Nerds and Words

International Advertising Association Global Conference Creativity 4 Better, Bucharest 2019

Creativity 4 Better: today’s advertising in a nutshell

I spent 9 hours at Creativity 4 Better writing until my hand fell off, so you wouldn’t have to.


This would’ve been my go-to title if I were to write for Vice. But I enjoyed every moment of it, so why make it sound like a torture? The advertising world is a fascinating place and I had the chance to get some tips and tricks from some of the best professionals. It couldn’t have gotten any better!


We speak about „creative people”, creativity and the creative industry so many often that their significance has somewhat diminished. Try taking a random word and repeat it loudly about 20 times in a row. You zone out about halfway through, right? I know for sure that after the fourth or fifth time, that word doesn’t make any sense to anyone anymore—it begins to sound weird and strange…


The same thing happens at the core of advertising. Take the name of a type of creativity in vain and you may as well start thinking of changing your profession. These past few days, the IAA’s Creativity 4 Better global conference took place. And I wasn’t left feeling confused but rather inspired and… stuffed (their catering was pretty good—they know we don’t function well on an empty stomach).


We talked a lot about innovation, purpose and the power of suggestion. We enjoyed listening to fine speakers and cool ideas that put into perspective everything we thought we knew about marketing and advertising. If you were really looking forward to being there but missed it for some reason, don’t worry- we’ve got you covered. Some Nerd was there relentlessly taking notes, just like a university freshman.


And since an extra source of inspiration is always welcome, I’ll also add the videos they showed—you never know where the next big idea is going to come from. There are going to be lots of things you’ve probably already thought about, maybe framed a bit differently. But you’re going to discover plenty of new things as well, so if you can make it through, your patience shall be repaid tenfold.


So let’s put those wheels in motion!


Advertising: the more you do it, the luckier you get – Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman of Ogilvy UK


Rory is a restless hunter of subtle opportunities opened by consumer behavior. That is, he likes to play with words and concepts until he finds the sweet spot and manages to show us how small contextual changes can bring about more than an entire campaign. Before the conference, he dropped by Carturesti too, to present his latest book: Alchemy: The Surprising Power of Ideas That Don’t Make Sense.


Right from the start, he told us marketing was not a small extra „something”, some magical sauce you can apply to your product to make it more appetizing in the eyes of the consumers (there is indeed some magical sauce on the internet – it’s a Cambridge project that can create your psychological profile based on the digital footprint you leave behind; give it a try, you may be surprised).


In his opinion, turning advertising into science, into soulless engineering or pure economics is the biggest mistake one can make. Which is quite obvious, if we think about it: classical economic theories take into account the ideal consumer, who only makes rational choices and always chooses the cheapest product to maximize his/her benefits.


The problem of the average values


While thinking mathematically and scientifically about marketing is very tempting, it’s important not to leave the human factor out of the equation. Trying to solve a problem with respect to a certain average (average age, social category, interests or whatever), instead of an individual is one problematic faux pas. Why? Because averages make the whole look much better than it actually is, by taking the individual out of the equation. Let’s take road accidents, for example. Statistics show that their number has decreased, which is a good thing, right?


Wrong. Because on average, fewer people die but the fact is… people are still dying. And each of them has a name, a family, a story to tell. If we start seeing things from this perspective, we realize that the whole picture isn’t that pretty.



We analyze, we measure the opportunity cost, we make cuts everywhere (even where we aren’t supposed to), we adjust budgets… In short, we hinder creativity. And Rory gives us the following example in support of his claims: fame.


If you knew you could become famous, except you don’t have all the data to help you predict the actual outcome, you can’t determine how long it would take you to reach your „goal”… Would you turn it down for good? No, because that would mean missing out on an opportunity.


Why wouldn’t we look at things the same way when it comes to an amazing idea? It’s all about those double standards. We measure the opportunity cost of a particular creative concept… But who is measuring the opportunity cost of reason or of rational decisions? Sometimes you have to trust your instinct or your guts, even if the numbers don’t seem to be on your side.


It’s important to correctly contextualize and not to completely eliminate the human factor from the discussion. Not to give up on the „whimsical” variables: the individuals we address, their perceptions, what they consider to be valuable, what makes them feel emotion, their mindset and- why not?- what makes them different. It is still science but with a touch of magic.


Towards the end, he also gave us something for those who like to take down advertisers. If you know someone who truly believes that marketing is not as intrinsically linked to value creation as the actual process of product development… Tell them that Rory asked them to watch The Ed Sheeran $2 Peep Show Experiment (or how to ruin a good product with bad marketing):



And finally, I’m leaving you with a video of Rory talking about the ten commandments of free thought that will help you unleash your creativity within your business:


Happiness is the ultimate rebellion – Geoffrey Hantson, Chief Creative Officer, Happiness


Geoffrey talked about happiness, as was implied by the name of the agency he works for.


