Sir Dave Brailsford

It was a blast at the recent first ever Advertising Week Europe in London. There were truly diverse viewpoints from a wickedly broad representation of thought leaders in the industry.

True, it was pretty London-centric, and not representative of ‘Europe’ as such.

However, there was one point I found particularly refreshing.

Sir Dave Brailsford’s ability to balance art with science and his point on ‘clarity’ as the most important thing in winning is truly inspirational, especially for an industry that is constantly in a state of change.

Clarity, not contradiction, is what we need.

The advertising industry at large remains operating in silos. When mobile becomes increasingly important in the consumers’ journey, the only way to be creative is ‘to be mobile’. As clients demand the evidence of effectiveness through big data, creative ideas have to be ‘data-driven’. As the boundaries between ‘content’ and the traditional form of advertising are blurred, everyone starts raising their objections and protect their line of business, reminding everyone else to ‘mind their own business’.

Everyone has a point, within each individual’s own territory. But why can’t we think in a media-neutral way?

Or should be listen to what Chuck Porter from CP+B said: ‘Don’t start with ads, start with business solutions’?

Nevertheless, there were some fantastic debates and remarkable insights coming out from the conference. In the true fashion of today’s ‘bite-size’ communications, I summarise it in a slide show here.

And as Sir Dave Brailsford also suggested, ‘don’t let numbers inform observations’.

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There are certain debates that seem almost impossible to have a conclusion.

…Left brain versus right brain.

…Is advertising an art or a science?

…Is technology an enabler of creativity or in fact leading to predictable solutions?

…Data versus creativity?

With digital media gaining credibility through archiving highly measurable results, marketers are convinced that ‘Big Data’ will be the number one item on the CEO’s agenda in 2013.

On the other hand, creative folks continuously argue that data kills creativity. In a recent conference organized by Thinkbox in the UK, top creative directors and planners expressed their concerns that creative ideas are often ‘over analysed and pasteurised’.

In the US, leading creatives from interactive agencies even think that ‘data driven creative equals mediocre creative’, since it only encourage risk avoidance. Data does not equal to insight.

At Spikes Asia 2012, a panel of media professionals advocated that ‘data-led creativity is more than just hype, it’s the future’.

While at the Cannes Festival of Creativity 2012, a session hosted by Adobe was entitled ‘Is data killing creativity?’

The strong themes coming through from the session were that a balance needs to be achieved between the two. Data can identify the questions, but creativity must answer them and data must NEVER replace instinct.

Which side are you on?

The answer? There is no black and white conclusion.

What I believe is that data will only gain increasingly important and be considered as part of the tools to verify future direction and strategy. We will all be given much more access to data in more forms. Click-through rate, engagement rate, video playtime, the lists go on and new buzzwords being invented everyday.

When was the last time you attended a presentation either from creatives or strategists, that not a single data was mentioned as support of any argument?

However, data is not always the most powerful piece of evidence that can effectively strengthen any argument. As simple and straightforward as these little ‘evidence’ promise to be, if not used carefully, can create more problems than they solve. Of course there is also the critical cultural differences, what works in one culture does not necessarily mean the same data will apply in another market.

As creatives, instead of fighting against it, we should be more inclusive. We should interrogate it, understand the context around it, learn how to read data and use it wisely. We should also know how to interpret it in the context of the culture and adapt it to make it relevant for the specific brand and local market. Use data as raw materials to transform into innovative campaign platform, like the recent Topshop campaign I have talked about in previous blog. Elevate big creative ideas to ‘smart creative platform’ drawing on insights from data.

Planners, on the other hand, should make sure we are not relying on what had been a hit and success as evidenced by historical data, for that will only lead to me-too creative ideas. We need foresights not mere hindsight.

In one word, it’s teamwork.

At the Advertising Week Europe conference next week, there will be a presentation by Yahoo on the ‘Power of Personalisation’. Let’s see how we can use data to fuel creativity rather than killing it.

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Topshop is no stranger to creating social media sensations. Last year, Topshop took the high street fashion chain’s social presence to a global level when they collaborated with Facebook on a “Customize The Catwalk” experience during London Fashion Week (see my summary of it in my previous blog post).

