump things out of a sausage maker: connect with emotion & tech

There it is, again; that perennial question as to the importance of creativity versus technology. But, this time, in my role as chair of The Drum Roses Awards, I feel the need to verbalise how I view this supposed dichotomy.

So, is it time for brands to go back to the basics, to cut through the ‘noise’, and be less ‘distracted’ by new possibilities of data and tech, and instead focus on creativity and its ability to engage and entertain?

First up, let’s clear up one myth: While the best creative work is the love child of insight and a lateral leap, much of the execution these days must necessarily be the result of data and technology. It’s not either/or: quite the opposite, in fact.

And, as always, it’s emotions that make people act. As Daniel Kahneman pointed out in his iconic book, Thinking Fast and Slow, we make decisions with our gut. This is followed by a period post-rationalisation as we justify our decisions to ourselves.

Kahneman’s book considers the dichotomy between these two modes of thought. It suggests that people place too much confidence in human judgement – a theory borne out frequently in market research, whereby the gulf between what people say and what they do can be all too apparent.

The role of creativity has always been the same, however, to spark that emotional response, to initiate an action. You have to make somebody feel something.

The question today is how to achieve this goal, with clients wanting output faster and cheaper, and with dynamic content being produced at volume. Herein lies a risk of the tail wagging the dog. You can’t just pump things out of a sausage maker.

With such speed now possible and with so many channels at our fingertips, it is arguably more important than ever to bring media, production and the creative together – to reduce the distance between groups of people. Looking into this next decade, we need to be mindful of this. Creativity does not exist in a bubble. It’s important to bring skills sets together, physically, and to share KPIs. As the chief creative officer of a digital agency, I see every day that there’s no substitute for people getting together and talking. For emotional creativity, for craft in media, and despite all the talk of performance, and of programmatic, you just have to bring people together. Ideas are borne from serendipitous conversations and you need to be together to spark these. Planners, buyers, technologists, production, all have to work as a team.

The magic that can come of teams working together was evident in work by Mondelez-owned Cadbury Creme Egg in the build-up to Easter last year. Mondelez managed to hide its iconic eggs in competitor ads, and across categories, too. The ensuing treasure hunt had a joyful, childlike element, challenging fans to find the eggs hidden in other brands' ads across various media including print, outdoor and TV. Initiatives like this are never the brainchild of a single department.

Smart TV, too, provides a salutary lesson in the importance of context, media and creative working together. Today, we are seeing dynamic placement, sometimes in the forms of personalised 48-sheet posters within TV shows themselves. In this way, an ‘old’ media format is being given a new lease of life.

Clearly, we can’t claim that ‘new’ technologies are simply a distraction. Take the huge opportunity in podcasts. Just before Christmas, we did some pro bono work for a campaign encouraging young people to register to vote. We contacted some of the UK’s top podcasters and asked them if we could take over their Podcast Covers to promote our message. Comedian Adam Buxton, a top ten podcaster, volunteered to let us piggyback his cover, while Spotify joined in with the call to arms, with a PlayList style ad on the streaming service’s free version pointing out: “Most tracks on this playlist are about three minutes, that’s the same amount of time it takes to register to vote…” Similarly, in October, the BBC unveiled the first-ever global takeover of Spotify to promote Sir David Attenborough’s Seven Worlds, One Planet. Brands are using technology to spark emotion. It’s not a case of choosing one or the other.

And a good few years old now, but still brilliant, British Airways’ Magic of Flying campaign, saw a little boy, on a poster, pointing to the sky and saying where flights were heading, and the cost of a seat. This work necessitated the creation of a ground-breaking new media package, the involvement of air traffic data and cloud level information. It was the work of a ‘creative technologist’ and resulted in a Cannes Grand Prix, no less.

And from chocolate eggs to elections, David Attenborough, climate change, and commercial flights let’s not forget, either, that we will be facing big problems in the next decade. The beauty of advertising lies in its unique power to help solve problems. Climate change has gone from being something of a niche issue to an international emergency. We will have to adopt new ways of living and working. We will also need a sense of fun and playfulness. We need to retain the sense of humour we are famous for in the UK. Let’s continue to have fun and to connect, via both emotion and technology. And if you are still unconvinced, just remember; TV was classed as ‘New Technology’ once.

Emma de la Fosse, chief creative officer, Digitas

De la Fosse is the chair of The Drum Roses Awards 2020 jury. The deadline for these awards is Thursday 20 February. Enter now.

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