Coca-Cola’s Jonathan Mildenhall, responsible for global advertising strategy & content excellence, has his part in making sure Coca-Cola became the Cannes Advertiser of the year in 2013. His Content 2020 manifest (part 1 | part 2) which was shared at the Cannes Lions a few years ago inspired more than just the marketers at the Coca-Cola company. He has proven that creativity and commercial success go hand in hand, but also states that creativity belongs to all of us as you can read in this interesting interview:
The key to Coca-Cola’s change, says Mildenhall, was understanding that creativity is everyone’s responsibility and remit, individually and inside the organisation. “To change, Coke had to take creativity in the widest sense back from the agencies. It couldn’t belong only to the hairy elites of agency creative departments.”
In the same interview Mildenhall defines how he thinks of creative leadership, sharing his 9 principles on the topic:
Creative directors are the soul of the company or brand they lead
They amplify the creativity in everyone they work with
They distort reality and make the impossible seem possible
They are relentlessly optimistic, exuding positive, infectious energy
They create a culture of curiosity, never stop asking or learning, and have the best questions
They establish trust, honesty and belief by giving away credit
They make unpopular calls to do the right thing by the work
I did a talk about mobile in marketing at the Mobile Convention Brussels today. It’s not the first time I write about social objects or social currency on this blog, but in the case of mobile the device itself is in essence a social object. It allows us to connect with people, remember Nokia’s claim? And going from Dumbphone to Feature Phone to Smartphone (and yes I like these retronyms) the connections have multiplied. More tech, more possibilities and more people to connect to. Fantastic.
“I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.”
So the mobile phone is a social object. Literally because it allows us to connect with people around the world. And it isn’t a social object, thinking about the definition we use for that in the conversation economy because it doesn’t trigger conversations, on the contrary. So there’s an opportunity in marketing to make the mobile phone a real social object, to use it to trigger conversation. To use it in a way it’s not the object itself that matters but the conversations around it.
Like we tried to do with “Reborn Apps”, the campaign for organ donation that won a gold Cannes Lions at this year’s festival.
Or also with older cases like “A Blind Call” or “Baby Connection“. These projects are not only there for conversion (which is also an objective of course) but are created mainly to kickstart conversations.
A few things to keep in mind when you want to use mobile to create social objects:
Digital is not about technology. There’s little technology involved in the case of Reborn Apps for instance, it’s not by focusing on the tech that you will find the great ideas. And sometimes technology can spur fantastic ideas obviously and also that can be a good briefing, but in general it’s not where you start to find the answer to your problems.
Context is key. Also here way too often that is immediately translated into technology, into things such as responsive design for instance in which responsive is just a way of saying how the design adapts to ‘every’ screen. I think that’s limiting ourselves, context is about which device, when, for what purpose, by whom, … and responsive design should be about a way of designing experiences that keep all of that into account.
Find a unique (provocative) insight. I’m planning on doing a separate write down on the ‘provocative insight’ and how we defined that at Duval Guillaume Modem. The important thing to remember is that you need an insight that has a bit more edge to it, that people have an opinion on if you want it to generate those kind of creative ideas that will provoke conversations.
Tap into real human emotions. It’s what makes it situations, projects, products, advertising, … recognisable. You can image yourself into a certain situation, you can immediately see how something like that could also happen to you. It makes it all so much more powerful.
Make it irreverent. Challenge the status quo. Don’t accept things to be like everyone says they should be, don’t take things too seriously, think the opposite. When everybody zigs, zag.
Alright. There’s not much I will say about this, you just have to watch the video. In short, the organisation Terre Des Hommes that fights child exploitation, created a robot that looks like a 10 year old child. This robot, called Sweetie, is operated from Amsterdam and once online engages in chats with pedophiles. Apparently when you go online on popular chat services with the profile of a 10 year old Philippine you attract these sex offenders within seconds so that’s what Sweetie’s for. And since they all ask to put on the webcam, Sweetie activates that webcam without any hesitation… and while the conversation lasts, the specialists in Amsterdam get photo & video evidence of the offenders and they try to find all information that helps identify these men. And it works: 1.000 pedophiles identified in merely 2 months. I don’t say this often but this is just amazing! Watch. And don’t forget to sign the petition.
Maybe the company name Automattic doesn’t immediately ring a bell, but I’m sure WordPress does. Automattic is the company behind WordPress and also other web services such as Gravatar, Akismet, Polldaddy, … If you were to look at traffic numbers for all websites running on WordPress combined, they would be the 3rd biggest in the world, right after Google and Facebook. This website represents only a very tiny part of that :-)
It’s not WordPress as a product I wanted to talk about however. During an interview at the Golden Drum Festival about a week ago I was asked about how I saw the evolution of our business and the new challenges that might arise while competing more and more with tech companies, attracting the right talent and everything. I said first of all that I think one of the biggest challenges we face in attracting talent is no so much that we compete with tech companies but that we compete with companies that think very differently about how they are organised and maybe also how they are evaluated. It made me think of a conversation I had with Sara Rosso, responsible for the VIP services at WordPress, at LeWeb last year. She explained me how they are organised as a distributed workforce and I thought that was massively impressive.
