David Lubars explores advertising's 'next frontier'

BBDO's global chief creative officer says even in the age of "good, fast and cheap," those with the ideas will hold the key

David Lubars.
David Lubars.

David Lubars, chief creative officer, BBDO Worldwide, and chairman and chief creative officer, BBDO North America, was chairman of multiple juries at the Dubai Lynx International Festival of Creativity 2015. A day before delivering the 'President's Address' on the concluding day, he spoke with Campaign Middle East editor Gokul Krishnamoorthy. This article first appeared in Campaign Middle East. It was republished with editing in the April 3 issue of Campaign India.

From your vantage point as global CCO, how do you see creativity in different markets? What are the hot spots to look out for?

The world is getting really smaller, especially in our industry. It’s now one big global region – it doesn’t matter where you live.

So I can’t point to a region or two. There are great agencies everywhere and bad ones, too. I can’t say one dominates. There are more-mature regions – the US or Brazil or the UK. Those markets have been doing really great work for a long time. But we are seeing some really great work in the Middle East and in Asia.

Specific to the entries you are in the midst of judging … any of the categories that impressed you in particular?

We saw some great interactive work. In fact, that category was one of the most awarded. The work was smart and thoughtful.

As I said, there are no specialities by region anymore. Also, the young creative (everywhere) are all digital natives as opposed to immigrants. So people are very comfortable now with digital and that’s when you know a region has arrived – when it (digital) stops being something for specialists and becomes part of what a creative person and agency does. We’ve reached that point in the Middle East. 

You will be speaking on "Good.Fast.Cheap." at the festival. Could you elaborate?

Every 15 years or so, what the creative person is in the industry evolves. In the 1920s, awesome creative people had to understand what sound was. There was this new thing called radio. You had the same thing happen when the TV came into the world. Fifteen years ago, we saw digital come in.

Yes, the new creative is a copywriter and art director, but also a director, a film editor, a cameraperson, and more. I’m going to be speaking about "Good. Fast. Cheap." and how work today cannot be two of the three – it has to be good, fast and cheap. And then you will have to go and make a lot of stuff on your own. (On the other hand,) we will always use the big production companies to do those amazing things that they do. But a lot of the work that is needed constantly for digital and social, we will need to make it ourselves. You cannot constantly throw (big) money at it everyday. We will make big films, but this is a new kind of video.

It’s a very interesting frontier now for creative. It’s inexpensive, and maybe the way to test it is to just get it out there. Instead of testing, you experiment. For a creative person like me who has ADD and is easily bored, there are new and exciting things to figure out.

Is there a risk of agencies losing ownership of fast, cheap content, with everyone creating it? 

I have just told you about a lot of things that are changing. Here’s what isn’t changing, and it is never going to change – human beings respond to extraordinary storytelling. You just don’t wake up one day knowing how to do that. There’s so much discipline and rigour involved in that. There’s a process of reduction in creating a story that moves you or entertains you or makes you laugh, and makes the point for the client. An agency knows how to do that.

If you go back to recorded history, all the great things are storytelling. The books, the movies – all the things that people love and value are all storytelling. We have research, which proves that we need storytelling to break down complex information. 

Today, the products we are marketing are in a complex world, the media is complex. You need compelling stories that people can run with. And if they can feed back to the client, that’s just so much better.

A lot of people are attempting to tell these stories today, including media agencies that are building content teams, social media agencies specializing in videos …

That’s the beauty of social.

But a lot of the best videos online, come from agencies. A video, by the way, can be six seconds, or it could be an hour long. But it still needs to tell a great story.  

Is talent moving to digital companies a reality? If it is, is that a worry?

We’re finding that we are getting a lot of digital talent from those companies. They see us as a great place for storytelling, and they see the clients and through them platforms to get a lot of good stuff out there. We’re actually recruiting from a lot of the digital boutiques. That’s the way it’s going at least in my experience. 

All kinds of interesting people who were never part of an agency before are coming to agencies today. It’s exciting that we have those new people, are finding new ways to work, making things ourselves.

There’s only so much talent. Our goal at BBDO is to get the unfair share of the available talent.

Is there a conscious effort to recruit diverse talent at the agency?

It has been the effort over the last 15 years. It has always been there. It’s just kind of reaching a mass now. 

Data – is there more talk about data than there is implementation in the creative process?

Data is really good for understanding the roadmap. Someone had a great quote … "Data shouldn’t be rejected by anyone who has ever used a roadmap."

It’s insightful and useful, but in the end you have to inspire and light something in somebody. It can’t be that data overwhelms and there is no storytelling. Data is a useful roadmap to get the story to where it’s got to go. 

We’re seeing ads like the one for Snickers from BBDO getting adapted successfully for several other markets. But ads still do get lost "in translation" sometimes?

