The Advertising Seduction (4)

I have to give credit: our hours with Keith Reinhard and Tham Khai Meng completely seduced me to dive into the world of advertising. I have worked with 5 different advertising agencies during the last 5 years, but none of them really blew me away with inspiring work. After the US module, I couldn’t be more convinced about the power of great ideas and stories. Mostly the sessions with Keith & Tham and our visit to R/GA triggered me to start digging into the art of advertising. Great ideas will never grow out of fashion!

Creative storytelling

After our prereadings on data analytics, I perceived the talks with Keith & Tham as a refreshing counterbalance. They reminded us that a click is NOT an engagement, one stunt is NOT and enduring brand story, big data is NOT big ideas and and an algorithm is NOT a true insight in human nature. They made clear that advertising is still about powerful ideas and stories. Creative ideas are needed to stand out, to beguild people and force them to think in different ways. In this light, I loved the metaphor of an advertising idea as a Trojan horse; you use a charming message, creative idea, to let people open the gates and defeat the skepticism. Inside the idea, there is a sales message hidden.

Keith and Tham were both strong advocates for emotional advertising. People really seek meaning in brands. That is why creativity and authenticity get more & more important! It is the emotional connection that brings the dollars and storytelling is the best way to make this connection (stories are memorable, shareable and rewatchable). The perfect example Keith brought up: the yearly Christmas advertising of John Lewis .

With this in mind, I highlighted some Bill Bernbach quotes that I want to remember while diving into the advertising industry:

“You can say the right thing about a product and nobody will listen. You’ve got to say it in such a way that people will feel it their gut. Because if they don’t feel it, nothing will happen”

“Properly practiced creativity MUST result in greater sales more economically achieved. Properly practiced creativity can lift your claims out of the swamp of sameness and make them accepted, believed, persuasive, urgent.”

“Too much research can trap you into the past! We are so busy measuring public opinion that we forget we can mold it. We are so busy listening to statistics we forget can create them!”

“The real giants have always been poets, men who jumped from facts into the realm of imagination and ideas.”

“Be provocative. But be sure your provocativeness stems for your product. You are NOT right if in your ad you stand a man on his head JUST to get attention. You ARE right if you have him on his head to show how your product keeps things from falling out of his pockets”.

I picked these two last quotes because we still have to keep in mind that our ideas need to serve business goals and sell. Good advertising should sell products overnight and build brand overtime. The last two months, I collected a shortlist of campaigns that meet these requirements:

But how do you recognize these ideas? Tham Khai Meng emphasized that they are all ugly duckies in the beginning. The secret is to judge with your gut and fight for it. Too many people are willing to stick with the familiar. We need to break out of that. We have to judge with your gut and be willing to fail fast. The more you do this, the better you get at it!

“Remarkable work is not done by reasonable people. You have to be stubborn and open-minded at the same time.”

The role of creative leadership lies in the HUMAN HEART. Innovation and technology are not enough. We need brave imaginers, people who can play at the intersection of humanity and sciences. And of course courageous clients who buy into these crazy ideas. At the end, it is essential to let creativity fight your spreadsheets. Don’t let procurement or finance kill creativity!

How to foster a creative culture?

How can we create a culture in which new ideas and stories can emerge? And more important; what should be our role as creative leader? Keith Reinhard started his session with an essential question: ‘why would anyone want to follow you’? His opinion: people will follow you if you inspire, share compelling goals and show humility, integrity and compassion.

What followed was an inspiring hour with very useful insights and concrete recommendations to design a culture that fosters creativity. The ideas that triggered me the most:

  • Plant your ideas in other people’s heads
  • Hire people who you think are better than you
  • Make a call! You could be wrong, but make call! Once you approved an idea, back it all the way!
  • Take responsibility and give credit
  • You’ve got to have a dream and follow that dream with persistence & determination.
  • Stay curious. Stuff your brain with seeds!
  • You cannot command people to grow, you need to water the seeds. Nurture talent & creativity! If you do what you can to create a creative culture, things will get right when the air is right!
  • Start with active listening. Listen — Learn — Lead. Take time to have a cup of coffee together
  • Once in a while, you have to take the stage and show what kind of leader you are!
  • Celebrate succes ! Celebration is an important tool!
  • Being kind is NOT being weak
  • Don’t take yourself too serious, sense of humor is one of the most important building blocks of a creative culture.
  • Culture eats strategy for breakfast! The more culture you have, the less structure you need
  • Form a passionate leadership group that supports a culture within people can improvise.

I really loved discussing the power of data, technology ánd creative ideas in one single week. At one hand, you get inculcated that data & digital technology will determine our future. At the other hand, people like Reinhard and Khai Meng convinced me that it is still about strong stories and ideas. It is clear that the truth lies somewhere in between. The future lies in playing on the intersection of humanity and science, in using technology and data to amplify a compelling story. We have to keep in mind that technology is nothing without good ideas.

In this light, I think our conversations with R/GA & TBD couldn’t come at a better time. They are both agencies that constantly look for this intersection between technology and storytelling. Both agencies try to help their clients to use technology in their advance, to manage their competition and reach their main goals. They help clients to make sense of new trends and technologies and support them in understanding their real problems. They really get down to bottom issues without getting seduced by shiny technology. Their mindset: find the most important pain points and design a frictionless experience around it. In this process, they always try to combine data with real customer connection. This perspective enables them to integrate new technologies in people’s lives in a significant way! Some inspiring examples:, Nike Fuel Band, UnFairy Tales and Alvio.

Thanks to these inspiring examples, courses and site visits, I am determined to dive into the world of advertising. Most of all, I am intrigued by the art of ideation and creative storytelling. To get more insights on these topics, I planned a series of one-to-one conversations with influential people in the Belgian advertising industry:

Willem Van de Hoof (CD Make Lemonade)
Jens Mortier (CD Mortierbrigade)
Dado Van Peteghem (Duval Union)
Jan Teulingkx (Global Creative Director Brands, Saatchi & Saatchi)
Peter Ampe (CD FamousGrey)
Odin Saillé (CD DDB)

Based on these conversations, I will add my most important insights and takeaways in this part of the journal!