Does Technology Make Creative More Intelligent?
A Recap of the Cannes Panel Hosted by SteelHouse
It’s hard enough to make an emotional connection between consumers and your brand given the best circumstances – high brand recognition, a captive targeted audience, time, and a variety of formats; but marketers are rarely afforded this environment. How can you use technology to make the most out of every opportunity to create an emotional connection with your audience?
SteelHouse set out to answer this question last week at Cannes Lions, hosting a panel on the Forum Stage titled, “Is Technology Making Creative More Intelligent?”
Led by SteelHouse President and CEO Mark Douglas, the panel included Global Chief Strategist for Publicis.Sapient Gaston Legorburu, CMO of The Hershey Company Peter Horst, and Jose Molla Founder and Co-Chief Creative Officer of the community. What followed was an intriguing discussion on how tech and creativity have formed a partnership that continues to evolve along with the industry.
To set the stage for the conversation, the panel started by discussing the true aims of advertising. While technology and creativity are important tools, they aren’t the end. Rather, the point of advertising is to evoke emotion and create a connection with the audience. “We advertise,” said Molla, “to build a story and connect people to a brand through storytelling.”
Mark then asked each panelist to present a piece of advertising that they felt was a prime example of storytelling at its best.
Peter Horst selected Hershey’s My Dad; “When this first came out, people kept coming up to me and saying how it tugged at their heartstrings,” said Horst. The ad generated a strong emotional reaction amongst the public, and with good reason. Featuring a young girl who goes through great lengths to get her father away from work, the ad touches on a thread that many working parents (and children of those parents) can identify with. And by tapping into that very relatable idea, and telling a compelling story along with it, it made for a memorable ad.
Jose Molla chose Verizon’s A Better Prepaid – rather than heartwarming, they went for laughs due to their target demographic: millennials. The challenge of the ad, Molla said, was to connect with a millennial audience in a way that would evoke positive emotions and make using a prepaid phone cool. The ultimate goal was to make a positive connection with them and the brand. And they did the job – the ad has been a smash success for Verizon; launching just over a week ago, the ad has over 4 million views already without any paid media behind it, showing that there’s something about young office workers dancing around a diner to the tune of Kelis’ Milkshake that really connects with an audience.
Gaston Legorburu picked Coca Cola’s Small World Machines, a work that was a bit different from the other two selections – instead of being a video, Legorburu’s selection focused on Coca Cola putting together an experience to connect people from India and Pakistan (two fierce geopolitical rivals) through interactive, video-enabled coke machines. This led to a heartwarming display of people from both sides of the screen dancing, singing, and playing along with one another. By letting people be people, Coca Cola told the story of how the things that unite us are stronger than what divides us. “The key here,” said Legorburu, “was creating an experience that people wanted to be involved with. By getting people active and engaged, you keep them from tuning out your message.”
An interesting point about each example is that they all focused on a different emotional theme – family, playfulness, togetherness – but were all equally effective in grabbing their audiences’ attention. By telling an interesting story in a compelling way, each ad was able to leave its mark.
Mark then shifted the focus to how technological innovation plays its part in the equation, asking the panel to answer the biggest question in the room: how can we use technology to create better creative? And not just better, but memorable enough to still be relevant one, two, or even five years later.
Legorburu was firm in that innovation through technology is important, but it shouldn’t get in the way of the ultimate goal – forming an emotional connection with your audience. Instead, it should be used to enhance marketers’ storytelling. “Technology is an incredible tool,” he said, “but ultimately our job is to use it to make creative more engaging.”
As an example, he cited a billboard from British Airways, where an engaging and clever message drew attention while impressive tech powered the ad behind the scenes. It is the perfect example of leveraging technology to take such a traditional advertising space such as a billboard to a whole new level. He also cited Infiniti’s Deja View, an interactive short film that allowed viewers to speak directly to the characters in the film and actually influence the story. The viewer would provide their phone number, and then receive a call from the character asking for directions on what their next move should be. Amazingly, with the use of Siri-like AI, the character would then take their cues from the viewer’s instructions, moving the plot along. This, said Legorburu, is technology improving the ability to tell a story.
