Celebrity endorsement in advertising is nothing new. From the long time strategy adopted by brands such as Lux who pioneered female celebrity endorsement or Pepsi’s relationship with pop culture in their ‘Taste of the New Generation’ platform, to the more contemporary usage of celebrities by brands such as Mandarin Oriental’s ‘I’m a fan’ campaign. The use of celebrity used to be about helping to shape the brand positioning (as in the case of the Lux being the choice of ‘stars’ and Pepsi’s association with the ‘New Generation’), or in some cases, purely as an awareness exercise.

In Asia, celebrity endorsements had long been a ‘formula’ favoured by brands aiming to achieve an instant fame, from China, India to Japan, often without much careful consideration of the compatibility of the celebrity’s persona with the brand’s image. Every Bollywood star has a product to endorse, and every Japanese whisky has a Hollywood star in a talking head commercial. That’s probably the reason why in the past when a client said they wanted to use a celebrity in the upcoming campaign, it almost always signified the beginning of a formulated creative process.

To a certain extent, this has changed.

The recent trend for brands to associate with celebrities indicates both a changing nature of ‘celebrity’ and the practice of ‘endorsements’. Celebrities are no longer just the face or simply play an acting part in a commercial. In fact they are now hired as creative directors. Some of the recent appointments include:

  • Justin Timberlake for BudLight Platinum
  • Alisha Keys for Blackberry
  • Marc Jacobs for Diet Coke
  • Will.i.am for Intel
  • Lady Gaga for Polaroid

Here are some of their own words in response to their appointments:

Some of them are more credible, as in the case of Will.i.am who actually carries the title of Director of Innovation and reportedly holds an Intel fellowship at the company’s HQ in Santa Clara to constantly dream up innovative ideas, working in collaboration with Intel’s futurist Brain David Johnson. This seems to me one of the more successful collaboration. For other, it could well be just another ‘form’ of celebrity endorsement.

However, one thing is for certain, celebrities are no longer one-dimensional and with their ability to generate ‘content’ in the digital space, it’s where the potential begins. And when brands are moving towards acting as ‘publishers’, the need for relevant and quality content is paramount. When BudLight announced Justin Timberlake’s appointment they said he will ‘provide creative, musical and cultural curation for the brand’ while Justin Timberlake said he is ‘looking forward to not only being a part of the creative process, but in bringing other talented musicians to the forefront as well.’ Could that mean the brand’s future involvements on platforms such as MySpace? Let’s wait and see.

Will the trend of ‘celebrity creative directors’ adapt well in your market? What are the differences in terms of the driving force behind it and its effectiveness? I would like to know.

viral ad 2012

It’s hard to imagine any ‘socially active people’ who has not tweeted or posted a link of a video this year. Sharing content, be it in video format or otherwise, has been part of our lives. This is the time of the year when everyone is putting together ‘The best of 2012’ listings, so I will pick a few that I have come across and ‘share’ it with you, adding a few of my thoughts along the way.

I read the ’20 most viral ads’ compiled by Adweek the other day. First of all, I am not a big fan of the jargon ‘viral ads’. I think the notion of creating conversations with people (consumers) these days has made ‘viral’ being one of the key success factor in any form of communications anyway. In a sense, everything should be ‘viral’ these days. The listing has also only captured videos that were most shared, in this case they are pretty much all on one single platform – youtube. Nevertheless, there are a few gems in it and here are some of my observations:

  • The ‘technique’ of making a video ‘viral’ is beginning to repeat itself. The domino-chain-of-reaction type of action continues to amaze. However, there is a danger that this technique will become old school very quickly. Don’t forget the classic success of the ‘cog’ TVC from Honda was produced back in 2003, and arguably that film was inspired by Peter Fischli and David Weiss’s video ‘The Way Things Go’ which was produced back in 1987. So the key is to find fresh angle to engage and in my opinion, make sure that the execution really does add to the value of the brand. (reference: Red Bull – ‘Klug’ (Clever): The Athlete Machine)
  • Authenticity is one of the most important element of content that worth people to share. We begin to see ‘fleshmob’ starting to feel much more designed and staged. The spontaneous effect is diluted and very soon we all will see through it and lose interests. (reference: Banco Sabadell – Som Sabadell)
  • The idea of judging the effectiveness of video content on its own is hugely misleading. Unless we are in a creative award whereby we are purely looking at a single media of the specific entry. Best campaign effects come from the synergy created by online and offline and everything in between.
  • Simplicity continues to be the winning factor. If something is genuinely interesting, 5 sec is all it needs. We also need to make sure there is ‘meaning’ behind the ‘making. People have not stopped communicating. What’s changed is we are getting better and better at filtering. It’s only the valuable stuff that will spread between people, igniting conversations among those who trust each other. (reference: P&G – Thank You Mama – Best Job 2012)
  • Video content is becoming more sophisticated with much higher production value. This is both driven by the fact that producing high quality videos is much easier to achieve cost effectively these days. With the popularity of mobile device with HD quality video capability, it makes sense to optimize that for the benefit of bringing out the brand message. The downside of it is there is a tendency to use technology for the sake of it and forget about the ‘story’. (reference: GoPro HERO3)

