One big learning is that everything should be social. If your campaign is not being talked about, even if the piece is offline, you are not really resonating. Having said that, even consumers that really love your brand do not necessarily want to hear from you all the time
Fresh from the wins at Cannes Lions 2016, VML’s global CEO Jon Cook and global CCO Debbi Vandeven speak to BrandWagon’s Shinmin Bali about what it means to be a digital agency and how that really is different from being an advertising agency. Excerpts:
How do you view the traditional versus digital agency argument?
Debbi: In the US, we are past that discussion. Our success comes from looking at the human insight in the work. We look at the channel as a solution. When, at least in the US, a client says we need to work with a digital-first agency, they don’t mean that they are looking for an agency that just does digital. They look for an agency which has digital integrated seamlessly in its executions rather than treating digital with a separate mindset. At the end of it, every market is different in terms of what works for it.
Digital ad spends in the US are reported to surpass TV next year. What does this mean for digitally developed markets?
Jon: It is not that the clients are looking to be digital as much as they are looking to be accountable for what they do from a marketing standpoint. They have a consumer base that is growing in its need to understand the brands that they are choosing.
People are increasingly putting an emphasis on understanding the purpose of the brand. Digital is a way to really create engagement to know a brand. The market is switching to digital not just because people want to spend money on it but because there is a thirst from consumers to receive much more customised and personal communication.
How does the agency-client relationship in a digitally developed market grow from here?
Jon: On one level, the idea of hygiene or always-on is good for agencies because it creates an ongoing business relationship between the brand and the agency. But something like this can also lull you to sleep and make an agency feel tired or robotic if you get into too much of a groove. It is then the agency’s responsibility to not let hygiene become sterile and boring but to create fireworks along the way.
Debbi: As the social platform started growing in the US, we did see brands jumping in. They wanted to post more often, talk to consumers more often. We had to back that off a little bit because even consumers that really love your brand do not necessarily want to hear from you all the time. One big learning is that everything should be social. If your campaign is not being talked about, even if the piece is offline, you are not really resonating.
Are you seeing clients getting bolder with using platforms that they didn’t earlier, across markets?
Debbi: Yes, but it depends on which platforms make sense for that brand. The reason Snapchat was great for Gatorade was that they both had a teen audience. It wouldn’t make sense for everyone. In a market like India, TV leads but it will eventually start to change.
There would be a situation when clients will look at it holistically. In some cases in the US, you won’t even see the work on TV where the budgets have been cut from broadcast and diverted to digital. It is a great time in India to get clients on board. The market here is leapfrogging.
Jon: When one market is catching up with another, like say India is catching up with the US, even though the latter is ahead, we still look at India.
It allows us to relearn from a fundamental standpoint. When something you have already tried is coming into fruition in another market, there is so much you can learn in terms of understanding how to adapt to a new technology.
Which campaigns do you think are striking enough to wish VML had been a part of them?
Jon: I liked what REI did with #OptOutside for Black Friday where instead of promoting the shopping day they actually shut down on the day. It was an idea that went beyond the marketing of the product and changed something about the company’s behaviour. It was good to learn that sometimes it is not just about the words or designs we use — sometimes the best ideas are about changing the product or the game completely.
Debbi: McCann’s piece, The Field Trip to Mars, was great because everyone now is getting onboard with VR. This particular piece allowed VR to be experienced in a group setting so it makes you think whether this technology would make sense for any of your clients. Another one was ANZ’s #EqualFuture campaign. It took a group of kids, sets of brothers and sisters, had them do house chores but they paid the boys more. The campaign dealt with a serious topic in a lighthearted fashion. It was very relevant and good in the way it was handled.
How did the Gatorade Dunk campaign come about?
Debbi: We have had the client since
2008. The actual dunk is not just in Super Bowl but all major sporting events. For years now, we have been trying to get more people involved with the dunk. This year two athletes, JJ Watt and Cam Newton, both playing in the Super Bowl wanted to do something for the event. We could not advertise around it so that is how Gatorade Dunk came about. The team wanted to use Snapchat. It launched with Serena Williams and then we were surprised with the scale of reactions it got that whole day.
Jon: Sometimes a campaign makes a product better. That is the sign of a good thing. Sometimes product integration with a platform in the sense of just sponsoring something feels so incomplete but that day we made Snapchat a better place. We have started getting demands like, “Hey we want to do something big on Snapchat.”