The President, DDB Middle East and Africa, Mr. Glen Lomas was in Nigeria recently and spoke with journalists on the various challenges facing the creative industry and trends that will define businesses in the sector. Raheem Akingbolu presents the excerpts:
The global business environment is going through changes globally, how does this affect advertising as a business and as a practice?
Rather than answering the question the way you put it, let me start by stating that one of the things that I try to do when I go around is to emphasise the need to stop concentrating on what’s changing and proffer concentration to what’s not changing.
Fundamentally, the factors that drive motivation have not changed. If you listen to any song being produced over the last 50 years, 95% of them are about love and relationships. The things that motivate us (fear, love) don’t change. Things that change include how we potentially communicate with one another about issues. There is great stuff happening in this regard. Phones and digital technologies have influenced interactions with our clients. Now, we relate with them on a personal level. This is quite fantastic because we have always said that the best way of communicating is personal interactions.
Broadcast media is still incredibly important in my mind. All of the things that people keep saying, TV is dead or print media is dead is actually not totally true. It’s still as important as it was back then. It’s easy to get so much data about somebody to project what I want you know about the person. My brand can be whatever I want it to be. There is danger in that. That personalization of the brand stops the brand from having its own identity and the identity of that brand starts to become your identity. That’s a big worry.
I still think broadcast media is important as it ever was in terms of saying this is who I am and take me as I am. I will give you a typical example; a media company came to me recently to talk to me about an app that equipped them with the colour preference of customers. Whenever you book a car online, you could take that information and put it across various products to influence buying choices. I told them it was just absurd. My favourite colour might be green for a car but I may not want a green kitchen. I may not like a green shirt and I don’t want my whole life to be green. That’s the mentality we’ve got to be careful about.
We’ve had a lot of changes. However, let’s be clear that humans have not changed that much over the years. We have to maintain our interactions with the consumer and leverage on communicating with them persuasively.
Three years ago, you observed certain things about the Nigerian economy and advertising agencies. What are the changes you’ve noticed three years after?
The biggest change I have seen is that Nigeria is no longer different to anywhere else in the world. The challenges you are facing here are the same challenges being encountered elsewhere. The most worrying of the challenges is how to attract really bright, creative people into the advertising industry.
The need to inspire loyalty towards brands is still very relevant. When we started off at DDB, we were quite keen on doing great jobs with a great company. It’s sort of motivating to work with a company that challenges and allow you to succeed. That is in short supply now. The most disturbing part is not only that those companies no longer exist; the desire to succeed doesn’t exist anymore. Of course, success means a lot to different people.
As an industry and as an agency, attracting great talents into this industry is quite difficult. It’s very difficult to motivate people the way we have been used to in doing a great job and aspiring to be better.
In some of your interviews, you have shared your views about dearth of talents in the creative industry. How will that define the advertising industry and other industries?
Talent defines our industry. To be very frank with you, I think we have to remind people of the power vested in creative talents. We have to remind people that advertising isn’t just a service industry. People perceive advertising as being an unvalued part of the economic chain. It is a vital part.
Most people fail to realise that every single business depends on sales. Our successes revolve on the ability to project ourselves. Also, the more creative you can be in terms of how you position others and yourself, the more likely you will become an effective force.
The main thing is to stop the industry itself of being belittled by its necessities and its roles and remind everybody that growth in whatever form, from the economy to individual lives is incredibly important. Persuasive communication is the vehicle that will drive that growth.
Agencies keep hinging advertising campaigns on sales without empowering the community. Do you think advertising agencies should shift from making sales to empowering communities with campaigns?
Agencies should maintain their focus on enhancing sales. Some of the people coming to agencies don’t really understand that advertising performs a very important function in driving the economy. Our role here in DDB Lagos and DDB Worldwide which I am proud to represent is that we need to grow clients’ businesses.
If we don’t do that and shift concentration to awards and not really understanding why we do awards, we will wander miles off the right track. I think people need to understand why awards are important and how they drive great creativity. In turn, they need to understand that creativity drives great effectiveness and growth. People need to understand the advertising chain as not just about creating pretty pictures and covering things in. We need to be out there doing stuffs, engaging people and promoting sales in the right way.
