Content and Candy… A Snackable Guide to the Best of AWE 2015
This was my first time at Advertising Week Europe (AWE), having attended the original long-running event in New York, where Y&R have actively participated with speaker panels and events.
In only its third year AWE is still on a much smaller scale to its American counterpart, but it nevertheless seems to attract the large media agencies (ITV and Bloomberg) and the events are very much driven by them. Between the celebrity panels, rugby players (yes!) and big name brands; it still proved to offer some very interesting topics and engaging speakers.
A Promising Start
I started with Monday’s - ‘What Your CFO Needs You to Know’, where panellists from both sides of the financial line, CMOs and CFOs, talked about the balancing act of driving an agency forward. The insights were not surprising but worth reinforcing; ‘CFOs and CMOs have to share a common language; a lack of understanding about what we are trying to achieve just makes it harder’.
An interesting takeaway for any part of the business was from the CFO of UK TV, Jan Gooze-Zijl, who shared that his employees change desks every three months so that they can build new relationships between departments.
This idea of better collaboration was also touched upon by Maurice Lévy, CEO of Publicis, in his discussion with Francine Lacqua from Bloomberg Television on Monday afternoon.
Against the impressive and unexpected backdrop of St James’s Church, Lévy confessed that his biggest business challenge was getting people to work together and not in silos; ‘It is the way we are raised…everyone thinks about their role….creatives think they own the big ideas and everyone else comes later’.
Speaking about the transformative landscape of the industry – Lévy was of the opinion that we are only just learning how to use data to target how we communicate. The danger is inundating the consumer with useless information – ‘today people feel bombarded because [we] are not always filtering content… we need to be more precise and only send what is truly relevant but it will take us two or three years to get there and effectively address questions around privacy’.
On Monday afternoon the Economist presented a panel discussion on reaching millennials, sharing some great insights.
‘Today millennials are the majority generation in the UK workforce, and by 2017 will be spending more than any other generation’. They are open to different types of media; ‘they are massive horizontalists, they are not massively loyal to one source – they are loyal to the point of interest’, but they are ‘self-centred – not in a mean way but they really don’t care’. Importantly don’t force it; ‘don’t feel the need to reply or respond to every interaction. A lot of money has been thrown at teams to answer tweets and it doesn’t work’.
Sailing, Superheroes and Dating
It seemed that the out-of-town delegates found their feet Tuesday morning, as the day started with lengthy queues before 9am!
Luckily I was ready in time, and taken my pew in church, for Sir Martin Sorrell’s interview with Sir Ben Ainslie – five time Olympic medallist and unsurprisingly the most successful sailor in Olympic history.
There were the fair share of jokes, predominantly around their shared issues with Frenchmen, but it proved nevertheless to be an informative and driving discussion. Ainslie laid to bed the preconceptions of sailing as a privileged sport and shared his own journey from an 8 year old novice, to winning a silver medal at the Atlanta Olympics at 19, to his now legendary status.
It was interesting to see Sir Martin asking the questions as we listened to Sir Ben’s incredible achievements, but ultimately Sir Martin had the attention of room and we all wanted to hear what he had to say. Perhaps a little teaser for his main session on Wednesday.
Next up was Avengers Assemble! A title that makes more sense upon learning that it was about diversity (each person on the panel bringing their own unique superpower). An insightful and in-depth look at all types of diversity from gender, to race, to class – this was a session worth queueing for.
The illustrious panel of Karen Blackett OBE, CEO of MediaCom UK, Andy Hart, VP of Advertising and Online at Microsoft Europe, Heather Rabbatts, non-exec director of the Football Association, and Belinda Parmar OBE, CEO of Lady Geek, was hosted by the dynamic Sue Unerman, Chief Strategy Officer at MediaCom.
This session highlighted a topic that has sadly been around for decades. ‘It should be about the right people’ said Rabbatts of gender discrimination, ‘we should be looking to complement each other, not compete.’ Blackett said it was diversity that connected her team, ‘we are made up of people from different walks of life, but we share a common bond in that we are comfortable, and thrive, in a diverse environment’.
Discussing possible measures, tried and tested, to improve the problem - it was agreed that ‘quotas aren’t necessary but targets are absolutely fair’ and the panel explored how the language around advertising roles can have an effect on the gender of applicants. Ultimately no one was advocating trying to fulfil quotas on diversity, and everyone agreed that the best talent should be sought out, but they concluded that best way to even the playing field is to broaden the pool of applicants to allow it to be more diverse.
