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Under the Influence: Advertising - keep up or get left behind

Last week Traffic's strategic development & innovation guy, Ant McCormack moderated a panel discussion of advertising and design influencers to unpick advertising’s future titled ‘UNDER THE INFLUENCE: Advertising - keep up or get left behind.’ Taxi, AGDA & Analogue/Digital teamed up to hold the event as part of the Analogue/Digital conference.

Given the event was held at a bar on a Thursday night, it was billed as the place where big ideas meets a big-ass party. With sailor jerry and Stone & Wood providing the drinks for the crowd of advertising and design people the party was always going to good. The big ideas from the panel of experts definitely lived up to the billing too.

The panel included: Matt Faulk: CEO & ECD of Basic Agency (San Diego, CA), Russ Vine: Managing Director JuniorCru, Rob Hudson: Chief Digital Officer GPY&R, Tanja Hall: Director, Jolt, Simon Langford-Ely: Creative Director, Bigfish, Paul van Barneveld: Director, Brave & AGDA President, Eddie Zammit: Creator of Director, T-World. All moderated by Taxi’s strategic development and innovation guy, Ant McCormack. The panel dived headlong into the topics of: the shape of advertising now, ideas Vs. execution, relevance Vs. creativity, taking risks, advertising’s future and big ideas. At a glance the discussion covered:

Is advertising f*cked?

In short, no. But keep up or get left behind.

The panel was pretty united on this front. Things are ever changing in advertising, but they always have been. It’s just that digital is probably moving faster than any other change to the industry we’ve ever experienced and agencies and brands are still working out the best way to connect with their audiences through digital channels.

Also, with all of this content coming from every direction, brands need to stand out and have a clear position on what they stand for. The panel was also all on board that agencies and clients need to embrace digital as something that people just do so get over it and get on with it. BUT, there is a different way to think about it and execute it so approach it differently.

Is print dead?

Our expert panel was split on this topic. Eddie Zammit, creator of of T-World (a hard copy printed journal) was unsurprisingly in favour of print. Arguing that the tactile experience and permanence of the medium meant that #printispremium. The designers on the panel, Tanja Hall & Paul van Barneveld, agreed with Eddie that print is here to stay and it’s definitely premium.

Simon Langford-Ely, Russ Vine & Rob Hudson were all together in agreement that print isn’t dead yet, dying pretty quickly. Meanwhile Matt Faulk was ready to bury print there and then, arguing that it’s not premium, as digital offers a better and richer experience and that swiping a screen to make things happen is just as tactile, if not more so, than turning the page in a book.

The irony that Eddie uses a hashtag, a purely digital tool, to push his argument that print is premium was unfortunately left alone by the panel on the night…

Ideas Vs. Execution

With the content-heavy now and the future of advertising and brand communications, will execution become more important than ideas?

“Hell no!“ you hear everyone on the panel shout in your mind. And you’d be right, to a point…

The panel members were all on the same page - ideas are key. But ideas and execution aren’t mutually exclusive. A bad idea with a good execution is about as lacking of value than a good idea with a bad execution. People remember the idea because of the execution. With tools to create polished executions so readily available “anyone can polish a turd”, as Russ Vine so clearly put it. As a result, ideas will probably become more valuable, but executing these ideas well (instead of just adding a bit of “polish”) will remain almost as valuable.

Relevance Vs. Creativity

With the ability to really target people based on who they are, what they want, what they like, have done in the past and are doing right now, will relevance and targeting become more important than creativity? GPY&R’s Rob Hudson was on the side of right now, yes. But things like programmatic and big data are the “it” things right now. Once everyone has figured this out and the playing field has evened out connecting to people with creative message will be key again. This sentiment was reflected across the panel. Relevance of message is a given, but in the not-too-distant future, getting in front of your consumer in the time of need will be ubiquitous amongst brands. The message and brand position that connects to the consumer on a level that pushes and pulls the buttons and levers that connect to people as irrational humans will stand out.

Risk & Bravery

Should ad agencies and designers be braver and take more risks? Should clients take more risks? If so, how do we get clients to take the plunge? Along with the #printispremium discussion, this topic divided the panel and sparked robust discussion, debate and flat out disagreement.

Generally across the panel there was agreement that agencies and brands need to be braver and take greater risks. Except for GPY&R’s CDO Rob Hudson who totally rubbished the idea of asking clients to take risks, arguing there should be no such thing as risk when creating work for clients. Research, experience, critical reasoning and data should inform a decision to proceed with a piece of work or not. To Hudson, It’s a question of mitigation and agencies shouldn’t ever expect a client to simply “trust me” because they think this might be possibly a good idea. Brave Creative’s Paul van Barneveld lived up to his agency name arguing that to do something genuinely new, you have to take risks. Eddie Zammit, who seems to be a risk-taker by nature, (and successfully doing so) backed him up and then some.

Matt Faulk came at the risk and bravery discussion from a different angle. Arguing in favour of taking risks, but balancing the approach by mitigating the risk where possible with research, knowledge and data. He also took the conversation further by looking at how to encourage clients to take come along for the ride and take a risk with an agency. Explaining that his agency, Basic, partners with their clients in a completely transparent approach and even invests in some of their clients on particular projects by putting skin in the game. This has resulted in mitigating some of the risks for their clients, but also creates an increased level of trust and willingness to take some brave actions for both client and agency.

The future

What will the future advertising/design agency look like and how will (or should) agencies work with clients in the future? The panel was in total agreement here - the way agencies work internally and the way they work with clients is changing fast and this is just the start of it. The predictions from the panel included:

  • Clients will take more capabilities in house
  • Agencies will have to become more specialised in their offering
  • Agencies need to be involved in their client’s business as much as their client is
  • Live and breathe your client’s brand
  • Agencies will become more of a consultancy partner
  • More personal client - agency relationships will be a marker to success
  • Partnerships between agencies and clients will be key
  • Agencies will become smaller
  • Strategy will become even more important to the agency service offering
  • The ultimate goal will be genuine collaboration and partnership with clients, agencies and other suppliers
  • Who knows? It’ll be a different conversation next year…

After all that discussion we had some answers to the questions from our panel of advertising and design leaders, but a lot of the answers contradicted one another and sparked further debate. And that’s the point. Advertising is ever evolving and we need to keep up and lead the way, or get left behind. At least at the ‘Under the Influence’ event we had a lot of Sailor Jerry, Stone & Wood beer and the industry’s leaders on the panel and in the audience to carry the discussion well into the night.

Were you there? Got something to add to the conversation? Post a comment below or tweet Ant McCormack @antmccormack



Posted 21st May, 15 by Anthony McCormack, Strategic Development & Innovation

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