AdNews asked industry leaders their perspective on the year that was and the prospects for the road ahead:
David Fox, CEO Ogilvy Australia
What has COVID done to the industry?
COVID has been an accelerator for the industry, both in a positive sense and a ‘learning’ sense. Poor cultures have been unearthed, poor leadership has been found out and only companies with a forward-facing, modern communications business, will thrive as they were always ready for the future, no matter how fast it arrived. In the US the e-commerce penetration in Q2 this year grew five years in three months. The market is shifting faster than before and agencies who are not looking at this will be left behind. Our industry will see some of the ‘old names’ die out as they cannot keep up with the change, and now it’s probably too late.
What’s changed since COVID?
A lot has changed, and a lot has stayed the same. There’s risk in making changes for change’s sake. We need to remember that no matter the technology, ‘It’s all about old needs and new behaviours’ (as my former Head of Technology in London used to say). People still want to see friends’ pictures (it’s just on Instagram), people still want to find a partner (it’s now just on Tinder), people still want to shop (it’s just easier on Amazon), people still want to feel part of a community (it’s also now on Facebook). The human need remains the same, it’s just how we access that need has changed, and will continue to change. This means brands need to think about the need being the same, but ask instead ‘what’s the new behaviour’? How will they engage with the brand in new ways? The overly simplistic answer is using technology, but it’s more than that. It’s that plus emotions, plus experiences, plus utility and service. It’s all that and it needs to be fluid, it needs to be easy and it needs to be relevant. So, everything has changed but nothing really has, all at the same time.
What are clients saying?
I think clients need help to navigate the new and accelerated way consumers are now looking to access their brands and products. They are pressured because ROI is essentially a key metric for a board, shareholders, internal stakeholders - and therefore for them. The issue is we only focus on what can be unequivocally measured – and this is a trap. Humans are irrational creatures and magic can still trump logic if it’s done well. So clients need the logic, but they don’t want to lose the magic, because when that happens, we become rational, when we know brands are built on the emotional. Clients are looking at a huge range of options and the challenge is not what to choose but what to discard. You can only do this if you have a clear and easy-to-understand brand and plan for that brand. Decisions are made easily when you know what you are trying to achieve – if you don’t, everything looks like a viable option. Clients’ agency partners must be objective and not lean towards solutions that benefits them and not the client’s brands – yes, I think it still happens. Clients need our help but more importantly they need our trust in a world where everyone is selling the latest, most exciting thing.
Where are the opportunities?
The most fruitful opportunities have not changed – insight driven creativity and experiences that make Australians feel helped, valued and in control. In a time of turmoil people will turn to things they trust – family, community and some brands. The brands that behave in a consistent manner, that don’t try and be something they are not to ‘capitalise on the moment’, will remain top of mind. Bunnings is a great example – I feel safe and valued when I go to a Bunnings store and its communications are consistent and familiar. They didn’t do ‘we are with you and we always have been’ communications during COVID. They stuck to their journey of what they are and what they believe in. Beautiful and simple. The opportunity is always right in front of your face – it’s your consistent brand narrative delivered in interesting ways through traditional work and new experiences. Stay the course – always iterate to improve, but don’t get bored with your brand – it’s easy to do and then you want to change - stay the course.
The outlook for 2021
A more laser focus on what can be controlled in a time when a lot of things are out of our control. Direct to consumer will continue as we know, via one to one and e-commerce, the sweating of owned assets will continue and more investment around the beautiful technology basics – better website analytics and more UX friendly apps will all help in a war where every touchpoint matters. In saying that, the clients that will win will understand that common sense is not that common. That emotional connection and trust is not built one-to-one – but via communications, big beautiful advertising! Get the beautiful basics humming, wrap around that consistent, relevant, distinctive, emotive and engaging work that builds trust and engagement in a time when trust is more eroded than ever. In 2021 we need to understand that creativity is not about technology alone – it’s the combination of art, science and commerce that will drive not just growth, but long-term sustainable growth.
WFH (will this continue?)
Firstly, I think the label ‘Working from Home’ is misleading and doesn’t highlight the opportunity. I talk to our teams, and people are looking for ‘more flexible working conditions’ which doesn’t always mean being at home. Some people might want to be in the office from 10 until 4 so they can manage their kids school runs, some might work mornings and home in the afternoon, and some might want to work as a group offsite or at a client office a few days a week. Common sense suggests that with technology we can work anywhere and with a higher sense of trust, people will do the work and maybe have a better approach to their tasks with a more positive outlook. In saying that, I know a lot of people miss the office and when everyone is back, I think things will return to some type of normality.
In the hail of technology clichés and buzzwords let’s never forget that creativity is what will really change consumers’ minds toward brands. The best definition of innovation I have seen is: "Creativity with Discipline." All technological innovation required creativity with discipline. Brand experience requires creativity and discipline, either through ideas or design. Anything that doesn’t fit this is merely a commoditised approach - and anyone can replicate it. How does one build out brand experiences at every touchpoint – even the most mundane ones – that’s the winning difference. Loads of little and yet impactful experiences builds a brand experience that is useful and memorable to people. Creativity is the platform that moves the human race forward and creativity today, through technological innovation, is helping us navigate one of the worst periods in our planet’s history. When it all turns to shit – it’s time to turn to creativity and we are in one of the best industries to drive and lead this – let’s get creative.
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