I have embedded a few of my favourites here:

Red Bull – ‘Klug’ (Clever): The Athlete Machine

TNT Belgium – A Dramatic Surprise

P&G – Thank You Mama – Best Job 2012

Here are the titles of the full list of 20 videos:

  • Safe Internet Banking – Amazing mind reader reveals his ‘gift’
  • Air New Zealand Safety Video – An Unexpected Briefing
  • Banco Sabadell – Som Sabadell (We are Sabadell)
  • Red Bull – ‘Klug’ (Clever): The Athlete Machine
  • NIKE FOOTBALL – My Time is Now
  • ‪Sesame Street – Share It Maybe
  • Nike Football: Mercurial Vapor VIII: Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Rafa Nadal
  • Coke Zero – Unlock the 007 in you
  • GoPro HERO3
  • Google Project Glass – One day
  • PBS Digital Studios – Garden of Your Mind
  • Volkswagen – The Bark Side, 2012 Volkswagen Game Day Commercial Teaser
  • ‪OK Go‪ – Needing/Getting – Music Video
  • Metro Trains – Dumb Ways to Die
  • 2 year old William Stokkebroe dancing the jive
  • P&G – Thank You Mama – Best Job 2012
  • DC SHOES: Ken Block present Gymkhana FIVE: Ultimate Urban Playground
  • Abercrombie & Fitch – “Call Me Maybe”
  • TNT Belgium – A Dramatic Surprise
  • KONY 2012

I would like to hear from you the most talked about video content in your local market. Please comment here, send me a link or send a tweet @louiechow. I will include your suggestions in the next update for everyone to compare.

If we have to choose a high street fashion brand that had made global news recently, it had to be Topshop. During London Fashion Week in September, the fashion industry had widely praised the brand for unlocking the selling power of social media, turning ‘likes’ into ‘sells’. The effort seemed to have paid off and have certainly uplifted the brand to a global status. ‘Shoot the Show’ was also described by Topshop’s chief marketing officer, Justin Cooke as social, commerce and entertainment rolled into one.

Here are the highlights of the truly 360° activation of the Topshop Spring Summer 2013 extravaganza:

  • The entire fashion show was live-streamed on their website on 16 Sept
  • The live stream video was pinned to the top of its Twitter page
  • Consumers could personalise and share their experience as it took place in real time in London’s Bedford Square
  • Converging with conventional retail activation – the show was also shown on large screens at its Oxford Circus flagship store in London and on the websites of more than 200 media partners
  • The ‘Customise the Catwalk’ feature allowed users to select and order the key looks and accessories, and change the colour to their preferred option before placing the order
  • Viewers could click on clothes and accessories to browse color options as they came down the catwalk
  • Garments ordered ‘live’ from the runway could be delivered three months ahead of industry lead times
  • The partnership with Facebook that featured a ‘Shoot the Show’ function, whereby fans could trigger a ‘camera icon’ on the screen and take a snap of their favourite looks, they could then share it on Facebook with their friends
  • All the tracks from the show were available to be downloaded via iTunes on topshop.com
  • Beauty products used by models were available online with a 48-hour delivery promise
  • Online tutorials were developed to guide fashion fans to develop their own look inspired by the catwalk show
  • Twitter followers (@Topshop) were encouraged to review the show in a ‘Tweet-off’ for a chance to win tickets to the next runway show
  • Branded content: Topshop posted videos of the show 30 mins after the event ended as newsfeed to every country

Snapshots of stats:

  • Both #TOPSHOP and UNIQUE trended globally on Twitter Sunday
  • 100,000 images shared every 20 seconds
  • One garment was sold out in 10 minutes …during the show. In every colour.
  • 2 million people in over 100 countries watched the live-streamed show, its largest online audience ever

The social media strategy seemed to have indeed made Topshop go global. What could possibly be missing?

