Thursday, February 11, 2010

Brand provocation, next generation, authenticity, collaboration

How do you contribute to, or provoke, new thinking and generate ideas in your office?
With every new client comes the potential or provocation for new ideas. Listen first to the customer/client, see what their issues are and how they give us a different or new perspective. This opens the door to new approaches, opportunities to challenge conventions, push boundaries and move into new territories. Unfortunately this can sound like a creative agency cliché … with safe and sometimes cookie cutter results despite the bold promises. The goal is to create thought provoking work. But how?
My simple philosophy is to make myself nervous. It’s the only way to truly assess whether the approach or creative output is moving towards something unique. When you feel uncomfortable, you’re generally treading in new territory (even if that means scraping your shoe afterwards). I push this approach on each creative project and encourage others to put themselves outside of their element, starting with a different discipline as a basis; be it scientific, artistic or strategic.

Which business or consumer-facing company (or brand) do you believe best demonstrates next generation thinking and why?
From within the agency realm, who can argue with the quality of R/GA’s digital and interactive solutions. They create brands that allow consumers to interact, contribute and shape their own experience … and represent the next generation of brand approach. In the consumer facing arena, it’s easy to put forward a brand like Apple … but I applaud them because they truly live innovation. It’s not a throw-away brand value in a chart, it’s a true brand culture that the company lives. Every organization should have the courage to outdate their own products … and it’s shown to make a lot of business sense too. Lastly, India’s Tata Motors Nano, the world’s cheapest automobile, has the potential to revolutionise the Indian economy. With variants including compressed air engines, and hybrid electric motors in development, interest is not only swelling in the local market but from European nations. It may portend a new era in inexpensive personal transportation, aligned with the global trend towards smaller cars.

What does authenticity mean to you?
Authenticity means having relevant substance and history. Here in Singapore, the local Thai restaurant down the road claims to be authentic. Is it as authentic as flying to Thailand and eating there? No, but taking the thai belly from the experience may be a preferred level of authenticity for some, whilst the risk factor and cultural immersion holds appeal for others. The experience can remain authentic as long as it encompasses unique cultural attributes and a sense of the original source.
And why is it important? Authenticity means something because it’s hard to create and impossible to emulate. We’ve seen with the Asian market entry of global luxury brands like Vuitton and Prada a shift from the slick westernized look to a more authentic Asian style. Familiar faces like Gong Li, Joan Chen combined with the cinematic style of local Directors Yang Fudong in the surrounds of Beijing and Shanghai means more to the local audience than the backdrops of New York or Madrid. Audiences know what authenticity is … they sense it inherently because they know it can’t be faked.

When and why does collaboration work?
Just putting a lot of people in a room together does not equal collaboration. There is always the danger of simply averaging out the results. Do you want a team of a hundred junior doctors operating on you? Or one doctor who has done the operation a hundred times? But in a creative environment, where inspiring the unexpected is core to success, collaboration is essential. Much like assembling a champion sports team, success occurs when complimentary talents are placed together. The classic advertising team of an art direction + copywriter worked for so long because they attacked every problem from at least two very different perspectives. On a personal level, I’ve been eternally thankful on late nights to be able to call in second opinions. Sometimes you get so involved in a project you lose sight of the details, especially when you’ve been staring at the screen for seven hours straight. There is nothing like asking a colleague over at 3am in the morning for a second check … and having him tell you ‘It all looks good, except you’ll want to remove ‘ButtHead’ from the client name area’.

You’ll owe him a beer after that. Collaboration works.


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