JWT creative innovation director on staying relevant for 150 years

By AdNews | 27 November 2018
Emma Chiu

J Walter Thompson New York creative innovation director Emma Chiu has been tasked with keeping a 150-year-old agency relevant - no easy task. We sit down with the top exec, ahead of the JWT's merger with Wunderman, to discuss her unique role and her thoughts on the changing agency model.

There aren't many people with the role 'creative innovation director'. Can you explain what you do?

It is indeed a unique role that was made specifically for me. I’m part of the Innovation Group at J. Walter Thompson which operates as a futures think tank and consultancy. The team identifies new consumer behaviours, zeitgeist shifts and innovation in lifestyle sectors that will impact brands. My role is to apply a visual lens to this research and insight. I come from a design background so it’s important to understand what cultural trends and consumer behaviours look. For example when we talk about Xennial generation – what type of branding appeals to them? What visual language captures their attention? That’s one part of my role. In addition I lead the Innovation Labs department and we create bespoke projects that stem from our research.

How does JWT, which has been around for 150 years, continue to thrive in the digital age?

At J. Walter Thompson it’s important to continually monitor consumer behavior, and today a large part of that ties in with how technology integrates and shapes peoples lives. This will allow us to understand if more people are turning to voice technology then how can brands we work with leverage this digital space. In addition we think it’s important to speak to experts in all lifestyle sectors including tech and understand how knowledge from these experts can help us better our campaigns or activations for our clients. Our Amsterdam office, for example, used artificial intelligence for The Next Rembrandt campaign, this project was really a collaborative effort with technologists.

What changes have you made to JWT to pivot towards innovation?

The Innovation Group established some 15 years ago and is a core part of the company, understanding new behaviors, technology, and lifestyle sectors to see where our brands can appropriately evolve. Through our insight we product our own internal innovation lab projects which is in early stages, but these are steps we’re taking to be on the forefront of innovation.

What are the biggest challenges facing agencies today?

As with many other traditional industries, the traditional advertising model is in flux so it’s important to be offer more than ad campaigns. Agencies need to evolve and be partners/collaborators with our clients in order to produce the best communication and messaging for consumers.

What trends are you seeing emerge across advertising that JWT is readying itself for?

All “trends” really stem from consumer behaviours, and an important one that impacts advertising is experience culture. People are more invested in an experience that can resonate with them on some sort of emotional and perhaps even personal level. So increasingly we’re seeing personalised campaigns, pop-up experiences, and games to draw consumer attention.

What trends are you seeing emerge from consumers that JWT is looking to tap into?

For the last two/three years we have been tracking the rise of the wellness economy. We are seeing that as consumers put their health first, they also expect brands to help them monitor their wellbeing as well. We are exploring ways for our brands to integrate a sense of wellbeing into their DNA, whether it’s through psychology or technology – we see wellbeing as something that’s more than a trend, it’ll soon be in everything, from food and drink to retail and travel.

Chiu is speaking at Pause Fest in Melbourne alongside other execs from Amazon, Australia Post and more. Check out the full lineup here.

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