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In a fragmented media, how do you drive valuable engagement, capture attention and transform that attention into action? How do you create standout work to meaningfully connect with audiences? The Drum sat down with Wieden+Kennedy London chief executive, Neil Christie, for a fireside chat about creativity in the 21st century at the JW Player Insights conference. He showcased some famous W+K work to illustrate the impact of creativity and the big idea in a world obsessed with data and intelligence.

Are brands unadventurous when it comes to big ideas on video?

TK Maxx - Why Would Anyone Shop At TK Maxx?
 
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When asked whether brands are becoming risk averse and ads are getting boring, Christie said advertising and communications is not getting any worse, but rather “[advertising] is getting increasingly less welcome because of its intrusiveness.

“At W+K we recognise we don’t necessarily have people’s permission to use up their time, so advertising must do something rewarding — be entertaining and be relevant. As an agency, [we’re] looking for something cultural to provoke a reaction.”

The role of effective advertising – in an increasingly media-saturated world – is to find a way to cut through the noise.

“To cut through, you have to make a difference. You must do something that is interesting. Only 4% of advertising is positively remembered” said Christie, and went on to add “why do something mediocre, when the chances that cutting through and being remembered is tiny?”

Ground-breaking content often emerges as a result of experimentation, when the brand gives the agency the space to innovate when the outcome can easily be flight or fall.

More video doesn't mean less of anything else: Take risks

Nike - Nothing Beats a Londoner - W+K London
 
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Considering that brands can often be hesitant when giving agencies the creative freedom to experiment, how do you then create video that is brilliant at capturing visual attention, telling stories and eliciting emotion?

“Every client is different. What we try to encourage is to prepare to take risks occasionally. If you don’t ever take risks, and aim high, then I don’t think you’ll ever get that additional achievement than if you play it safe.”

Often at W+K, he said, the agency sets aside a proportion of its marketing spend to do something experimental – even though they don’t know whether that will work or not.

Christie referred to Three’s viral dancing pony as an example. The ad involved a Shetland pony moonwalking to Fleetwood Mac, which earned a top trending spot in 2013.

Not totally convinced by the nature of the ad, at the time, Three’s marketing director raised his concerns with Christie, asking him “can you promise me that a moonwalking pony is going to be successful?” Although unable to foresee the huge success of the ad, Christie had to reassure that him that he was “100% certain!”

Data, creativity and authenticity

Formula 1 - Rebrand case study - W+K London
 
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Cutting through today's media noise takes a combination of both data and design. When asked how important data and technology in day to day conversations at a creative agency, Christie insisted they are "obviously important. We need to understand what we're trying to do. It helps us understand if we're spending money in the right place.

"But we don't think data holds all the answers" he added, "if we only think about our customers as being data points, it’s unlikely we can produce any work that's based on any real insights."

Talking about influencer marketing that he said continues to take precedence in the ad world, Christie said how his agency does not tend to indulge "in that sort of thing.”

He pointed to the one of the most successful campaigns of recent times — Nike’s ‘Nothing Beats a Londoner’ - which experienced great success when it went viral earlier in the year. He said that the campaign did not need to focus on sports stars or sports influencers, but “real kids from London, which we hoped will connect with the UK market. The idea was to target those who were not engaging with the sportswear's sometimes unrelatable sports star campaigns.

"We're always looking for something that's genuinely authentic to the brand and the audience. You need something more substantial than just borrowing a celebrity."

When relevance meets creativity

Three - Phones Are Good - W+K London
 
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Asked whether certain brand ideas lend themselves to the cross-devices conversations, Christie said there "are some categories where the people are far less engaged across those different platforms. We need to use platforms which are relevant to the message, and the best way to get to people.

"For Three, a brand that exists in the mobile world, we obviously wanted to use all those platforms because it's the best way to reach those people you're trying to talk to and it's relevant to the message.

"We don't do that so much for a client like Lurpak butter, because most of the time, people aren't searching for butter content on their tablets or their phones. So, you've got to recognise that you need to serve it to people in a place that's relevant and they're going to be prepared to listen to it."

The emerging platform Christie said he is most excited about is Twitch, a live streaming video platform and a subsidiary of Amazon.

"It has a surprisingly wide audience and it can also keep people engaged for a long time.

"On Twitter, you can do stuff that lasts a day or two days, while Twitch offers long-format uploading content."