This year, from May to end of August, Topshop had opened a pop-up store in Shenzhen, China. Now, of all the cities in China, it’s not clear what’s the strategy behind the choice of location, but nevertheless, the global ambition is clear. What I am wondering is, when will the retail brand start localizing the online shopping site to ensure it connects to the local consumers?

Here’s the topshop.com ecommerce site for the China market:

Topshop’s CMO Justin Cooke tweeted during the social media extravaganza: ‘This was the dream #Topshop we might just be the first case study they all wanted – social to commercial, likes to pounds…more to come’. Will the web site be localised in time to even enhance local consumers’ online experience?

While online shopping in China is flourishing, should retailers look at how to implement the global brand locally? Should e-commerce act as one part of their overall digital strategy as well as their overall integrated strategy offline? These are all the questions I like to explore in future blogs. Let me know your thoughts.

*The image shows the Chinese character of ‘one’.

With all the best creative works in the world, hundreds of hours of seminars, forums, workshops, screenings, not to mention the chance to catch up with creatives from all cultures (and scanning QR codes on each other’s name tag), Cannes Lions remain the definitive global event that the whole industry converge, debate and celebrate. ‘Rethinking’, ‘redefining’ are the usual buzzwords at Cannes. It’s a time to take stock of what we do and what it means to us, to our clients and to the industry as a whole.

Here are a few personal favourites, takeaways and observations.

Diverse talents

Every year, the winning works in Cannes often lead to healthy debates and discussions. This year, the most talked about winning works were from some of the most diverse talents.

Ogilvy Shanghai’s entry entitled ‘#CokaHands’ that won the agency a Grand Prix in the outdoor category was designed by Jonathan Mak, a 20-year-old Hong Kong designer. Some people questioned what the agency’s involvement in the creation of the work and whether ‘co-creation’ deserved to win in Cannes. The truth is, creative ideas can now come from absolutely anywhere. The role of creative directors is increasingly becoming a ‘curator’ of talents or a ‘conductor’ of ideas from various disciplines. The power of an idea sometimes depends on the content created by the crowd. It wouldn’t surprise me that in the future there will be an award dedicated to the public.

Connected thinking

In the past few years, digital had been the hot topic. This year, it’s all about ‘content’. The Festival afterall, had been renamed as the ‘Festival of Creativity’ for many years and it now covers creativity across all disciplines. This year the Festival had added new categories including ‘Branded Content and Entertainment Lions’ and ‘Mobile Lions’. For ‘Branded Content’, it was defined as “the creation of, or natural integration into, original content by a brand”. The new categories reflect the diverse formats of the creative content being created, making sure the Festival remain relevant to the evolution of the industry.

The conventional ‘art director + copywriter’ creative team structure is also becoming obsolete. In order to create truly innovative solution for clients it’s more common for creatives to be teamed up or partnered with technology strategists, or in some cases, producers in the entertainment business.

I feel strongly that the new breed of creative talents will all have the natural capability of ‘connected thinking’, and integrated approach will be at the heart of everything we do. Just look at the Grand Prix winner in the ‘Ambient’ category entitled ‘The Invisible Drive’ promoting the Mercedes-Benz F-CELL hydrogen-powered car. The outcome was that the big idea connected with consumers as wide as social media, PR and mobile channels. Ambient or mobile is no longer the ‘peripheral’ media but in some cases they become the key to integrate other touch points.

Another remarkable example of truly cross-disciplinary thinking was Nike+’s Fuelband, which Stefab Olander said in his presentation, that the products and services had become the marketing. Bob Greenberg of R/GA described Nike is a ‘functionally integrated’ company that offer ‘seamless, interconnected services and experiences, not just products’. This way of thinking will become the DNA of future brand architecture, and naturally influences how we as creatives tackle the challenge.

Democratisation of content

A couple of years ago, when MOFILM started to challenge the industry by introducing a new content-based democracy, inviting film production talents from all over the world to crack the creative brief and produce content for big brands, a lot of us were sceptical about the practice. Was it just a trend? Was it created out of brand’s desire to shop around for ideas and driving down production costs? Today, it all seems to make perfect sense. Not only has it met the demanding nature of the explosion of multi-screen channels, it actually turned out to be a totally viable model to unite production talents from creative agency, film and the music industry. Clients also become more involved and actively participating in the creative process. But I think the most exciting development is in nurturing new talents. The ‘Welcome to the industry’ initiative from MOFILM, has already starting to break down the barriers within an industry historically being dominated by a few big giant production houses.