The Happiness people have a zero-creativity waste policy, which means keeping your „creative people” as far as possible from planning and administrative tasks so as to give them more time to unleash their imagination. They removed the proverbial out-of-the-box thinking you are supposed to embrace as the innovative advertiser that you are. Instead, they replaced it with the „out of the blue” concept. Because good things happen when you least expect it, not necessarily when you push them to occur sooner.


He also explained how important it is not to instantly reject those who are less tech-savvy. They’re the ones not aware of the limits, thus breaking them and coming up with the most creative solutions. He himself is not the most talented “digital native” around, which is exactly what helped him create unique campaigns.


One glorious example is the advertisement for Voo Telekom, a company providing broadband Internet connections in Belgium. Geoffrey noticed that buffering wheel from Hell. It appears when you least expect it, at the point where you’re already too engaged in the content you’re streaming. You really want to watch that video but the Internet is just too slow. What a bummer!


Obviously, the most convenient moment to tackle the issue (and place a small piece of advertising) is the exact moment people experience this kind of frustration. At first, he was told it wasn’t possible but he never gave up until he found the person to help him do exactly what he wanted. And it all resulted in this (spoiler-alert- „the impossible” was just one code line away):



In an awareness campaign, he came up with this simple, yet powerful idea: turning text messages we sent from behind the wheel into highway meters. This was aimed to prove just how long we are driving without paying attention to the road. Pretty hard to implement, right? And yet, they managed to set up Blind Meters, a project that works like this:



This week, a campaign for a bot that keeps drug dealers busy is about to be launched. In Belgium, dealers have complete databases available, with contact details of buyers or potential buyers. And they target with a weird kind of advertisement, promoting their “drug deals”, as weird as this may seem.


Since the police can’t do much, the Happiness people joined a team of programmers who created a bot that can engage dealers in endless conversations. It takes the form of fictitious profiles of non-existent customers in order to pack their database with fake phone numbers. At this point, it is virtually impossible for them to tell which customer is real and which is not. Keep an eye on their Youtube channel and you’ll see for yourselves—it’s worth it.


The conclusion was that we should build a culture of creativity rather than leaving this „task” to the specialized departments. More and more campaigns are based on interdisciplinarity, so any view from the outside is more than welcome, as it can bring something unique. He gave us this advice before leaving:


Grow in greatness. Numbers will follow.


Creativity built for people – Ginevra Capece Galeota, Global creative strategist @ Facebook


How can we talk about innovation without inviting Facebook to the party? Obviously, they sent their emissary. Ginevra explained the way people want to consume content and what kind of experience they are seeking online.


Yep, you guessed right—it’s all about AR and VR. We are scrolling each day through blocks of text, sometimes interrupted by relevant or not-so-relevant images. Apparently, we scroll down through 90 meters of content on Facebook each day. To give you an idea, the Statue of Liberty is around the same height. This may be a bit of an issue.


Also, our attention span is decreasing each year, ever since the switch to digital. Marketers have to fight for each fraction of a second of the consumer’s attention span. This has proved to be a particularly difficult endeavor in a context where each platform user acts as both a content creator and curator of their newsfeed.


I know you’ve already learned your lesson: create relevant content and present it in a way that captivates users. Make them interact with it one way or another. It may have felt like you’ve got it right, with videos becoming the cornerstone of social media communication… But there’s a shift in the paradigm right around the corner, given our appetite for augmented reality.


This can mean creating AR filters on stories for your new campaigns or even VR presentation videos.  For example, by creating Sideflix, Tommy Hilfiger managed to restore sociability to online shopping. This is an experience that comes to life through Facebook Messenger: the more friends you bring, the more complex fashion experiences you unlock.


Moreover, once you infiltrate the backstage of the fashion shows, links to the products presented will pop up so you can buy them in real-time. Here’s what this alternative glimpse into the Hilfiger world looks like:



Everywhere you look, you can see augmented reality gaining momentum. It’s even becoming a must-have cultural accessory: the Tate Museum or, for Romanians, the Recent Art Museum or One Night Gallery, are already using it to offer visitors a more stimulating visual experience. Therefore, it’s time to think about how to make advertising more relevant and attractive to a public feeding on alternative experiences and innovation.


The Brave New World – Nüzhet Algüneş, TBWA


If content is king, data and distribution are its queens.


Nüzhet tried to frighten us a bit, to knock some sense into our heads. He recommended „We Live In Public”, a documentary resembling an Orwellian movie. It follows the visionary Josh Harris all the way through his project inspired by The Truman Show. He also mentioned that infamous episode of Black Mirror in which the world is governed through a social-media-imposed rating system. All this in order to present us with the pessimistic view of the future of a world governed by big data.


But things are not always as bad as they seem. Far from turning the mass of users into a homogenous group, big data means placing more emphasis on what makes them unique. We are already talking about Industry 4.0 and it won’t be long before we’ll be talking about Media 4.0 as well. Increasingly powerful and more intelligent algorithms will be empowering consumers even further, their personal preferences becoming more important than ever.