Translation has become important because the world is small. It wasn’t the case many years ago. 

The Snickers work broke in the US (five years ago, at the Super Bowl). People from the client side and the agency side said they wanted some of it too. It was just a common sense thing to see if it could work around the world. It worked because "You’re not you when you're hungry" is a universal human insight. Wherever in the world you may be, if you’re hungry, you are cranky. It could work in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Sydney or New York.

The idea is working in 83 countries. What I love about it is that it’s a global strategy but regional in execution. So it doesn’t seem like Americans just dropped something in each market. There’s one in China that uses a mythological character that I wouldn’t even know about. How would I have written that?

Take Guinness, which has a global strategy, "Made of more." It started off from the fact that the beer is made of more. It started to talk about how people who drink it are made of more.

In the case of Snickers, the characters are regional. With Guinness, the work is very different (in each market) but they still add up to that strategy. In Africa, we have "Black is not a color." That is very different from what runs in London or the US. But it all adds up to people of substance. 

There are different ways to do the regional bit — there is no single template.

Some of the best regional work not getting recognized at global shows – what is your take?

There are different reasons for that. One is that it is too regional and people don’t get the cultural nuance. The other thing is that not everything from a region is great enough to compete against the whole globe. Those need to be the very best. 

But that’s always been the case. There’s a lot of competition at a global awards show. Of maybe 25,000 entries, 200 win.

The Super Bowl commercials this year compared to some of the Christmas work from the UK; or even compared to Superbowl ads from previous years — there’s a view that the current set of commercials were not as "wow" as past Super Bowl work. Do you agree?

The Super Bowl is either the best deal you could ever have or the biggest waste of money you could ever have, based on what you put on it.  It’s a lot of money to buy that media. All you’re buying is an opportunity.

Every year, there are two or three things that pop out and everybody talks about. Then there’s a six months of spin and press on it. There’s incredible value. And then there are 75 other things that are not remembered, which have no value.

If I asked you to name the best year of Super Bowl ads, I bet you would not be able to recall more than three ads from that year. It’s just that the most recent ones don’t seem as good.   

Your take on proactive work and spam ...

Proactive work is good because you are giving clients work they didn’t ask for. I always believe an agency should be a chef, not a waiter. A waiter just takes orders.

Bringing new things to the client is good. But proactive is very different from scam. Spam, to me, is a terrible thing that happened to the industry. The desperation for awards corrupted the industry. Winning awards became more important than doing your job, which is, helping the client.

My approach to awards has been and remains that we should do something for our clients, something brilliant, and by the way, it also wins at awards.

Things are getting much better now.

Can juries really see through such work that are created for awards? Especially in categories like Print and OOH?

You can test it now. You can ask to see the media plan, speak with the client — things have become very diligent. 

What if it is released just once? It’s still legal. What about Posters?

It’s hard to do, but the good juries can see through them. Everybody understands the game. I would say we’ll see that kind of material win less and less.

Besides the constant correspondence with teams from around the world, what keeps you awake at night? 

There is no "finish" (point).

All our clients have amazing stories to tell. Our job is to reveal the truth; to get those stories out to people. And it’s magic. 

GE, for example, has underwater windmills that use the gravity of the moon to power themselves. That’s not some industrial story. That’s magic. We need to tell those stories so people fall in love with our clients; our job is to make sure that happens.

Branded content … With the divide between content and brands disappearing, could agencies look at full-time content production as an option?

We already did something for AT&T where BBDO was the co-producer of a miniseries, "Daybreak." At Fallon, besides the BMW films, we wanted to make a full-length movie – it didn’t happen eventually. 

A couple of weeks ago, "Modern Family" did something great with Apple. The whole episode takes place on a (character’s) laptop. At first you think this is such an obvious product placement. But at the end of it, it is so funny and well done, that you don’t really mind that. Entertainment married with product placement becomes something else.

Could that become a large part of what an agency does in future?

It could.

The "R" key work from Honda… I think it’s going to do very well in Cannes. As I said, an agency knows how to do it.

When I was on the BMW films, writing a six-minute film was very new for us. Six minutes seemed like six hours. I hired scriptwriters, and they couldn’t capture the brand. They could not seamlessly weave in the brand. So we ended up doing it ourselves.

It’s all gray and blurry now. But the people with the ideas are the ones who will win.



You have

[DAYS_LEFT] Days left

of your free trial

Subscribe now


Our new premium service offering bespoke monitoring reports for your company .

find out more

Become a member of Campaign

Get the latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to campaignlive.co.uk , plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a member

Looking for a new job?

Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

Create an Alert Now

Campaign AI

Our new premium service offering bespoke monitoring reports for your company

Find Out More