Jose Miguel Sokoloff, president, Mullen Lowe Group global creative council, on day three of Ad Stars 2015, spoke on ‘My Time in Advertising’. His agency’s work in Colombia remained the highlight of the session. Citing particular campaigns, Sokoloff took the audience through the possibilities of what could be achieved through advertising – apart it being a tool for hard-selling.
‘Force is a short-term solution’
One of the tactic the agency head advised creatives to do away with was the use of force. He noted, “Force is a short-term solution. Hard sell is not as powerful as soft power. If you use force, you never change anything. If you force somebody to do something, they'll do it just while they're being watched. You have to convince them by being soft, by being intelligent, by being clever. Never by being forceful.”
In support of his line of argument, he cited ‘Nazis against Nazis’ as an example of an initiative that tries to address an issue without being forceful. “This is a case of our agency in Germany. I think it’s one of the most brilliant ways to solve something without using force.”
The takeaway here, he said, was to never underestimate anything or anybody. “Brand, any small brand, could give you a huge surprise and a run for your money. He who has the best idea will win. That is the truth and some of the biggest brands of the world recognise it.”
Another example he cited was of Ducoco, a Brazilian food and beverage manufacturing company, advertising its coconut water product with simplicity and going up against the global soft drink giants in the market.
“This is an idea for Brazil, for a coconut water drink. I think it is brilliant in terms of strategy and it is also great in terms of ideas. It has now become the biggest selling coconut water in Brazil and it will probably be sold to one of the big companies. Because those soft drink companies are scared, because they (Ducoco) had this simple, powerful idea.”
Sokoloff’s session was on 22 August, a day when reports of rising tensions between North and South Korea were being updated by the hour. The news reports to the speaker seemed 'oddly familiar' and he explained why.
“I was trying to understand the news this morning (with what is happening with your neighbors) and it felt strangely familiar -- with reference to situation of Colombia. We need to do something useful with the tools we have. We need to do something to change things. Our first approach was to ask if we can do something about it. Can we do better, use your (Colombian Ministry Of Defence) brand to send a message and stop this civil war? And they said yes,” he explained.
Mullen Lowe’s challenge now to speak on behalf of the Colombian ministry of defence and to the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC).
“The government asked us if we could come up with some communication strategy to try to pull them (insurgents) out of combat and back into civil society,” he recounted.
He mentioned how interactions with demobilised insurgents made them realise that the insurgents felt as much a prisoner of their organisation as the people they held hostage. “They come here looking for greatness and liberation but what they find that at best they do nothing. They can't fall in love, they can’t move, they can't go home, they can't be with family for Christmas. And, Christmas turned out to be one of the fundamental turning points of their mobilisation campaign because for Columbians, Christmas is a time to be with family at home.”
Image courtesy: The Chamber of Commerce Serving Lexington, Rockbridge County, and Buena Vista
The March Against FARC, in 2008, was something of a turning point in the ministry and agency’s efforts to address the issue. “This was a march that was held in Colombia asking FARC to stop fighting and as you can see it was enormous. This is when FARC started to feel that they probably were not as representative of the people’s needs as they told they were and that they probably were not doing as much as they had been led to believe. So, this opened up the opportunity to have a conversation and one of the first big projects was the following.”
Operation Christmas for Colombian Ministry Of Defence
Operation Rivers of Light Colombian Ministry Of Defence
“We got very encouraged to do more things and many things have happened since then. This changed some mindsets. It was not about ‘How are we going to get out?’ but more about ‘When I get out and this war is over will I get to go back home?’, ‘Will I be able to grow?’, ‘Will I be able to be a part of the country?’ And in doing that we looked for mothers of the guerillas to share their stories and pictures of their children in order to try to lead them back home,” elaborated Sokoloff.
The agency’s aim in running the initiative was to show that ‘everything takes time and anything can be done’. “We have the tools to change things and to help resolve conflicts, to help change society, to help achieve peace. Everything I have, I have it because of advertising and I want to give back what I can.”
Sokoloff’s and the agency’s job wasn’t done to just create a campaign to address a rather sensitive issue such as this. At some level, both him and the agency do become the objects of FARC’s radical thoughts.
He surmised, “Since the time I’ve been here (Busan), I have received five or six different messages from the rebellion. Some of them insulting me, some of them calling me a biased counter-insurgent and you know what, I’m not going to stop doing what I am and our agency is not going to stop trying to end the war in Colombia and to find peace. We need to be conscious that everything we do can change the world.”
(The journalist was in Busan on the invitation of Ad Stars and hosted by organisers.)