David Blecken
Jun 19, 2013

Cannes 2013: Storytelling is overrated: RGA

senior representatives from RGA presentes the case for technology-led marketing, and explained why chief marketing officers (CMO) and chief information officers (CIO) still fail to see eye-to-eye.

L-R: Law, Youssef
L-R: Law, Youssef

Nick Law, the company’s global chief creative officer, said he believed it was now necessary to look beyond the CMO to achieve real marketing effectiveness. He noted that while technology continued to change the world of marketing, CMOs and their technological counterparts did not work closely enough together and were still “culturally very different”.

A major part of the agency’s role, according to Ameer Youssef, managing director of RGA Sydney, has come to be brokering conversations between the two disparate parties. Law pointed to an “enormous level of suspicion” that prevented an effective partnership. Marketers, he said, still typically think more in terms of narrative, whereas those with a technology background tend to think more systematically.

“I don’t think that Silicon Valley trusts [marketers],” he said. “There is a feeling that what they do is superficial. On the other side, Madison Avenue can’t believe that tech people can understand the brand. It’s mirrored on the client side.”

He criticised what he described as a “sentimental attachment to the [Bill] Bernbach world” and an overriding passion for “great emotional stories” in the advertising industry. Such TV-based thinking, he said, was out of touch with the present; the emphasis on storytelling over technology “completely wrong”.

“The reality is that TV was efficient, but each marketing revolution is pushed by efficiency as much as creativity,” he said, stating that Google had most likely become the world’s largest advertising platform in the interim.

A problem common to creative agencies, he said, was the tendency to hire people based on their ability to craft stories and to rely too heavily on external partners and outsource digital execution. “I would argue that in the future, agencies will become better at systematic thinking and start to outsource storytelling. [Now,] people are just coming up with the narrative idea and putting it into pixels. It’s a misuse of the system and I believe the model will flip.” While not dismissing the value of storytelling entirely, he called for a “balance between stories and systems”.

Experience gap

A further issue, highlighted by Youssef, was an apparent disregard for experience design in the creative process, which Law referred to as “the biggest blind spot in our industry”. He explained that creative work too often ended up hidden behind a poorly-designed interface and ultimately wasted. “[Traditional] designers think they can do it by concentrating on simplicity and clarity, but there’s a science to it,” Youssef said.

While hiring technically minded people is a start, it would not appear to be the solution. A creative technologist will have little impact on an agency if the structure is not there to support them.

“People often think it’s just a question of making one or two key hires,” Youssef said. “It’s not as simple. To do it right takes a whole number of people, and cultural shift. If you just hire tech people and don’t change the way you work, you’re going to have an internal culture clash.” Changing threatens a legacy, but it is necessary if the industry is to avoid squandering an opportunity, Law said. Alternatively, demands will be met by companies outside the advertising sphere.

“Either the ad industry figures out how to help, or it becomes a much smaller part of a larger budget—a spoke that can’t lead brands in the way they used to,” he said.

At the same time, marketers need to make a more convincing shift away from building awareness and towards offering utility. This also requires a quite different operating model, according to Youssef. Rather than putting the onus on marketing departments to put out a message, companies need to align themselves internally to fulfil marketing objectives. That is also difficult to set in motion.

“If you unify marketing across a whole company, there is always the possibility that positions will become redundant,” Youssef said. “Companies know it’s necessary; they just don’t know how to pull it off.”


This article first appeared on Campaign Aisa

‘Catch live updates from the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity at www.campaignatcannes.com’.

Campaign India

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