Not just business as usual: the new creative imperative
A view from Ian Priest

Not just business as usual: the new creative imperative

As technology drives new forms of communication, marketers and agencies need to diversify into different areas of creativity if they are to stay relevant, says IPA President Ian Priest. And diversification is as much a state of mind as it is a practice, requiring experimentation, collaboration and open minds.

We all know how rapidly marketers’ jobs are changing. The chief marketing officer (CMO) of the future will likely be an amalgam of three roles: chief creative officer, chief technology officer and chief information officer.

In tandem, the role of marketing will stretch and grow still further. Innovation and R&D can be led by marketing thinking; as data becomes more customer-centric and real-time responsive, so it is becoming central to marketing; and the way consumers seek out content and experience is demanding new forms of creativity that can come from anywhere.

As Hamish Priest, head of global innovations and partnerships for Unilever’s Dove, puts it: "New ways of working are the norm."

Part of the new norm is about collaboration and partnership – whether with creative suppliers from film or music, technologists, or data and insight providers. It’s also about room to experiment.

Priest was speaking at the Diversification Adaptathon, which combined debate with a series of AdaptLabs exploring different aspects of diversification:

  • Working with tech start-ups at The Bakery.
  • Understanding creative processes, whether game shows, feature films or experience design, at The Imagination Gallery.
  • Turning data into insight and action with Google.

One exciting thing about the Labs was the profile of attendees: young and from across the industry, representing a range of disciplines – creative, digital, media, planning, data and insight.

What does brand diversification look like?

It can take many forms. As Priest puts it: "We have to diversify our content to reflect what consumers want and how they behave."

  • Go deeper to build more emotional ties. Dove’s "Real Beauty" sketches or VW’s Abbey Road sessions show the role that longer-form content can play; at Diageo, the immersive nature of the Guinness Storehouse experience had a transformational effect on the brand; and Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO made "doing" part of the "giving" with its "Print Happiness" campaign for Kids Company.
  • Create social and cultural context. Unilever analysis of search data showed no single brand owned the hair space. It acted as a category owner by aggregating content from brands and bloggers on a site called All Things Hair. Doritos went from spotting the YouTube screaming goat meme to Super Bowl slot in weeks.
  • Agility matters, perfection doesn’t. Unilever’s mantra includes the following rules: the first week matters, so act fast; do something new every day; it’s better to be fast than perfect.
  • Have a distribution budget. Content that no one sees is like "building a cathedral in the desert".

Distribution is as important as the content, says MediaCom Beyond Advertising’s Nick Cohen. C4 and Spotify were built into MediaCom’s VW Abbey Road plan.

  • Be first, be different. Brands can win from being innovators. BMW harnessed innovative artificial intelligence technology to launch an innovative brand – its eco car. Game show Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? used lighting and music differently.

Action, not words

How do you start to turn talk about diversification into action? Broadly, there are three things the industry needs to do.

1 Adopt an investment mentality, shifting the horizon to three to five years, not one. Coca-Cola’s 70:20:10 approach requires that 30% of budgets and 50% of time are spent on non-traditional activities. Under (former CEO) Paul Walsh, Diageo had a fund that brands could tap into for unplanned, transforma­tional activity, providing they could demonstr­ate a cash-positive return in three years.

This approach allows for greater risk and experimentation, giving brands and agencies space to move away from the current one-year planning and buying cycle that doesn’t necessarily work for new ideas such as content.

Lean Mean Fighting Machine’s Handyby­Flora web app was funded – with no guarantee that it would work – by a client who stumped up the cash in six monthly instalments to develop the technology.

Jeremy Basset, Unilever’s global marketing strategy and new ventures director, characterises this as "affordable experimen­tation". He adds: "We can risk a £50,000 innovation budget in a way that we can’t risk a £10m media one."

2 Change the briefing approach. Traditional ones – which specify spot lengths, channels or platforms – are claustrophobic and don’t encourage innovation. New-style briefs need to be open and encourage latitude. The Dove "Real Beauty" brief, for example, was simplicity itself: "Let’s make women feel more beautiful."

3 Explore opportunities for creative alchemy. The "networked" age allows talent to blend in ways not possible before. At the same time, new forms of marketing communication require different skill-sets: journalists, film-makers, games experts, architects, technolo­gists, YouTube channel creators, social talent or data specialists.

Agencies, which have always brokered "talent", can play a critical role here on a wider stage by facilitating cross-collaboration.

The IPA can play a role by providing inspiration sessions with other creative industries, case histories, databases of talent pools or simply by connecting different creative industries.

Where agencies fit in

Sceptics might ask where agencies fit in this new, networked world in which creativity takes different forms. The answer is: right at the centre. They have brand credentials and understand how big ideas align with brand narratives and values.

Unilever’s Priest puts it succinctly: "Agencies are critical because they understand our brands better than anyone else."

For Vizeum managing partner Piers Taylor, agencies play a key role in project-managing tech innovation and act as interpreter between client and tech companies. That doesn’t mean agencies can sit on their laurels. They have to innovate in how they work, be prepared to share in risk-and-reward models, and open up to new networks of talent. Working with new talent also means that they should focus more on strategy and less on execution.

What next?

The challenge is now with the IPA to move the Diversification strand on. This means:

  • Creating a marketplace for blended learning and inspiration.
  • Working with The Bakery, agencies and clients to take a tech-based brief to market within 100 days.
  • Providing a hub ( and LinkedIn group, and using #ipadapt on Twitter, to share experiences.

Marketers and agencies can participate by:

  • Finding creatives outside your normal network to inspire your thinking, and, where possible, sharing that.
  • Using online data analysis tools such as Google to experiment with data and insight, and sharing the findings.
  • Reframing creative briefs into diversified executions to experiment with. For example, long-form content, experience design, content curation and aggregation or game shows.
  • Developing an "investment mentality" that you can share at the Performance Adaptathon in July.