“Christmas ads? A thing of the past”

What is the role of creativity in the age of expectation? Brand marketing still hinges on big creative ideas and moments – but does that match customer expectations?

“Christmas ads? A thing of the past”

“I am old enough to remember working with catalogues,” said Alvaro del Pozo, VP international marketing, Adobe.

“We worked to a six-week planning schedule. Now, my life with customers is always on. But the outcome hasn’t changed. Every single engagement must inspire trust. Customers are voting with their money and either moving away from or toward your brand.”

Del Pozo was speaking at a Campaign panel discussion in partnership with customer experience agency Merkle: ‘What is creativity’s role in the age of expectation?’. So what is the role of data, creativity and technology in trying to help brands navigate life beyond digital transformation? And what does the post-pandemic transformation of consumer expectations look like? 

“A lot of things haven’t changed [since the pandemic],” said Merkle’s president EMEA Margaret Wagner. “For instance, the expectations around what a customer wants from a brand – take the banking industry. In the old days, you’d walk into a branch, they’d know your name. They’d give you a lollipop. The whole nine yards. That expectation is still there, even in a digital environment. I want them to know my name and my transaction history. Customer service in the digital space is really hard. But we have to crack it. People want that connection with their brands and that authenticity.”

This insight inspired Diageo’s global head of beer, Baileys and Smirnoff, Mark Sandys. “Twenty-three years ago, I was the young assistant brand manager working in the Guinness team at the time when we made the Guinness Surfer film. The way we communicated to audiences back then was all on our terms. We chose the fastest way to reach the most people possible, by launching it in the Champions League semi-final, 1999. It is completely different to what it is today.” 

“Even though it’s still important – TV is the last thing we do. When we did our post-Covid welcome-back campaign, we did it first on our social channels, we trailed it with teasers and stills. It was about engaging and connecting with people. But even with those differences, it’s still about reaching loads of people; we know we grow when we get lots of people to drink just a little bit more Guinness. And most importantly, it was still about connecting with people through a big creative idea, just delivered in loads of different ways.”

The end of the big moment
“Things like Super Bowl and – as much as I love them – the big Christmas ads like John Lewis, they’re a thing of the past,” said Google’s Sireesha Baljepalli. “Honestly. How many 24-year-olds actually sit there and watch the whole Super Bowl? No one. It just goes on so long! When you think about brands like Starbucks, they don’t do Super Bowl – and they’re massive. There are so many ways to tap into the common consciousness now.”

“But it is still important,” said Sandys. “To find moments when the consumer says ‘wow’. We have this thing that we write on all our briefs: ‘OGCD’. That stands for ‘Only Guinness Could Do’. Whether we’re doing a big ad or a sponsorship or activation, if we do it in a way that another beer brand could do, it’s not good enough. And that keeps us trying to push our creativity. So that it does make the consumers sit up and say ‘wow’, even if it’s not in a Super Bowl moment.”

Infinite choice: find your empathy
Baljepalli talked consumers and creativity: “At Google, creativity in the age of expectation is something we have been grappling with for a while. The biggest thing is to ask what customers want from you in an age of infinite media and choice. 

“The only way to capture attention is to build empathy with the customer, so they have empathy with you. If that relationship doesn’t exist, something has gone wrong. We hear sometimes: ‘Oh well, you don’t need empathy when the relationship is a transaction, and it’s one click then it’s over.’ 

“Well, guess what? That’s actually an experience. There is tremendous value to that experience [buying online]. And if you don’t get it right, you lose [the customer] right away.”

“It’s a balance,” said TikTok’s Kinney Edwards. “There has to be a partnership between customer experience and creativity. The creative idea and its impact are so important. It’s what is going to drive people to be engaged and to take part and co-create. But at the same time, customer experience is a big part of that journey as well. 

He said that if you don’t get that right, people will find your brand hard – ”hard to get anything done – and will just walk away”.

“So, there is fantastic user-generated content out there,” said Wagner, “but if you’re really using the data and insight right, across all your audiences, you’ve got a good chance of engaging them. Is everything going to hit? No. But you need to make sure you’re there. If you’re there, the person can choose to click or not. If you’re not there, they don’t have that option.”

Could do better
If that’s the case, which brands aren’t getting right? Del Pozo cited airlines and the recent travel chaos as an example of a brand failing on a communication level – the airports don’t seem to talk to the airlines and the customer loses it. He fears that’s going to cause lasting damage to that industry.

To conclude, Wagner had some strident views about another big industry player: “I buy everything from Amazon but there are things even they could do better. There’s just so much more people could be doing with their data.”

The panel (pictured left to right): Maisie McCabe, UK editor of Campaign (chair), Alvaro del Pozo, VP international marketing, Adobe; Kinney Edwards, global head of creative lab, TikTok; Sireesha Baljepalli, director – global agencies, Google; Mark Sandys, global head of beer, Baileys and Smirnoff, Diageo; Margaret Wagner, president EMEA, Merkle.