Think about it. More than 130 people work at Automattic, spread over 27 countries or 80 different cities. You cannot not be curious on how they make that work. In case you’re a small startup you probably can image something like that for your own business but once you’re talking about several dozens or in this case hundreds of people that’s not so easy to do. Even if I look at myself, when I was still working at Microsoft they launched ‘The new world of work’ and when we moved into the new office around that time proof was there that technology can really help you organise your work in a different way. Since I worked for the London office but out of Belgium I often worked from home and there was nothing holding me back from doing my work just as fine as if I were to spend all that time in the office. And that was really not even that advanced back then compared to Automattic today.
The way they make it work is even more impressive. All internal collaboration is based on WordPress. They make little use of email internally, most of the communication happens on WordPress blogs. A result of that is that they’re also extremely transparent since pretty much everything on those internal WordPress sites can be consulted by everyone (internally). All other communication runs via IRC and on occasion a group conversation via Skype when IRC doesn’t suffice. Very little of the communication happens over the phone. All internal WordPress blogs are based on the P2 WordPress theme, a kind of mix between Twitter and Facebook. The expression “P2 it” is used by everyone, it’s a reminder to put information from a meeting, chat, … on the P2 platform. This way all decisions and information is well documented.
Tasks are organised in so-called ‘fire teams’ of 4-6 people and those teams have their own charter and their own objectives for the given tasks. They don’t work based on time tracking (something that would anyway be difficult based on how they are structured) and evaluation is fully based on reaching the goals that were set. And we all link evaluation based on goals but still how it’s organised here is very different than what’s commonly used. The smaller teams will maybe meet each other in real life maybe 2-3 times a year and once a year the whole company gets together.
The company also has an ‘open vacation policy’. This means there are no pre-defined number of holidays for an employee, they think that everyone should have the possibility to take the time for themselves and family and as a result should be able to plan their own time off.
It’s clear that the model Automattic is using probably is not workable within every industry. Looking at my own industry a lot has been written already about the importance of people sitting in the same space (or not). And I get many of the arguments but a lot of times they also sound very defensive towards the current structures and procedures and we all know you can only start innovating when you challenge that status quo. It does inspire me to think about different ways of working with people and I do see a clear benefit, the world basically opens up when looking for talent in when you could make that work. Location becomes a secondary consideration, whereas today it feels that for many people location is actually becoming more important than it used to be.
One of the more interesting seminars at the Cannes Lions in June earlier this year was that one of Astro Teller who leads the Google X initiative. You know where the idea for Google Glass or Google’s self driving cars is coming from:
“Here is the surprising truth. It’s often easier to make something 10 times better than it is to make it 10 percent better. Because when you’re working to make things 10 percent better, you inevitably focus on the existing tools and assumptions, and on building on top of an existing solution that many people have already spent a lot of time thinking about. Such incremental progress is driven by extra effort, extra money, and extra resources. It’s tempting to feel improving things this way means we’re being good soldiers, with the grit and perseverance to continue where others may have failed — but most of the time we find ourselves stuck in the same old slog. But when you aim for a 10x gain, you lean instead on bravery and creativity — the kind that, literally and metaphorically, can put a man on the moon.”
I like that. It’s almost like a scientific explanation of why you have to dream big.
Last week I was in Portorož (Slovenia) to give a presentation at 20th edition of the Golden Drum Awards. To this creative audience I wanted to show that the necessity of building social currency for brands calls for bravery and creativity and as such is a great opportunity for the business that we are in.
We know that we have a lot less control of what is being told about a brand today. In the world where we control messaging we need great storytelling, but that alone isn’t enough anymore. We also need to make sure we try to influence the part where we have no control: “giving people a story to tell to each other”. We believe it’s key for brands to do both.
But too often today when you talk about influencing the uncontrolled part we end up quite immediately into social media content. When business discovered social media in 2005-2006 with blogging, it proved an interesting way to share opinion or backstages stories around a brand. In the better examples CEO’s would openly talk about their business once a week in a lengthy blogpost that would allow people to reply to. When LinkedIn but especially Facebook came along, more content (but smaller pieces) was needed for updates several times per week. And with Twitter brands are urged to posts several times a day. At the same time content became more visual, we all know (I hope) the importance of the visual web. This trend however has brands talk to us as we are all ignorant kids and to be honest, most ‘branded content’ is actually worse than the 30″ commercial that so many hate.
Managing the conversation is not the same as provoking the conversation. And we should have the tactical rules of social rule our decisions in developing content to provoke. We no only think you should provoke a conversation, it should result in a conversation worth remembering. As an example I give the campaign we created for ‘Stop The Traffik’. This campaign is approximately 2 years old and yet 1 month ago 2 million views were added to the video when Upworthy discovered it (again). And since the the conversation that came out of it is still as valid for the brand is it was at launch.
