May 2020

A while ago, pundits proclaimed the death of the creative agency and the disappearance of those of us who pop culture has got everyone referring to as the Mad Men. The new-age agency, they predicted, would be full of suits and media folks and martech types, and you aren’t going to find a pencil or a sketch pad, or an ounce of imagination lurking about in these hallowed halls of numbers and rationality.

This much-predicted death hasn’t happened. Marketers are realising that people aren’t always as rational as they seem. Take vehicle purchases, for instance. The BMW buyer isn’t necessarily thinking about car features vis-a-vis a Toyota when he is giving his credit card at the car showroom. The bike lover isn’t thinking about congested Bangalore roads when he pockets the keys of his latest Yamaha superbike. And if you think either of them is an extreme case, then let me share with you the story of a friend who revealed to me one day that the key reason he picked up his car was that he liked the reassuring thud with which his car door closed.

In short, there is madness in everyone’s method. And a creative thinker recognises that and sees how best to utilise that basic human insight. That’s why the creative types haven’t gone extinct. But many have gone underground, and after this illuminating tete-a-tete with Phil Adrien, MD for the Creative Group at Dentsu Aegis Network, we just may have figured out where to find them. 


A product that magically appears just when you need it? There’s a Mad Man behind it. 

Every consumer travels a certain path on the way to a product purchase. According to Phil, recognising the path, and knowing when to show up and how to show is an ace a creative thinker has up his sleeve. “The brands that are winning are the ones that understand the purpose, the why behind their existence,” he says. For us, that makes perfect sense: a BMW, for instance, recognises that its purpose goes beyond just selling cars — as an astute marketing professor once revealed to me, it’s about selling ambition. 

Savvy brands recognise the value of creative partners when driving customers down the funnel, whether it be catching people’s attention or converting them into buyers. When such brands show up in a consumer’s radar, they are crystal clear about what the message is, thanks to the creative thinking that goes behind clarifying the message.


Customer experience reimagined? There’s creativity lurking behind the scenes. 

While working with Apple during his university days, Phil picked up an important lesson in his sales-enablement training. Apple’s key philosophy for their front-line staff was “Surprise & delight the customers.” “‘Surprise and delight’ doesn’t always need to be fireworks and extravagance. It can mean being the right solution at the right place at the right time,” he explains. And for us as marketers, this is the best of times to be creative in our customer experience, because we have a wealth of data that can inform our idea. Unlike the Mad Men of yesteryears, we do not have to generalise about our audience, or as the term familiar to many a marketer goes, spray and pray. “We know more about our customers than ever before, and I almost feel like we have a responsibility as marketers to work collaboratively to show up at the right places and win by providing that surprise and delight.”


Avant-garde, witty and tongue-in-cheek messaging? Mad Men ahoy!  

No matter whether you are in B2B marketing or B2C, creativity gets a fair bit of drubbing. B2B marketers often think they have to play ‘safe’, while B2C marketers feel they have to stick to offers and tactical messaging. Phil urged us to let go of these misconceptions, and instead think of all advertising as B2H (Business to Human) advertising. 

We see a lot of smart brands doing this well. Volvo’s trucks grabbed eyeballs a few years ago when Jean-Claude Van Damme did a split across two of them to demonstrate product effectiveness. Every B2B product probably needs to demonstrate product effectiveness at some point, but unless a marketer somewhere didn’t think B2H and agree to put the message across in a unique and entertaining way, this award-winning ad wouldn’t have existed. 

And coming to B2C advertising, we’re big fans of Durex India’s social media channels. Let’s decode the B2H thinking here — forget racy images, a sense of humour is sexy too, and just as effective when it comes to highlighting the product. And that’s why the tongue-in-cheek wordplay we’ve come to expect from the brand works so well for it. 


And finally, a brand that stays relevant in these times? Creativity spotted.

We are living in uncertain times right now, and businesses need to steer past a lot of difficulties to stay afloat and thrive. But if you are a ‘brand’ rather than a business, you’re going to be called to do a lot more. You will need to be a beacon of hope that can move people rendered catatonic by the crisis that threatens to overwhelm them every day. In Phil’s words, a brand can be a lighthouse. And put creativity to good use, to pivot and address people’s fears and needs or better still, to pirouette and inspire people to greater things. This is possible only when brands and marketers have a strong sense of purpose, and creativity is thriving. Phil shared the example of companies that pivoted from making haute couture to making PPE for front-line workers. Closer to home, we see such brands amongst our own clients, such as Income, that has promptly extended a helping hand to their customers through new products and support schemes,  Space Matrix, that is currently working on making workplaces safer for when people get back to the office, or IRO, that is delivering hope and prayer to the faithful of all communities who miss their spiritual sustenance during these trying times. 

It’s hard work, and yet, as Phil mentioned, a strong sense of purpose is the one thing that can inspire us marketers to find the creative spark within us and around us and do the right thing for our clients and customers. Which brings us to the quest for those Mad Men — they’re probably hidden away in plain sight, amongst your customer experience folks, your marketing agency, and even staring back at you from the mirror. Stop, hear them out, and it just may turn out that 2020 will be the year for brand creativity.


Join us on Thursday, 28 May 2020, for episode 6 of the #HappyWebinars, where we’ll look at how CMOs can don the media hat effectively. If you haven’t signed up yet for our #HappyWebinars on The Marketer who Wears Many Hats, and want to attend the remaining episode in the series, here’s the sign-up link.

Celia Vincent
Celia Vincent

Senior Copywriter, dedicated and hardworking 💪🏻

Passionate about words, and meticulous about crafting her phrases just right, Celia is equally comfortable with writing long and short form copy. However, she believes that a great piece of content is born long before she puts it down on paper. It all begins with that spark of an idea. That’s why she sees the brainstorming phase as one of the most important parts of her creative process.