The digital era is influencing creative messages these days. Clients rely on agencies to create messages for digital marketing. But, it appears some of these messages don’t resonate in terms of impact on brands. How do we create messages that will make digital marketing work?
Mismatch of data can create so many troubles in this regard. This brings our previous conversation into the picture. That I like a green car doesn’t mean I will desire a green kitchen.
Data is an amazing thing, but we need to be equipped with the interpretation and management of data. If you don’t have real experts in terms of understanding human behaviour, your data won’t have a module to which you can apply it. Data is very important but an observation of how humans behave is the key to unlocking that data. If we don’t do the first bit which is seen in some ways as old-fashioned, the second bit wouldn’t work. We will be served with messages that feel irrelevant to us. It will only make sense to an algorithm but it won’t make sense when that algorithm is applied to a real human being with the emotions involved.
Data can allow you to be a lazy marketing professional or it can allow you to be a really defined and precise marketing professional. It all depends on the person handling the data and how the person applies it.
Putting the DDB heritage in perspective from creating messages to winning awards, how are you applying digital tools and technologies to the future?
We have a heritage in storytelling and also a media that allows you to bring back stories to life with informal commercials. There are rules which are applied to give the consumers what they really want to hear in a story. The skills of interrupted print advertising being forgotten due to the emergence of broadcast media are becoming incredibly important in the society today in terms of how you are trying to track somebody.
People feel digital media is like a TV but appears a bit smaller; therefore you can apply the rules of television advertising to online advertising. It is not going to work because it is a very different experience. The market is centred on a couple of diverse engagements.
We are giving considerable attention to understanding different medium and accompanying specifications. It is not about reinventing the media. It is all about working out the rules for specific medium. As an agency, we’re disciplined about this.
Should there be domestication of global campaigns in line with local marketing?
Personally, I prefer creating individual advertising messages for individual markets and groups. Advertising ought to be as relevant and resilient as possible. When working with a client that has the same brand in about 200 countries, there is always a pressure on them to reduce costs. For instance, Unilever creates multiple adverts for Lipton tea to ensure consistency. The key to success in local marketing is to come up with an idea of the role brands play and its relevance to people’s lives. I love creating different works for different markets. That is when it becomes more touching.
Sometimes, clients save money on campaign budgets by using one commercial to talk to many markets. Do you think this is viable?
Potentially, sometimes it does work. We just have to make a research and know what works better in different markets. The methods of recording success have got a lot of interpretations. What you consider as success may be quite different from what I consider as success.
How does your group rate the contribution(s) of DDB Lagos to the entire network?
Nigeria is one of the engines of Africa. Many of our clients see Nigeria as important. We need someone in the market that absolutely understands creativity, drives the brands to the communities they really have to target and build a relationship of trust. We have a good relationship with DDB Lagos which is quite beneficial to the network.
Beyond trainings and referrals, what are the other benefits affiliated agencies gain from the network?
We don’t tell people to partner with us because of the business and profits. But we offer them the ability to tackle results, ability to learn, opportunity to travel and the opportunity to use previous experiences in other markets that are similar to foster productivity.
In Nigeria, MTN battled some challenges for two years now but it is right back in charge. There are times you will need to use experience from other markets to manage a brand. We promote this in the network. That is where a call from the network can help. Unilever put purpose as a front line of driving their communication. Member agencies get to learn about relevant developments from different parts of the world to shape their operations.
It is important to be a part of the family. The network is always there; you can reach out for help when you need it. When we have issues in terms of not cracking something, we can get help from somewhere else. We offer multiple benefits beyond monetary benefits.
What is your take about the subject of influence as a message to Nigeria?
As an agency, a leader & network, you need to understand that influence comes from empathy and identifying people’s needs. To achieve a particular goal, you have got to align everybody’s needs regardless of individual needs in an agency or community. This is where influence is much needed and required.