Therefore, understanding the mindset of the people we are addressing is essential, so we can invest our efforts wisely and to engage in the type of advertising products to which each segment is more likely to respond.


There was also a discussion around the new primetime – traffic jams that force you to look out your car window towards colorful billboards or to the phone, to even more user-friendly and interactive ads. Knowing how to strategically place your advertising message so that it can reach as many people as possible is the key to future business.


So where lies the creativity amongst all these numbers and accurate data? It’s in what you do, in your brand’s DNA, in the things you do passionately, in what you give back to the world.


The golden rules of marketing – Bruno Bertelli, Global Chief Creative Officer @ Publicis Worldwide


Bruno took the discussion about a brand’s DNA and its tone of voice one step further. And he summed everything up in 4 simple ideas.


Data is indeed king. It helps you optimize your efforts, precisely target your ideal customers. It covers virtually everything related to efficiency. But if we are to discuss efficacy…that’s a whole different story. Efficacy is about creating new consumers ex nihilo— and for that, you need the courage to do stand out in an ocean of conformity. To do things differently in a world where everybody plays by the rules.


An example? Make fun of yourself, if you believe this will bring people closer to you. Whenever you do something different, you spark an emotion which is vital in marketing. This is what makes you different in consumers’ eyes. To get a better idea about what I’m talking about, take a look at this Deisel video (nope, that’s not a typo), an original… knock-off:



Put consumers in the spotlight. When defining a brand’s DNA, you must first think about the people the brand is addressing and adapt your communication strategy to the trends your segments deem relevant.


That is, find out who you are first of all and then follow your customer. Diesel, for instance, understood that hate speech is a very important issue these days. Next, they estimated that they could somehow try to fight this phenomenon in order to reach potential customers. To put it shortly: find a cause you believe in and associate yourself with it.



Make use of social media to project that „perfect” image. Well, okay, not exactly. Because that is a trap the internet wants us to fall into. We feel like we are enjoying more freedom than ever but we still manage to fall for compliance, doing what everyone else is doing.



We strive for perfection and seek to only choose what’s perfect. In such a world crushed by perfectionist consumerism, choose to be different. Embrace whatever it is that distinguishes you from the others. Playing by rules set by others is the biggest mistake you can make. If the major players in advertising actually played by the rules, would we still have brand equity, brand purpose or brand behavior? Not really.



Work closely with the advertising agency and the „creative people”. But not too close. Keep a safe distance so that you can be asked questions, challenged. Don’t go full in into the advertising production process, that is their job. You just find your mission and your vision but stay flexible enough to be open to new ideas and opportunities.


And here are the rules to follow when you don’t want to play by the rules. Yet another paradox of advertising.


The Devil Wears GAFA – Jacques Séguéla, RSCG Founder, Le monstre sacré de la pub française


For all the „creative people” out there, when snow melts it becomes “Spring”, not water.


Séguéla is 85 years old and he’s got a lot of stories about the fascinating world of advertising. He used to be Mitterrand‘s campaign manager, he worked with Citroën for a long time, he lived and did most of the things we only dream of, so listening to him was a real pleasure.


He was by far the best performer rocking the stage at the conference. And the most skeptical about algorithms and big data, as well. Hence, „The Devil Wears GAFA” (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple), the title of his newest book, only available in French so far.


He came to tell us not to let the digital seize us and suck the creativity out of us. His main purpose was to remind us of our mission, in a world where creative thinking, of a humanist nature, seems outdated. Reassuringly enough, no matter how good algorithms may get, they will never be able to replace our passion and originality in a commercial. And if artificial intelligence were to speak, it would probably say something like this:



He then took us on a trip through today’s and yesterday’s advertising, constantly underlining what our goal is. To play with ideas and concepts, to be bold, to always take an idea one step further, to believe in what we do and to do it for those around us, not for ourselves. Let us always remember to think about the social responsibility that comes with the other perks of our profession.


The French have their own take on advertising, an approach imprinted with sensuality and exploring people’s innermost desires. He presented us with this very kind of commercials. Commercials that tell stories in a funny way. Commercials that are as sentimental as possible. I’m leaving some here so that we can stretch our legs a bit and breathe after such a serious discussion:



On a personal note, I myself am a hopeless romantic so the next one warmed the Hell out of my heart:



This one isn’t bad either:



And to sum things up on an equally positive note, I leave y’all with one of Séguéla’s optimistic messages to serve as a mantra until the next edition of Creativity 4 Better:


Tech is the new typewriter. But a typewriter is no good without the author behind it.


And with one of Chris Barton’s (founder of Shazam)  playlists, to help you get your “creative freak” on.


Chris Barton, Shazam – Songs I like, shared from the event’s Facebook page