Creative Academy @ Golden Drum: Social Currency fuels Braveness & Creativity

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.

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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:

  • Provocative insights
  • Surprise & entertain
  • Make it irreverent
  • Make it awesome
  • Let go

But remember, this is not a science so stay agile and adapt constantly while creating.

Photo credit Golden Drum

The big idea is dead. Long live the big idea

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.

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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.

Image credit: Enver Atmaca

Hire omnivores, not vegans when you’re building digital expertise

Interesting piece in HBR on building high-performing digital teams:

“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.

The Agile Agency. An ad agency’s culture hack

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.

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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.

TED2013: A trip worth remembering!

The last week was pretty amazing. Thanks to TED’s 10 Ads Worth Spreading initiative I spent a few days at TED2013 in Long Beach combined with a day at TEDActive2013 in Palm Springs together with 9 other selected agency folks as well as a few people from TED and Google who are partners in the program. The reason that I got there to begin with was the fact that our agency’s ad ‘Push to add drama’ for TNT was selected as one of those 10 ads. Which is already pretty amazing on it’s own.

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The one thing (to begin with) you have to do after reading this post is to go check out all 10 ads. Some you’ve probably all seen and shared already such as BBH’s ‘3 Little pigs’ for The Guardian, ‘Dumb ways to die’ from McCann or Y&R’s ‘Security Cams’ for Coca-Cola but others will probably new to you as they were to me. ‘Follow the frog’ for instance, from Max Joseph or  Make sure you check them all out, great stuff in there. Pretty cool bunch too.

So there we were. Invited by TED, ready to be inspired and with a packed agenda for 2 days at TED in Long Beach and 1 day at TEDActive in Palm Springs. Both these conferences run simultaneously and show the same content (via simulcast from Long Beach to Palm Springs). In Long Beach where the ‘real’ TED is you will find yourself amongst business leaders, CEO’s, former TED speakers, movie stars, … who are all looking forward to some great talks but also great encounters during the breaks. People will all just walk up to each other, introduce themselves to each other and start talking about what they’ve seen. And how we all know TED as a very exclusive event, the vibe at the event is pretty down to earth which was counter to what I expected it to be.

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At TEDActive the crowd is much younger, I was under the impression that it was also much more international and it felt a lot more creative as well. And what struck me was that even though all talks were via simulcast on TV screens everybody would go inside and watch every single minute of it. During the sessions you would find pretty much no-one outside just chilling in the sun. Imagine that at Cannes Lions for instance – the idea alone sounds to crazy to be serious about it. Very interested crowd, very disciplined and very inspiring.

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It’s too difficult to say which encounter was the best (although the close encounter with Cameron Diaz is worth bragging about ;-)) or which talk was the most interesting to watch. You have to imagine yourself sitting in between the co-founder of Groupon on the one hand side and Blaise Aguera y Arcas (2 time awesome TED speaker himself) listening to Taylor Wilson, an 18 year old that built his own nuclear fusion reactor at 14! How awesome is that?! Not to forget all the conversations with my fellow ad men about their advertising, how they got to sell it to their clients and what they think made it unique. I’m sure other sites will give a wrap up of the most powerful talks, I will probably highlight a few of them later on this blog as well.

I want to repeat myself and applaud all the awesome boys and girls at Duval Guillaume Modem for making such great work. It makes me want to go back to the office and try to make even better work so we can get back in that list from TED so one of my colleagues can experience this for him or herself. Thanks for that. This week was awesome!

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And special thanks to Shanna from TED for the awesome organization!

Agency of the year. And what a year it was!

What a week. What a month. What a year. Exactly one year ago we announced that Duval Guillaume would merge it’s Brussels and Antwerp offices into one called Duval Guillaume Modem (in Antwerp). When I look back at the interview both our Executive Creative Directors did with ‘De Morgen’ then I read:

“It’s time for the next step: to be the first Belgian agency to play a real part internationally and again write advertising history.”

We’re not there yet, but we certainly made a good step in the right direction. Last week at the Cannes Lions our agency won 8 Gold Lions, 4 Silver, 2 Bronze and the Media Agency of the Year award. A new Belgian record that placed the agency at the 6th place worldwide in the final agency ranking at the festival.

All of that only 2 weeks after we already won the Belgian Creative Agency of the Year award at the 2012 CCB Awards. And 7 months after winning the Digital Agency of the Year award for the second year in a row. Proud. Very much so.

Gala CCB

Yes it’s been a lot of hard work for everyone at the agency. But what a reward. Being celebrated by the industry both locally and internationally for the work is just friggin’ awesome! What a good way to celebrate my 3 year anniversary at the agency :-)

Social Media Forum: Social Currency

Yesterday I did a talk at the Social Media Forum 2011 in Brussels. It’s a topic that I’m interested in since 2006 or so, the time Hugh MacLeod started talking about “social objects”. You’ll find out why when you keep on reading.

