Regarded as one of the world’s top digital minds when it comes to advertising creativity, New Zealand-born Malcolm Poynton has built teams responsible for campaigns like Dove’s Real Beauty, British Airways’ Johnny Foreigner and Samsung’s #BeFearless. Poynton - who has creatively led Saatchi & Saatchi, Ogilvy, SapientNitro and Cheil Worldwide to Agency of the Year titles at Cannes – says that one of the big purposes of advertising is to elicit responses. Excerpts:
Advertising is the glue that binds brands and customers
How has creativity evolved in advertising?
Advertising has always been about connecting brands with consumers. Between the factory and the consumption, advertising has always been the glue that binds brands and consumers. How that glue sticks and where it sticks -- the shapes shift according to the crevices and gaps that are created with what consumers connect their lives with, whether it is walking down the street, seeing an Out of Home installation, or whether it is through a traditional TVC or through Instagram or WeChat. Still at the heart, the world of creativity is to connect the brand with the consumer. That function remains but the medium totally changes. And it would hopefully continue to change as more and more creative opportunities open. Today, there are so many more ways in which consumers touch and interact with brands. And also, in addition, the number of times that we connect with brands has gone up.
Given the technology era we live in, the temptation for brands seems to be to do gimmicky stuff – but don’t you feel emotion scores better?
We always talk about ideas that move. And an idea can move you emotionally, and bring you to tears. We saw amazing responses to the Service Van campaign (We will take care of you, wherever you are) for Samsung India. We saw the highest completion rate ever for watching a four minute YouTube film. We saw the highest view rate in the world for an advertisement on YouTube ever. It moved people to tears.
So we can move people in that way. But I think we can also move people to transact . For us ideas that move is about moving hearts, minds, and brands. You have to move business. At the end of the day, sometimes I am moved to click yes, or to buy, or to go to a store and shop online. So there are different ways to move people. We should not lose sight of the fact we are trying to elicit some response from consumers. We are not trying to wallpaper the world with decorations. Our purpose about business is definitely to elicit responses.
What do you think sets apart Cheil – a network born in South Korea – from other agencies?
Cheil is unlike any other agency network. Traditional networks are geographically replicated around the world to make print ads, radio ads, TV ads and so on. We were not born like that. We were born out of the East and not the west. We were born in this century, and not the last century. We were born with mobile in our DNA because Samsung is the foundation from which Cheil sprang. We have never been in this boxed space of viewing marketing as something that fills the space on television, or OOH or print. We were always thinking about how to connect the brand to a consumer in a way that makes a difference.
We did not replicate our capability in the same way all around the world, but built our capability according to the culture we are present in. So in Brazil we are very deep in gaming, because that culture is very deep in gaming. We also have that strength in China as that’s where the Gen Z audience is. We also have capability in that unique market in mobile commerce, which is way more exciting there than mobile commerce in other countries because of how they use it. The truth is that the China market is mobile first and mobile last because there is no other medium.
And then we are different in North America, where we are with Mckinney and the Barbarian group or in Europe with Iris and BMB. We have many more experiential skills and many more traditional above the line skills there and they all come together. But how we operate differently from other networks also is that because we have these deep skills in different parts of the world, I run a much more connected and sharing creative platform internationally. We find people from any of these markets collaborating all the time. It is constant.
So Cheil India would do work for some other market?
India contributes to work on Samsung globally. Similarly, we have participation from teams in Korea and other parts of the world in what is happening in India. We don’t separate. So unlike other networks, it keeps us moving at a great speed. We respond very fast.
Who are your big clients apart from Samsung?
Adidas is a very big client globally. We have Havaianas in Latin America, we work with automotive brands in the US, Europe and parts of Asia. We have Suzuki out of the UK. We have brands like JBL in North America. What is exciting is that since we have the experience with Samsung - which is one of the greatest outperformer brands globally – many brands are coming to us now, specifically seeking this kind of outperformance that you cannot get from traditional marketing.
We don’t operate like traditional agencies that allocate X amount of time for planning, X amount of time for creatives, etc. We still have the skills for business partnerships and insights and strategic inputs into things, but our strategy and creative is one fluid conversation, it has collapsed the silos and it’s almost real time. Many agencies overthink things before they start the creative.
But you can collapse time because Samsung and you are joined at the hips, so to say. Can it work with other clients?
It does, it works. What happens is that for brands like Adidas that are built on massive parts of culture, you have to move that fast. So for us that way, we have a social expertise team who are a blend of creative strategic people and it is a constantly moving dynamic team. In our world of producing assets, of one flavor or another, you have a fixed amount of time for making films etc. You can only collapse time so far. But the process from understanding what the business challenge is to solving that opportunity and producing the great stuff that connects and moves the consumer, we have been able to speed that up.
Can you give examples of the memorable stuff that you have led?
We have built year on year, a very deep connection in Spain with consumers, by proving the power of technology to contribute to society. You know dyslexia is very high in the Spanish population. It damages entire careers and learning opportunities. The average income in Spain is lower than the rest of Europe. The testing for dyslexia is 300 Euros and most people cannot afford it there. So we create a very simple solution that tests dyslexia with 86 per cent accuracy within 15 minutes. Because it is free, all of a sudden the detection rate for school kids went up. Because it is on an app, and in 15 minutes through a gamified experience you detect it. It totally changed things. It got exported to many countries – Latin Amercia.
It is driven by Samsung’s commitment in Spain to the culture and society – the same way that it contributes in India to educate the girls through technology. This comes back to the truth of how a brand behaves rather than what it says. These sort of things prove a brand’s commitment and make it more local than foreign, because they genuinely are a local contributor, helping society. We built on that actually from a strategic point of view in China, where we created a similar detection for Dyslexia within a game.
It’s coming back to understanding how brands connect with consumers. Not everything is a television ad. We do a lot in the gaming space. And a lot of agencies have launched gaming agencies, but for us it’s just a part of who we are. The truth is that gaming is bigger than the music industry and the film industry put together. It is huge. Globally it is 49 per cent 51 per cent gender split. So it is almost equal. It is something that brands can be part of. Equally with Samsung we created in Latin America something called the Cyber bullying skin that took bullying out of the equation in a game, where kids without skins (a graphic asset) are treated poorly. These things matter to people. All of a sudden life is better.
Metaverse might be this buzz now. We have been doing things that we call multiverse for a long while. We had a fantastic programme in the UK with Samsung for the World Shakespeare Company. Kids are uninterested in Shakespeare in school, because it is not taught in an interesting way. So we brought in a number of different people, like rap artists and linguistics experts, to create a gamified experience where they could rap with Shakespeare. There were quizzes in there too. It showed them how cool it is as verse. Then, we put them virtually on the stage face-to-face opposite Shakespeare actors in a virtual reality experience, which is the metaverse by definition. This we did in 2018 and this went as part of the soft curriculum in British high schools, and it has ultimately resulted in way higher engagement done on Samsung tablets and mobile phones for Shakespeare in schools.
I think that the role brands have in society is really big. The root of brands is always about contributing to society. Whether you are a mobility brand or auto brand as you called yourself last century, or food brand, or wellness brand, we need to pause and think about what a brand is contributing and when we understand that – whether it is in gaming language, Tik Tok language, film language - should be a part of that contribution. And that includes the products. They are not mutually exclusive. Because if this is a net positive contribution to society, the more products that sell, the more society benefits. So to buy a phone that is made of, say, recycled fishing nets, you could be better selling two of those rather than one because it is a positive contribution.