Clients believe in magic

In one of the Cannes stories showcased in Cannes, Sir Martin Sorrell said ‘creativity is what makes clients’ precious marketing budget goes further’. Cannes has always served an instrumental value of promoting the passion of creativity not just among creative teams but also among clients. It’s an opportunity for clients to witness why creating and producing good work matters to us, and how we could work together to build trust and empathy towards meeting each other’s objectives.

In the seminar ‘Can your Client Be Your Friend?’ Joel Ewanick of GM and Jeff Goodby demonstrated what’s the perfect client agency relationship is. When your client starts a conversation and you complete the sentence, that’s good partnership. An agency is not a ‘service provider’ but someone to help connecting the dots.

Local creativity shines

The international representation of the delegates has boosted the importance of local creativity. Local creative talents had been given the opportunity to showcase the unique creative approach that often creatives from other culture do not understand. Brazil had set up their design focused showcase, China Advertising Association promoted the creative culture through mobile technology, production house from Russia and digital group from Thailand all tried to take advantage of the opportunity to reach out to international creatives. Mexico had even erected their ‘pop-up’ venue just across the street from the Palais with the aim to welcome clients and creative talents who like to know more about the market.

Among all the seminars, Korea made a point about their ‘cultural assets’ with the recent success of K-Pop phenomenon, and Japan took to the stage and shared with us the success story behind the global icon of Hello Kitty being localised for different markets. Julian Boulding from the Networkone continued to showcase work of independent creative agencies from China to Spain and Sweden, the presentation not only was about sharing the great work coming from independent agencies, but also the unique approaches that reflect their local culture. My favourite, however, was the local pride demonstrated by R. Balki, Chairman and CCO of Lowe Lintas India and Shekhar Kapur, Oscar nominated director. Balki firmly believed that the desire of India is to remain India, and when he said ‘Where there is a difference, there is a creative interest’ he addressed the issue of global advertising head on. I salute to that.

Creativity for good

There has been much talk in recent times about how the advertising industry should use our wealth of creativity to help change people’s behavior for the benefit of the world. That message was amplified when former President Bill Clinton gave a heart-felt and compelling talk in Cannes. Not only did his insight and global context made the case impressively, the topic was also timely and very much in line with the current trend of ‘building brands for good’. He also pinpointed our role as creatives is to spread the information and get it right. He said “A lot of the facts that will form the trends of the future are not apparent to people. The communicators will have a profound influence on how the next 20-30 years will turn out…People need honest communication. You can do that.”

Indeed, some of the freshest ideas that won in this year’s Festival were rooted from a desire to create something meaningful and useful for people. Examples like the Chipotle’s ‘Back to the Start’ film combined with the brand’s Cultivate Foundation. The ‘Unhate’ print work from Benetton connects the brand with social responsibility.

The cream of the crop I think clearly goes to the ‘Help Memories Bandages campaign’ created by Droga5. The campaign had turned marrow registration as a part of an everyday act by putting a marrow registry kit into a box of Help Remedies bandages.

A standing ovation

In an industry that brings in fresh new talents every year, it’s important that we pay respect to the gurus who had shaped the idea of great advertising over the years. This year Google’s ‘Re: Brief’ project had done exactly that. The project aimed to challenge whether the most iconic advertising campaigns can be ‘re-imagined’ for a modern audience. We had the chance to meet Paula Green, the original copywriter who authored the Avis slogan ‘We Try Harder’ and Harvey Gabor, the art director who helped to make the Coca-Cola ‘Hilltop’ TVC a global success. Google’s objective of this campaign was to prove that digital channels could extend any big ideas in innovative ways. For us, witnessing the collaboration between the legendary creatives and the bright young things was simply a joy. By applying fresh thinking, innovative creative ideas sometimes could be born out of genius adaptation. No wonder at the end of the seminar, the adland legends received a standing ovation from the audience.

Before it all becomes distant memories, what are your best bits of this year’s Cannes Festival? I like to hear from you.

I will also expand some of these themes in future blogs and apply insights from a local perspective, please join in the discussions.