In a morning jam-packed with insights – ‘What’s Wrong With A Little Infidelity?’ was a great session on brand loyalty hosted by HeyHuman Media. Including the co-founder of Mumsnet and the CMO of the Post Office Ltd, this was an interesting line-up that shared a wealth of experience. Neil Davidson of HeyHuman compared brand loyalty to dating… on Tinder to be exact. And he wanted to know how we get consumers to ‘swipe right’. The panel agreed that there is still brand loyalty, although monogamy is rare, but at the end of the day… ‘You can’t make someone love you, and sometimes a quickie is better!’
After a great day with lots to consider, it was this great quote from Carrie Longton, co-founder of Mumsnet that really stayed with me; “there’s no point in being different, if you’re not any good.”
Midweek with Sir Martin
… and the much-anticipated conversation with Sir Martin Sorrell was almost upon us, but not before an insightful and inspiring session with FCBInferno and Sport England.
#ThisGirlCan has been a phenomenal campaign in the UK, to inspire ladies to overcome their fears and participate in sport and exercise. It is hard not to feel motivated by the powerful spot created by FCB and pick up your trainers, so I was interested to hear more about how the brief came about and what insights their strategists had unearthed to create something that resonated with such a large portion of the population.
Sport England, backed with National Lottery Funding, wanted to engage more women in sport and their brief comprised of four core principles; 1) an idea that inspired, 2) with flexible and usable assets, 3) planned depth of assets, and 4) an acceptance that the campaign might take off in its own direction.
FCB’s planners found that women had lots of reason to not exercise more, but when they removed the logistical reasons (cost, proximity, time) they found that ultimately woman felt judged. The three areas of judgement were appearance (so how they looked while exercising), ability (how good they were), and priorities (feeling judged for taking time away from family to exercise).
They worked hard to find the right language, something empowering and positive but also succinct and catchy. And so THIS GIRL CAN was born.
The response was phenomenal with over 25million views and epic social media uplift. And interestingly – despite the campaign only being ‘launched’ in the UK, it has spread globally with all corners of the non-English speaking world sharing and liking the idea. This is truly a reflection of how much this work resonates with women’s true feelings about exercise and body image, no matter their background or nationality. It transcends language and culture.
And so the lessons we can learn?
Plan meticulously for letting go – this campaign was carefully thought out. Articles about negative body image came first, followed by social media and some well-crafted video content. The spot was most powerful when set against that foundation.
And the client, Sport England, had to be prepared to let the campaign go. It got parodied, shared and posted in all manner of ways. It was for woman to really adopt and embrace, and they had to be ready and willing for that to happen.
Real insight is your foundation – this campaign spoke to millions of women around the world. That came from finding the real truths behind why woman didn’t participate in sport as much as men.
Be brave – this rang true for those launching the campaign and those in it. It takes a lot of bravery to let your cellulite jiggle on TV and everyone involved in This Girl Can was prepared to let it all hang out – so to speak.
A well-presented, engaging, and motivating session, I left this one fully appreciating the entire strategic creative process, and with some great lessons to boot.
Next was Sir M, but not after a long 30 min wait… it seems this was the session everyone had on their list.
There were no preliminaries as Francine Lacqua started with ‘who are the big spenders of tomorrow?’ ‘The big spenders of today!’ responded Sorrell, who was ready for the usual ‘next big thing’ questions.
He was also quick to point out that no one can really keep up to date with emerging tech - especially him… ‘I am not bright enough to figure out what is going to happen technologically’ - ‘even the experts struggle to keep up’.
‘We underestimate the power of the Chinese technology’ said Sorrell, certain that this was where we should focus our attention, and particularly to mobile company Xiaomi. ‘We used to think the Chinese would copy or steal product ideas. Watch out!’
He also shared his frustrations at WPP being called an advertising agency or conglomerate - ‘we are an advertising marketing services group’ he said, and he was also of the opinion that Advertising Week was completely mis-represented by its title - preferring ‘Communications and Marketing Week’ or even ‘Paranoia Week’, to reflect the fast-changing and disruptive nature of the business.
After a brief dig at a certain Frenchman’s ‘unhealthy obsession’ with him, goaded by Lacqua, Sorrell turned on his interviewer ‘You as a journalist should ask people to disclose important information, you’re missing out on your responsibilities. Delve deeper!’ a criticism that Lacqua didn’t attempt to answer.
He discussed the economy, and the business as a whole, reminding Lacqua; ‘If I knew the next big thing I wouldn’t be sitting here in a hot packed room, I’d be luxuriating somewhere!’
He did share that ‘Growth is tepid. Clients don’t have pricing power. Cost is king. Efficiency is king’.
