PETALING JAYA: Advertising is on a “suicide” mission to wipe itself out, according to internationally renowned advertising veteran Paul Arnold.
He said there were glaring key themes and issues facing creative ad agencies globally and if it was not nipped in the bud then over time, the industry would self-destruct.
Arnold noted that, among others, there is a lack of client trust and the devaluation of creativity.“In terms of trust, the relationship between client and agency has shifted dramatically over the past decade.
“This is due to a mix of both being ‘let-down’ and also the ‘decoding’ of communication which means that clients believe they know how to ‘do’ communications.
“This is leading to an increasing trend for clients in mature markets to move many communications functions ‘in-house’,” he said.
Arnold recently conducted an intensive Creative Directors Leadership course based on need gaps identified by the Association of Accredited Advertising Agents,Malaysia (4As).
The contagion of the digital “always on” wave has resulted in agencies often reduced to becoming mere production lines of execution, often devoid of any real strategic thinking, he noted.
Arnold stressed: “Everyone has their ‘heads down’ trying to feed the hungry monster of digital. People on both sides are rarely applying critical thinking. No one is asking: Why are we doing this?”
“Where’s the mental stimulation of solving complex problems? Where’s the fun (so often necessary in creatively stimulating environments). Where’s the debates and banter? All I see are people rushing around or wired into their computers, zoning-out in mass isolation.” With AB testing, algorithms and improved targeted messaging, it’s easy to dismiss the role of creativity, he said.
For example, a marketer might think “If I can target a mother who has had a car accident, merely saying ‘Volvo’s are the safest cars’ is therefore enough to catch her attention. So do I really need expensive, creative solutions?”
AB testing is a test to see which ad works better, either option A or B.
In a world of decreasing and fragmented brand budgets, he said creativity is a critical competitive edge as it leverages the power of the media spend.
For instance, it can make a US$2mil budget feels like US$3mil, adding that weak creativity that just follows past precedent can have the opposite effect.
Furthermore, he said work by the UK-based Chartered Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) has shown that among others, creativity not only builds brand values, but it also increases sharing.
Arnold added that the ‘science’ of communications would never replace the ‘art’ of creativity. “The very art of creativity is about breaking the code and doing new work that is unexpected. Artificial Intelligence may help deal with low value electronic customer relationship management (e-CRM), social media postings, but brand building will still need to be in the hands of gifted creatives rather than machines or diagnostic tools,” he said.
Arnold has been in the ad industry for over 27 years working in Saatchi’s and then Grey.
Commenting on the value of creativity, 4As CEO Khairudin Rahim said: “In a world of product parity, the last unfair advantage a brand can have is the power of a high-value idea from the lateral thinkers residing within agencies.”
“Please refer to the fifty-plus Malaysian case studies that was awarded Gold or Silver for marketing effectiveness over the past 11 years at the Malaysian Effie awards,” he said.
Arnold added: “The sad reality is the client is facing not only the biggest challenges within their own organisation where marketing is being asked to step up and ‘show them the money’. They are also struggling to negotiate the right strategy in a very confused, constantly changing new media world and changing consumer expectations.
“So, they need communications’ consultants in this field more than ever. And if agencies cannot deliver this, they will have to seek answers from other consultancies, ironically at much higher rates.”
Asked what can be done about it, Arnold said the answer is simple but difficult to implement. There are five immediate strategies – focus, the balance sheet, proving effectiveness, revaluing creativity and training, he said.
Focus only on the important, he said, adding that less is always more.
Arnold said unlike the old days, organisations are now becoming increasingly valued not just by the balance sheet but by its intangible assets. The key intangible asset is ‘brand’.
If a CEO wants to build the value of their organisation,the most effective way of doing so is by building the brand. So who are “experts” in brand building?
Communication agencies, he said.
In the boardroom the battle is always over investment, he said where return on investment (ROI) wins out over idea or insight. The agency need to invest time in proving to clients that its work is effective and generating real business growth.
“We need first and foremost to be business people who just happen to wear advertising suits. People who solve their clients business problems through the power of creativity.
“Without creativity we do not exist. So, rather than creativity (advertising creative agencies) being an outmoded concept, it is actually more important than ever.
“The brief every agency needs to be working on is: ‘How to convince clients of the real added value creativity brings to their business’,” he said.
Khairudin said agencies that nurture creativity with an emphasis on effectiveness become more than mere intermediaries.
“They become true business partners, valued for their contribution to business performance and taken seriously by the boards of companies who now understand,creativity pays,” he added.
As for training, Arnold said the industry need to properly invest for the future by training in the skills to becoming proper business consultants. Furthermore,training is significantly cheaper than hiring-in the skills.
Key areas include training in business, strategic planning, behavioral economics and how to evaluate the effectiveness of a campaign,areas 4As Malaysia are investing in for its agencies.
In concluding his comments, Arnold said: “If agencies carry on the way they are, they are Destining themselves to becoming a low value, commoditised category – allowing a new breed of consultancies to attempt to add the creative spin.The opportunity to re-grasp our competitive edge is now.”
On the subject of training, Khairudin said the 4As in an exclusive alliance with the Chartered Institute of Practitioners in Advertising have introduced since 2016,several professional qualifications, including the “IPA EFF Test” recognised globally in 87 countries.
The EFF Test is for practitioners involved in the development and evaluation of effective creative work across all marketing communications disciplines.
“It equips delegates with the skills, confidence and knowledge base to now lead conversations with clients on how to deliver powerful,insightful, effective and efficient campaigns.
“Nineteen Malaysians have qualified since the 4As first introduced the qualification last year. The numbers will certainly grow based on the high ratings and word-of-mouth endorsement given by the newly certified delegates and agency leaders,” he said.