‘If technology is not part of the solution, it is part of the inspiration”
Jon Hamm, global CCO, Geometry Global, who visited India as a young man to travel across the nation and live like a hippie, talks to us about the importance of emerging markets, and what activation agencies need to do
When you joined Geometry Global in November 2014, you said you’re happy to join the company in the ‘golden age of creativity’... Why do you think this is the golden age of creativity?
When we as creative people get great briefs – they start with a problem. We don’t know the form that the solution is going to take. If you go back 20 years, the tools we as creatives had at our disposal were relatively formulae-led; we could do a TVC, print ad, an event. There was essentially a well defined set of tools. If you look at Cannes today, the solution to client’s problem takes many different forms – from product innovation, digital technology, content or whatever else it may be. So as a creative person it’s a very exciting space to be in. As a creative in the industry to conceive an idea in almost any form and then present that to a client in almost any form, is very interesting.
In a media report, your global CEO Steve Harding said ‘activation agency’ is jargon. And that it’s about inspiring people to buy. We are seeing digital agencies playing in the same space and also data-driven marketing companies. Where do you see an agency like Geometry Global coming into play?
Everything that clients want to do today is about creating something that makes people act or do something. Geometry Global is aligned to do just that. Whether it’s about inspiring people to buy or some other pivotal ideas (which is our creative philosophy), it’s about trying to create ideas which shape and change people’s behaviour. Whether that is digital, technology or physical, the form can change depending on the requirement. Every client in the world is faced with a situation where they have to translate communications and marketing into action, and be held responsible for it. We believe we are right at the front of that.
Is there a blurring of lines between what different genres of agencies do – is there a need to be differentiated?
The only reason for lines in an agency world is for clients to give you budgets. One of the things I hate in the business, are the terms we are given to define ourselves. They are based on how clients put budgets together. It’s ridiculous. We are problem-solvers, and that’s what good clients understand.
Sir Martin Sorrell speaks about collaboration. Is collaboration more critical in the case of an activation or response outfit?
My background before joining Geometry Global was digital. I am a very open source kind of guy. I think that good agencies need to approach it like that. There’s a very good friend of mine who is a famous mountaineer. He says climbing the mountain is the objective, at the end of the day. For me the bringing the idea to life and delivering it to the client is the objective. Doing that collaboratively with other agencies is not a problem and should be a part of our DNA.
Use of technology in activations has become a big thing. Do you have the creative technologists to work in-house or is in a collaboration model? How do you see this evolving in the future? Will we see more creative technologists within activation shops?
I was at a presentation recently on talent unicorns. Injecting technology into creative is the key. Full stop. And the big shift is clearly, that technology predominantly lived at the end of the process in the creative world. What’s happened with creative technologists is that technology has come forward in the process. At Geometry we are fully embracing technology sitting at the beginning of any conversation with the client. Even if technology is not part of the solution, I think it is part of the inspiration. An idea can come out of a technology thought even if it doesn’t have any technology element in its delivery.
How many people do you have globally - how many in Asia and India? How is this changing?
We have a core team strength of approximately 4,400. Out of this about 2,200 people are across the Asia-Pacific region. We also have more than 75,000 people in the region as promoters. Asia is a pretty significant market for us. We have big offices in India, Malaysia, China, Singapore and Vietnam. These are fully integrated offices which have a work force of the full skillset.
I reckon we are pretty balanced between our offices between Asia, Europe and North America. While the USA would be the largest market in terms of revenue, in terms of scale, Asian offices would be very strong. It’s a significant market for us and our clients.
Dubai won you a lot of awards at Cannes this year... India had the Lifebuoy Roti campaign... Are emerging markets more embracing of cut-through activation ideas?
(This interview was done before the agency returned its Grand Prix at Cannes amidst controversy.)
Dubai is doing really well with a piece of work that embraces old technology. The Lucky Iron Fish project is an amazing idea. It’s as old as time itself. It’s solving a problem in Cambodia about a lack of iron in the diet. Since a lot of them eat fish and rice, there is a lack of iron. The brief was to get people to consume more iron. So, if you put an actual brick of iron in the rice or water, consumers will get that. People weren’t doing it. So, we created a bar which looked like a fish.
Similarly, the Lifebuoy Roti Reminder too, was based on a simple technology idea about reminding people to clean their hands before eating. This is modern marketing and advertising. I come from a digital background and I don’t care about ideas being digitally inclined or stuff like that. It’s about doing stuff to be fresh and relevant.
Could you name some of the major campaigns done globally?
Along with the Lucky Iron Fish project, Dubai has had some major campaigns.
Handle on Hygiene (Dubai)
Research found that shopping trolley handles contain harmful germs including e.coli. Our team in Dubai developed an innovative device that applies Lifebuoy (Unilever) sanitiser across the handle before use. This has been implemented in Carrefour across the Middle East, increasing Lifebuoy sales by 53 per cent.
Back Off Radio (Dubai)
Tailgating is a huge cause of accidents globally. Back Off Radio worked with RTA (The Road and Traffics Authority in Dubai) to develop a device that, when fitted to vehicles, issues a message via the radio to tell the driver behind to back off if he approaches too closely. So far, 32,440 messages have been delivered, creating 360 million global media impressions. More importantly, there has been a 14.8 per cent drop in tailgating accidents (the first drop in four years).
The RGB News (Bucharest)
Romania has the lowest blood donation rate in Europe. In order to increase awareness of the issue, prime time news program Observator ran impactful reports with the red in the RGB colour mix removed. This ran alongside a major social media campaign, which removed the red color from Facebook profile photos. 14 million Romanians were reached, there was an 80 per cent increase in blood donations and 1.2 million euro in earned media. But, most importantly, the government raised 2015’s blood donation budget by 300 per cent.
LGBT Avatars (Prague)
Prague Pride developed a social network enabling people from countries where homosexuality is illegal/discriminated against to take part via another attendee. Content was encrypted to protect the user. Over a thousand LGBT Avatars marched in Prague Pride, sharing experiences, photos, videos etc with their counterparts in 22 other countries.
WWF Extinct (Copenhagen)
The problem of extinction is growing quicker than ever. But how could this issue be highlighted? We knew that cute animals are a huge hit on YouTube so we posted online videos with cute thumbnails and titles, but once you click on the link a message appeared reading ‘This content is no longer available due to the deforestation of the world’. We had nearly a million PR/Twitter reactions, 1.25 million media impressions, 230,000 DKK in free media.
Lion Fish (Colombia)
Back in the ‘90s, there was an aquarium in Florida which had Lion Fish. There was a hurricane which wiped out that aquarium and the fish escaped to the Caribbean Sea. They are not native to the Caribbean Sea and had proliferated and taken it over. They were destroying all the local fish and habitat. So our office in Colombia came up with a campaign that changed the way people saw Lion Fish. People didn’t fish Lion Fish. So, we got the Caribbean Fishing Community and restaurants, chefs etc to make it a commodity that people would want and put it on menus.
What would be the challenges Geometry Global is facing? Would it be common to other agencies?
I’ve come from one network, IPG (Momentum Worldwide) to WPP. Geometry is at the beginning of the journey and it is very exciting. The reason I joined was the opportunity it presents. The challenges that all agencies face are the same. Attracting and retaining talent is difficult. Getting clients to truly brief well is one more. Brief the problem and not the deliverable. In the nutshell, that’s the biggest problem that all agencies face.
(This article first appeared in the 10 July issue of Campaign India)