Molla agreed with the sentiment, saying that technology can be a bit distracting if it is not used in the right way, and that it needs to be combined with the human element for it to be truly effective. “We should embrace innovation, but the human mind and relationships haven’t changed in thousands of years,” he said. He then pointed to Nivea’s sunburn doll, which taught children and parents the immediate consequences of going without sunscreen. The doll, which itself was an impressive and stylish piece of tech, shows a sunburn in real time, teaching kids why it’s so important to wear sunscreen. The idea that they started with was to teach kids about sunscreen, said Molla, but the production and application of the idea in the form of the doll was what truly set the campaign apart – a perfectly clear way of showing cause and effect, and how Nivea could help.
THE POWER OF PEOPLE
Having established technology’s importance and role in the creative process, they then shifted to the key ingredient – the people involved. Mark began the discussion by asking how it is possible to instill change in larger, corporate companies – how does someone become an entrepreneur within their own company, have an impact, and get people thinking?
One of the current issues, Molla responded, was the industry has become too insular. People are recruited in the ad industry based on experience – which on the surface makes sense – but results in a self-contained echo chamber that only produces the same ideas. The fact of the matter is it’s harder to get people with set experience to expand their horizons and try something new. Bringing in creative people (or “weird people,” as Molla phrased it) from outside of the industry helps bring fresh perspectives; Uber, for example, wasn’t created by taxi drivers but instead outsiders – two guys who were stuck on the side of the road and couldn’t get a cab – who saw a better way of transporting people. Vice was another example discussed, which publishes some of the world’s most engaging reporting by not actually employing traditional journalists.
Molla finished his point by stating that while hiring “weird outsiders” might not make sense in the short term, it’s vital to driving long-term creative growth for the industry; “Hire the people that are going to create the change that is needed to grow your company.”
THE RIGHT BALANCE
The group also emphasized the importance of chemistry and having the right mix of staff. It’s key to have creatives and brand managers that aren’t necessarily technologists, said Horst, but are still data savvy so they understand how tech can play a part. You then need a strong partnership with the tech-savvy side of the business (who also understands how creativity is key) to help spur innovation.
The same can be said of the agency and brand relationship. “We look to agencies to push and pull our team, to challenge us with digital,” Horst said, “And we look to do the same with them.” While it’s true that his brand is asking the majority of the questions when it comes to creativity, Horst ensures his team understands the mix of elements that go into strong creative. When teams with different perspectives can come together and understand one another’s point of view, you produce an environment where an idea can originate on one side of the relationship and evolve with input from the other. And in the end, you have an engaging, effective piece of creative.
Legorburu expanded on this idea, saying you not only need the right mix of people, but also the right elements. “There are two dimensions,” said Legorburu, “Craft, and creativity.” In this instance, craft refers to the logistics of creating effective campaigns; coming up with core strategies, ideas that are multi-dimensional, and can compete with the best of the business. Creativity, on the other hand, is even more important as a differentiator– if an audience can see themselves as part of your story, then the creativity compliments your craft and overall strategy.
THE INDUSTRY IS LEARNING
Thankfully, there’s an emerging understanding in the industry that there needs to be a balance and understanding between creative and tech teams. Legorburu cited CMTO University to illustrate the push for a more harmonious and streamlined level of understanding between tech and creative teams. The concept is to teach marketers about technology and technologists about marketing and by doing so, says Legorburu, everyone will better understand the role they play, how to better build their product, and how they connect to those around them.
As marketing and digital advertising continue to evolve, so too must the industries’ understanding of how best to pair the innovation of tech with the human element of creativity. The panel wrapped up with some key takeaways regarding how we as an industry should proceed with the marriage of creativity and technology:
Gaston Legorburu: The key to advertising is storytelling; sharing events with words, images, sound, and experiences. Most importantly, emphasize your creative by using a lot of embellishment, and make it interactive.
Jose Molla: It is incredibly important we embrace innovation. The key, however, is not to get distracted and carried away with tech, but rather balance creativity and technology in a way that enhances our storytelling. And importantly, hire people that see life differently than you. Don’t hire based on the needs you have but rather on the agency you want to have.
Peter Horst: In a decentralized, tech-driven marketing ecosystem, we need more than ever to stay laser-focused on one common brand truth.
So does technology make creative more intelligent? The answer is yes, but only if it’s used in the right way. As long as technology enhances the stories we tell, and opens new possibilities for storytelling, it will bring out the best in creativity.