This year, the brand worked with Google+ to create yet another multi-dimensional experience. The trend for brands to work with social media platforms takes the definition of ‘the medium is the message’ to the digital age. The benefits for brands to co-create content with social media platforms directly is to tap into the expertise of the technology and jointly exploring innovative ways to connect with consumers.

It also guarantees a certain level of exclusivity during content-rich season such as the London Fashion Week when every brand is now producing live streaming of some sort and winning the consumers over unique experience is important.

Brands are also able to make the best use of data collected from various activities. While live streaming, and other ways to give consumers digital access to runway fashion, was more of a marketing tool at first, is now being seen as a research opportunity.

Here I would like to give a brief summary of the key elements of the campaign to illustrate how they are all inter-connected with each other:

Teaser: On 12 Feb, a trailer “The Future of the Fashion Show” (as featured below) was released as teaser of the upcoming activities, giving hints on the ‘storyline’ that would unfold in the following days leading up to Topshop Unique show at London’s Tate Modern on Feb 17. It’s also a crucial step to invite fans to get onboard Google+ that essentially acts as the hub and springboard of the Topshop ‘story’ of the season.

The Future of the Fashion Show – the trailer:

Creating buzz: On 14 Feb, Google+ and Topshop installed a “Be The Model” photo booth in Topshop’s flagship Oxford Street store in London. Customers can try on Topshop outfits and snap pictures in the booth, the device creates animated GIFs users can share with others on their social networks. Organically growing the number of followers and Topshop fans were turned into brand advocates through peer-to-peer recommendation.

Connecting with professional influencers: On 15 Feb, Topshop unveiled behind-the-scenes videos of the models and creative team preparing for Sunday’s show on its YouTube channel, and invited bloggers and fans to join a Google Hangout with Topshop’s creative director Kate Phelan and the Topshop design team. Specific content targets at the fashion circles that in turn act as credible voice for the brand – to give ‘a 360° view of what goes into creating a catwalk show’

Real-time experience: On 17 Feb, Topshop activated its full portfolio of interactive tools. 3-D Google Map technology was employed to give fans access to the show’s space in The Tank at Tate Modern. To create pre-show buzz, 30 mins before the show kicked start, Topshop broadcasted Google Hangouts between fashion bloggers, Topshop fans, and celebrities on their way into the unique space. More opportunities for the content to be widely spread on various platforms such as Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr.

Hangout Live Backstage Before Topshop Unique AW13:

Topshop Unique AW13 – The show:

Multi-platform distribution of content: The Topshop Unique Show was streamed live on Topshop’s owned website, as well as on Google+ and Twitter (Tweek Walk), in embedded media players on news organization websites and various fashion blogs, and on a giant screen in the window of Topshop’s Oxford Street store.

360° Interactivity: Runway models’ outfits and accessories were fitted with ‘Model cams’, HD micro-cameras powered by SIS Live’s Hawkeye techonology. The tiny cameras broadcast model’s-eye video in the corner of the show livestream, giving audience an opportunity to experience stepping out onto the catwalk through their favourite models’ eyes.

Content optimization: Other spin-offs were adopted from the success of the previous season’s livestream “Customize The Catwalk” initiative. These include the very successful “Shoot and Share” feature for fans to take still shots from the webcast, and various ways to prolong the experience by allowing fans to download the catwalk music tracks (this year the music featuring tracks from the Smiths, Beats International and Saint Etienne) and purchase the make up range. Every single element was fully utilised to extend the lifespan of the campaign.

Data intelligence: “Be The Buyer” post-show custom Google+ Hangout app was launched so that every clip from the runway will be swipable into a ‘wish-list’ which will then be featured on Topshop website. The data from the Google+ Hangout app will help the buyers decide what they are going to actually bring to retail. Fans feel like they are literally taking control of what they are going to buy.

It’s exciting to see how brands embrace digital channels to produce experiences that consumers really enjoy. The use of data also allows designers for the first time to make a very educated decision about how to plan. I believe the clever and seamless application of technology without making consumers feel like they have been put under the microscope is the key to success. As we know, the worst things happen to some of the digital campaign is that they tend to make consumers feel like they are generating content on behalf of the brands rather than having an enjoyable experience.

I would also like to see how this kind of co-creation could evolve to a global level, creating universal experience for consumers from different markets joining in the big event. It also allows brands to understand what works where globally. That could well be the next big news in global digital content creation.