I started the presentation with a quote from Mark Twain I had found only a day earlier:

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born, and the day you find out why” (Mark Twain)

The reason for that was mainly that as usual in social media related conferences (or actually on many of the stuff that is written about it online as well) is around tactics, hardly ever about the reason why. One of the other speakers asked a question about whether you need to be active on social media or building your own web presence, I think he used the reference ‘fish where the fish are’ to reference social media. To stay in that analogy that is like saying you should either ‘fish where the fish are’ versus ‘making sure your fridge is at the best possible temperature’. In that idea the tactics we’re all focusing in so much is just the same as thinking about tricks to get the fish to hop in the fridge themselves… that’s a silly idea isn’t it?

Enough about fish already. When I think about Social Currency, I can only think of it as the most interesting thing possible in social. What do other have to say about it though? That’s what you can see on the first few slides. A lot of explanation etc, and I can only think NOPE (thank you Chuck Testa). Why do I think it’s more than that? There are 2 cases I used to prove my point.

First one: The Blue Monster. You can read about that on my blog as I’ve written about it several times before, it is that what I believe made Hugh start to talk about ‘social objects’. Explaining what it meant for him. He called it the hard currency of the internet:

“The interesting thing about the Social Object is the not the object itself, but the conversations that happen around them. The Blue Monster is a good example of this. It’s not the cartoon that’s interesting, it’s the conversations that happen around it that’s interesting.”

It was the Blue Monster that gave me, Steve and many other Microsoft colleagues a way into the tech community to talk about Microsoft and how we (as employees) were convinced something was changing on the inside. Only because people didn’t understand why we used the cartoon ourselves. The question to explain that created that window of opportunity.

A more recent example, the second one I used in my talk was the “Bikers” viral we made for Carlsberg 2-3 months ago. I haven’t talked about that video on my blog before, yet there’s a chance you have seen it – as did about 13 million people since launch. You have to see it first before I can further explain:


Apart from thinking it’s funny, what was the first idea on your mind? There’s a good chance it  was something in the lines of ‘would I have done that?’. Carlsberg launched their new baseline recently: That calls for a Carlsberg. And with that also a new proposition. It’s about a ‘reward for a daily act of courage’. And this was our (first) answer to that. Notice that you didn’t just talk about it, you probably discussed about it. It’s almost a social experiment.

That’s what Social Currency is about, a way to create value. That’s also why I think it’s a better word than object. And, it’s not just about talk value, but about discussion value. Make stuff worth discussing. If you keen on doing this, you build Social Capital. And that’s fundamentally much more interesting than learning about a few (ever changing) tactics first.

Hope you like that, feel free to comment. You can find the (small) presentation up on Slideshare:

Stratégies Gagnantes: Agile Planning

About a week ago I did a presentation at an event in Charleroi called “Stratégies Gagnantes” (which means as much as ‘Winning Strategies’) together with other speakers such as Michael Cawly (COO Ryanair), Nathalie Klein (Director Consumer Insights Coca-Cola), …I was asked to present about what I thought would contribute most towards winning strategies from a marketing point of view. This based on my experience in digital and specifically as Head of Digital at Duval Guillaume Modem, the agency I work for in Antwerp.

The topic I chose to talk about was ‘agile’, more specifically ‘agile planning’. We all know by now the world is changing, and it’s changing fast. So I didn’t want to go in to much about that, but instead focus on how we need to rethink the way we plan to cope with a situation that is always ‘in motion’. It was an easy choice to make since I’ve been fascinated about agile and about how we should use this thinking (that originates from the agile software development) into our business, into the way we think about planning for the future. Neil Perkin has written quite a few good posts about ‘agile thinking’ as key for anybody who wants to be more future proof. I’ve used some of his thoughts in this presentation.

In the presentation bring forward 4 ideas that need to be considered when thinking about introducing agile planning to your organisation:

  1. Ideas from anywhere: get out of the organization silos – idea generation happens best when people across all business lines get together
  2. Plan for the unknown: imagine what would be possible instead of solely relying on what you can deduct from past experience
  3. Measure to improve: instead of measure to report – make sure you get the learnings when you can still adapt
  4. Budget for change: make sure there’s time and money to make the change happen

Let me know what you think.

Launching a unique duo iPhone app

Yesterday we launched a new iPhone app for Nutricia.  In a new approach to support moms even more we’ve created with Nutricia this new app that helps to get dads more involved in addition of moms tracking their pregnancy.

Another pregnancy iPhone app you say? That’s what we though as well and therefore we’ve taken the new approach to involve dads because ‘Baby Connection’ works best when you use it as a couple. There’s a mum version and a dad version – and everything each parent adds is automatically synced with their partners’ phones. The app can also transform the two iPhones into one big screen. More about that in the video below:

To launch Baby Connection, we came up with an idea to make men pregnant… well kinda. You can see what we did below:

Step into this TV ad…

We’ve launched 2 new campaigns for AXA during the last few days. In line with our “i-Ad” campaign using digital to make a print ad come to life, we’ve now come up with an idea to get more out of a TV commercial using a QR code. The code doesn’t serve as a link to a nice extra piece of information, it actually let’s you enjoy the full story. Check it out in the video below.

Only a few days earlier we also launched a campaign for AXA’s new renovation loan, using a billboard on which we’ve created a QR code with 3.800 paint pots. Quite a bit of work as well to make that one happen :) See video below.