‘Curiosity is key to how you think creative'

Thomas K Thomas | Updated on January 13, 2018 Published on February 23, 2017

Matt Eastwood, Worldwide Chief Creative Officer, JWT

Senthil Kumar, CCO, JWT South Asia

Matt Eastwood, JWT’s Worldwide Chief Creative Officer, on how technology is changing the way brands talk to consumers

With the advent of technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence, brands are increasingly changing the way they communicate through advertising. Despite being over 150 years old, J Walter Thompson is at the forefront of this transformation, underlined by winning 80 Lions at Cannes in 2016. Business Line met Matt Eastwood, JWT’s Worldwide Chief Creative Officer (CCO), and Senthil Kumar, CCO, South Asia to know more about the changes driving the advertising world and how India figures in the scheme of things. Edited excerpts:

What are the big themes impacting advertising?

Matt Eastwood: Artificial intelligence and voice. Voice is going to drive a huge change in the way we interface. We have had a taste of this in Siri and Cortana. But it’s just the tip of what’s going to unfold.

VR is at the tipping point and it’s becoming mainstream. I would love to see VR get into broader things like entertainment, not just video games. Of course, there will be TV ads. I still love a good print ad. But I am not sure brands have quite understood the technologies. We are already looking at how to integrate them into our clients’ campaigns. It’s going to get conversational instead of instructional.

How does this change the way you think as a creative officer?

Curiosity is the key. It’s the power of being the dumbest person in the room where you can admit you don’t know or understand what these new technologies are. You never know what’s going to stick, especially at the beginning of it. I get excited by the opportunity. I am a huge tech geek.

How does a 150-year-old agency compete with faster, nimble rivals?

Yes, we have the legacy, but the company is full of contemporary thinkers. We have had to adapt.

A lot of campaigns are already going digital-first. What’s next?

So digital has already happened. We have gone past that. Now it’s about technology. Digital is like the infrastructure that supports these technologies. If you look at our wins at Cannes, 80 per cent are for tech-enabled campaigns. The work we have done for The Hindu’s Spirit of Bengaluru campaign is an example of how tech can change perspective.

How is big data affecting you?

When big data happened , it was like a tidal wave that smacked everyone. Many didn’t have an idea of how to use it. There was a time when we used to do a TV campaign and we were done. Now launching a campaign is the beginning. We are now tracking the response using big data analytics and then tailoring the campaign.

How do you use a platform like Snapchat for brand communication?

I love the curiosity around that question. I don’t get Snapchat. I don’t know how to incorporate it into my life. But we recognise that we need to use that platform to communicate with our audience. Social media is the new media. It has changed everything. For example, US President Donald Trump is using Twitter to communicate directly.

With the new technologies, is there a change in the way you hire?

We hire from the street. We go to non-traditional environments. For example, we are hiring from MIT, architecture and product designing schools because now it’s about building and creating platforms. We have a programme called ‘In Your Shoes’ where a copywriter in Mumbai can work as a copywriter in London for three months. That brings a new perspective to the campaign.

Consumers are increasingly looking for ad-free experiences, be it installing ad blockers or subscribing to ad-free content on platforms like Netflix. Is this a threat?

The thing with ad blockers is that they assume brands communicate with consumers only through ads. Some of that is true, but brands don’t just create pop-up ads, they create brand experiences. You can’t block that. People are experiencing advertising and marketing even without realising they are in it.

Ad blockers are aimed at traditional advertising, which is dying. As for Netflix, you can still can get brands involved through sponsorships and things like that. We did a documentary with Rolex about free diving. It was a one-hour film that ran on Netflix. So it’s not advertising as we know it. But we are moving away from the traditional way of advertising to create an experience that’s more immersive. It’s forcing brands to create better advertising. It also puts the power back with the consumers to reject what they don’t like.

One of the things you have been quoted on extensively is about not hiring a**h***s. The advertising industry needs talent. Would you still not hire a highly talented guy who may be an a**h**e?

Fifteen years ago I might have said I would hire such a guy. Not anymore. We have to balance the talent and positive nature versus the negativity around such a person. It’s not worth having someone who damages the culture of the company. It’s worth much more to have a positive influence. Passion trumps talent.

Where does India figure in your plans? How do you see the creative coming out of here?

India has won the Glass Lion (which addresses gender equality or prejudice) for the last two years in a row so that speaks a lot about the creativity here. India is easily among the top five markets for us.

Senthil Kumar: J. Walter Thompson is the most awarded agency in the country and rated the India’s most creative agency by the Gunn Report in 2015-2016. I have a strong belief that technology is the true enabler of ideas to come to life as mind-blowing executions. It all begins with wanting to create something that’s never been done before. That’s why it’s called a creative solution.

Are you looking at acquisitions in India ?

Eastwood: We are quite aggressive when it comes to M&A but we won’t replicate capabilities. Our global head of M&A lives here in Mumbai by design. I know there are different things we are looking at here to fill the gaps.

Published on February 23, 2017
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