Sorrell made no apologies for his successes and when asked if he could sum up the business in one word, he said ‘fun!’…‘Why else would I be doing this at seventy?’
His parting thought, in this election year for the UK, was that the biggest problem around any election is that people don’t vote; ‘Any campaign should be to get the voters out!’
Ending on a High Note
Thursday started rainy and overcast, but there could be no brighter way to start the day than a conversation with Nile Rodgers in St. James Church.
The record breaking American musician, producer, and guitarist, who beyond the multiple multi-platinum selling records, has surpassed 1.5bn ‘streams’, which equates to 8,500 years if streaming 3 min tracks!
Rodgers started with an impromptu jam session at the front of the church, admitting that he had only had a couple of hours’ sleep, which was evident when he said he was feeling good ‘tonight’!
His life story reads like something from a great American novel. His mother gave birth at 13 in a girls’ ‘reform’ facility under the 59th Street Bridge in Brooklyn. Both his parents were heroin addicts and allowed Rodgers a bohemian, free upbringing. By his ninth birthday he had decided he wanted to leave school and get a job – and proceeded to educate himself about the world through movies.
He credits this unorthodox education for his ability later in adult life to be able to adapt to new cultural surroundings, and even to successfully conduct the United Nations orchestra which was made up of musicians of many nationalities and languages.
‘Music is the universal language’ said Rodgers holding up his guitar ‘and I speak better through this thing than I do my mouth’.
Rodger’s first successes were with the ‘sophisto-funk’ band Chic, and they initially pretended they were French to be set apart from the expectations of hard funk and RnB. After multi-platinum selling singles launched off the back of ‘le Freak’, he went on to produce the Let’s Dance for David Bowie, which proved to be his best-selling record of all time. He then produced Diana Ross’s most successful album ‘Diana’ which barely made it to release after her record company were unhappy with the sound. It was an instant success selling 6m copies – quite an increase from the 600,000 sales of her previous record.
Of his life and love of music he said, ‘Only the public control the lifetime of my work. That is the great thing about music – it can be created from nothing’.
Rodgers rattled through his life-story at speed, sharing his best anecdotes, but had barely made it past his time touring with Sesame Street and the evolution of disco, when he realised our time was up.
He left us with this; he once heard two intellectuals arguing over the best art form and when one concluded music, the other asked why. ‘Because music is the only art form that chases you down the street’.
‘Any music that you hear in a passing car or in a store, it can inspire you’… ‘It’s so invasive’ said Rodgers, ‘and you don’t know when it’s going to come into your life’.
Thursday afternoon I decided to ‘succumb to the celebrity’ and attend a conversation with Sir Kenneth Branagh, who according to the person sitting next to me was ‘that guy who did a lot of Shakespeare’.
I had not realised his extensive directorial career and he shared stories of his life on both sides of the lens. On his career and projects - ‘If you step back you can sometimes see patterns and understand the choices [you made]’.
Branagh was as charismatic and eloquent as you’d expect, and shared some great anecdotes of his time on set. On first day nerves he recommended ‘try to remove that Monday morning feeling by starting a project on a Thursday afternoon’.
As can be expected of a conference so ‘young’, AWE has not quite settled into its rhythm or necessarily found its following. Many sessions sounded vague and appeared to be relying on brands or names rather than strength of topic (one didn’t even have a topic when the calendar was posted so they called it a live sex show!).
There were the usual logistical issues around running large seminars (and when will hosts learn to put twitter handles and hashtags on the screen please? or at least in the program!) but as the week went on it seemed to find its stride.
I think Sir Martin Sorrell had it right when he said that the conference was misnamed. It is not really Advertising Week, it is so much more, and that means so much less for someone looking for the purest insights, case-studies, and best practices for a creative shop. Some of the sessions were really sales pitches and with so much led by big media like ITV, I am not sure it will ever be a as useful for those of us inside the advertising world.
That being said – I heard a lot of great stuff from the likes of Levy, Sorrell, and was most impressed by the sessions Avengers Assemble and #ThisGirlCan, which have left me feeling motivated about diversity and impassioned about the great work produced in this industry.
As with all these events – there was a great smorgasbord of treats and sugar-laden nibbles to keep us interested. From the popping candy to ice cream trucks to jars of pick ‘n’ mix… you would think it was a children’s birthday party! (But from the nineties of course – it’s all gluten free cupcakes now I’m sure!)
I felt it was my duty, in reporting on the event, to try as many of these culinary offerings as possible. And I can confirm that AWE knows how to put on a good spread.
Now let’s see if #ThisGirlCan get herself to the gym…
Rachael Delahunty is Global Communications Manager at Y&R