That brings us to social currency. You create that when you repeatedly created social objects. And as I’ve written before, with the social object, it’s not so much the object that is important as it is the conversations it triggered around it. My business card is a social object. Almost every time I hand it out people ask me what ‘Change Architect’ (my second role) means and by explaining that I already get a chance to explain why change is important for the agency and how that defines the work that we make.
So why then the necessity for bravery & creativity in building social currency? In my presentation I list 5 points:
Surprise & entertain
Make it irreverent
Make it awesome
But remember, this is not a science so stay agile and adapt constantly while creating.
The big idea is dead. To quote Patricia McDonald in a recent Campaign article: “In recent years, the “big idea” has often seemed to epitomise everything wrong and backward-looking about our industry.” And that’s indeed true. In the traditional sense of a 360 campaign, the big idea was to be found in the 30″ commercial or a huge online activity and every other aspect of the campaign had to amplify that centre piece. The big idea was almost not much more than the ever so popular ‘key visual’, the one visual we can translate in all our media for one given campaign.
It’s good that we most brands start to work differently these days. It’s good that brands start to understand that this idea of a 360 campaign all built around the one big idea isn’t the right way to operate. But as Patricia also highlights in her article, that doesn’t mean we should start thinking small. And therefore the big idea is still very much needed, only we think about something completely different today when talking about a big idea than when we talked about it a few years ago.
Today (and as a matter of fact we believe for the last few years already), that big idea is more of a central thought, a thought that allows you to develop a creative platform in which several small & big creative ideas can be found. It’s a thought that is based on a strong insight and for which the creatives feel the potential, a thought that offers a fertile ground to start creating. Because let’s be honest, ideas can be small and very beautiful or extremely big, bold and complex. But the overarching thought can only be big. It’s linked to the brand’s raison d’être, the link with the purpose and therefore the relevance of the brand in people’s lives.
Once this ‘big idea’ is defined, once we all agree on what that central thought or creative platform is that a brand needs, the quest for the ‘key visual’ becomes less important. It’ll help them understand for instance in the case of Nike that Nike+ as well as ‘Find your greatness’ can be part of the same campaign. In the olden days that would have been near to impossible since they would both feel like big ideas in the classic definition.
So maybe we shouldn’t be using the phrase ‘big idea’ anymore knowing that it has for long meant something else, something that we feel isn’t right anymore today. But whatever the phrase you come up with, let’s all agree that we shouldn’t start thinking small all of a sudden.
“Hire people who are omnivores, not vegans. Digital is part technology, part content strategy, part marketing art — and science. People who very strongly identify with only one piece of the equation will struggle on a high-performing digital team. Over the past decade skills within digital teams have merged even further.”
There’s enough in the article that I think is not totally correct but especially this statement was one I liked. I’ve noticed that while we are organising our teams still in the traditional way (art director + copywriter) we have specialist digital resources that can join the teams when the opportunity is there. This means that they can very early on or only later in the process call upon these specialist and build out there mini-team structure to tackle the problem at hand. We’ve noticed that operating this way we get the best results. It’s counter to the thinking that teams should consist of 3 instead of 2 people to begin with but allows richer teams as the creative idea grows.
And when I look out for these digital specialists I am not looking for a digital art director or a designer, I am looking for these ‘omnivores’. People that have a weird mixed skillset in digital, dev + design or engineer + social, … the area in which you find the so called creative technologists. Those are the profiles you want.
Some 2-3 years ago we decided at Duval Guillaume that we had to re-invent ourselves, that we had to take a more fundamental step in the way we organized ourselves and of course in how we thought about digital as a key element in the communication or advertising that we make. A lot has happened since then but if the 25 Cannes Lions or the Agency of the Year wins of the last 2 years mean anything then it’s probably that we’re doing something right.
The decisions that were taken seemed like the right thing to do but weren’t always that obvious. We decided to get rid of all internal developer resources so we could focus more on our core strenghts – strategy & creativity. At the same time we stopped using online account managers to support the ‘regular’ account managers and we’d stop working with project managers. Instead we organized tech/dev resources to support the creative teams in their creative process and we hired digital producers to play the crucial role between our own teams and the 3rd party developer’s team. All of this in a way that would allow us to keep finetuning & tweaking the idea even while in development to maximize the outcome.
We were always sure this was the right way to go and we understood the core philosophy behind agile thinking that supported the idea that what we were aiming for wasn’t that crazy. Just like with every good idea though there’s a difference between the idea and the execution and it was/is with guys like Bart, our head of digital production, that we managed to implement agile in the agency. And this in such a way that it’s constantly evolving and that we keep adapting, the essence of agile. And now Bart has written a book about what agile means in an agency environment, most likely the first book on the topic of agile in advertising agencies since he only found books on agile in software/web development when researching the topic.
To stay true to the topic the book was written in an agile way. Of course :-) A must read when you’re in advertising, download the book right here: The Agile Agency, how lean and agile will transform your advertising agency. Another key element in agile thinking that I learned from Bart is that you benefit more when you’re transparant about your own progress, so read the book and add your thoughts.