A discussion between Andrew Robertson, CEO BBDO Worldwide, and Ella Stewart, CEO BBDO Russia Group.
What is the difference between advertising in the USA and Russia? Is the approach to targeting changing? Has customers perception of advertising become more negative? And what to expect from advertising in the future?
These and other topics were discussed by BBDO CEOs, Andrew Robertson and Ella Stewart, at the Moscow Museum of Modern Art on September 26. Their thoughts are globally relevant, but also interesting for Australia. Our ad histories are quite similar.
For the first 5 years of BBDO, Russian advertising for US brands was adapted from American ads. The ads were American ads remade locally. So was the advertising in Australia for major US brands, like Revlon and American Express, in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s.
Ella Stewart: It worked both for our customers, and for the international. Now there are more and more cases when Russian advertising launches in the West. For example, BBDO Moscow created videos for the UK and Eastern Europe. Yes, we are less experienced, we need to learn more, but at the same time we have grown up and reached a high level, so audiences don’t notice much difference between Russian and international advertising. Furthermore, creators around the world are all doing the same thing. They create emotional advertising that might touch customers’ feelings.
Follow the audience
Andrew Robertson: Once I got a text message from one airline. The first sentence said, “You may want to make a number of adaptations to your flight schedule?” It was about the fact that there is going to be bad weather in New York the next day, so there would be a lot of delays, and basically it said that I’d better switch my flight to another day. Normally, it would be a very irritating message: weather alert, bad storms expected in New York, expect delays. But that time I felt completely different. The following day I flew to DC, spent 4 hours on the ground before DC and didn`t get angry – because of the way I felt due to the text message I got the night before. And the point of this is: consumer`s expectations now depend on effortlessly connected experiences surrounding the purchase process. Even the 4 seconds I took me to read that text message could have added value to my life. Therefore, I can attach it to the brand. The fact that we`re going to be dealing with consumers who are ever more demanding, creates the reason for even more creativity. Somehow you have to create a magical experience for the audience.
And now we get the opportunity to target more precisely. We are able to understand much more about individuals. We know what interests them, what motivates them, what they get excited about, what they lost, also purchases they recently made. This enables us to deliver more relevant messages. And that`s a good thing for the consumer, that’s a good thing for the advertiser and that`s a good thing for both together as well. It means that we can potentially serve less advertising to individuals, which means they get less irritated. The advertising served to them is more valuable as it is more relevant.
Where is the line between provocation and emotional campaign?
Robertson: I think advertising is art, and all art has to surprise you some way. It takes different forms: sometimes it`s a punch in a face, sometimes it`s a joke, sometimes it`s music or even a stupid video. But I think that the main point is about the culture of advertising in which we have to live. The shifts, the context can literally change in a week. This is a function of overspeed. Social media now fuels the mainstream. I think we will see probably “safe” campaigns. But I don’t think we have to move away from emotions. Advertising shouldn’t depend on shock, but it might create the feeling of something very-very nice.
I think we can create experiences that are unlikely to cause offence, but which are enjoyable, memorable and effective. We should learn it from smaller brands. We’re going to see deliberate campaigns, where a brand says, “I`m going to take the stand on an issue. What I believe matters so much to other people that I will make enough of them love me and some of them hate me.” If you take this position, you may lose a lot of people, but you might win because of your position. I think we will see such activism more and more from brands. You can`t settle down in the middle. You have to take a position.
Ella: Unfortunately, Russian advertisers are not very free. There are several cases of provocative campaigns, which have created buzz but somehow, we are very quickly moving towards being on the “safe side”. We tend to not offend anyone. If you are speaking on behalf of an international brand, you have to live by the laws of the country where the brand has come from. Mostly BBDO works with international brands. Therefore, we should correlate campaigns to the context.
Complicated relationships: what’s going on between audience perception and advertising
Robertson: There are people who are prepared to pay not to have advertising. There are also lots of people who are perfectly happy to have advertising in exchange for free content. Spotify has two different subscriptions. You can pay nothing, and you will have to listen to advertising, or you can pay 10 dollars a month and have it ad-free. Again, if you can make advertising more relevant, which you can, it becomes less advertising, less irritating. Less irritating means people are less eager to spend money for having something ad-free. That’s why I believe that the future of advertising will be better and more relevant.
Stewart: It is harder in our country to create effective product placement. Look at James Bond: we know that the movie if full of product placement, but it doesn’t mean that sales of promotional stuff increase. I’m pretty sure, although I don’t know the numbers, that Nescafe’s sales didn’t increase after Night Watch. This is due to our industry’s “positive youth”. We have no experience, no base, no research, so that we closed down product placement almost immediately after its opening, since the format itself was ineffective.
Future Advertising: forecasts and BBDO’s strategy
Robertson: Many things might happen that no one can imagine: new media will appear, formats that no one else knows about. But, if I had to bet on anything, I would bet on video. Nevertheless, regardless of new channels and instruments, BBDO adheres to one strategy: we follow consumers. If they spend a lot of time on any platform or in a kind of environment or on a channel, we will go there.
I believe that in our business there are currently many things that will and should be automated. Now some tasks take a tremendous amount of time, and with the help of technology workflows will accelerate, improve and become cheaper. And I think that everything that can be automated should be automated. With the help of technology, I would also like to free up human resources and invest more in people — in their creative potential, in things that are inaccessible to machines. I am sure that the value of ideas will only grow. Therefore, I repeat, the business will become more automated and at the same time creative.
Stewart: Well, firstly, I think that there will be TV ads, OOH and other “classical” advertising, but I absolutely agree with Andrew that the approach will change: it will become more targeted. And again, speaking about product placement: in the future you will not understand that a brand got through to you via a movie or podcast.
That is why we should focus on consumers and fulfill their needs. If you try to predict what will happen to new technologies and everything else, you will just get crazy. Or if you follow only what your client says to do, then you will not make consumers happier. We need to create long-term love for brands and nurture this feeling in our audiences.