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Managing Marketing: Creativity, Purpose And Advertising

Carl_Ratcliff

Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by TrinityP3 Founder and Global CEO, Darren Woolley. Each podcast is a conversation with a thought-leader, professional or practitioner of marketing and communications on the issues, insights and opportunities in the marketing management category. Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals.

Carl Ratcliffe is the Founder of This is the Day, a creative hub for marketers and advertisers to tap into strategic and creative thinking to solve their big, juicy commercial problems. He shares his views on the role of creativity in advertising and the broader context of creativity and strategy in business. He discusses the challenges ahead for marketers and their agencies and provides insights from his experience into the ways of working from various perspectives in the industry.

You can listen to the podcast here:

Follow Managing Marketing on SoundcloudTuneInStitcher, Spotify and Apple Podcast.

Transcription:

Darren:

Welcome to Managing Marketing, a weekly podcast where we discuss the issues and opportunities facing marketing, media and advertising with industry thought leaders and practitioners.

Today I’m sitting down with Carl Ratcliff; founder of This is the Day, in fact a brand new founder. Welcome, Carl.

Carl:

Thank you very much, it’s good to be here, and thanks for inviting me.

Darren:

This is the Day, well this is the day to record a podcast but beyond that what else is This is the Day for?

Carl:

It’s something I have always wanted to set up, which is a creatively led, minded and spirited consultancy that has the capacity to pull in other strategists, thought leaders and practitioners to answer problems for businesses and brands.

I won’t be exclusively doing This is the Day moving forward; I’ll be doing a number of other things as well. But This is the Day will be the first cab off the rank.

Darren:

So it’s not a homily to the famous hymn of the same name? It’s actually the A-Team of creativity?

Carl:

The A-Team of creative thinking and strategic approach. I think the best creative, the best strategy tends to be problem biased; it looks to articulate the problem and solve that problem. So, it will be oriented in that way. This is the Day is no reference to the Bible or the hymn.

It is actually the song for those who like The The’s music—it’s a great tune, that’s about it. This is the Day is just a good name.

Darren:

So you’ve already selected your on-hold music for all those phone calls that come in.

Carl:

Yes.

Darren:

The advertising industry has a very narrow focus on the word creativity.

Carl:

Yes, it does.

Darren:

It almost feels like it means exclusively coming up with a message, commercial, story or an ad doesn’t it?

Carl:

Yeah, it does. And I think advertising agencies are rather slavish around that word. They talk a lot about creativity but really for the most part they’re talking about adverts or some sort of communication or message rather than the broader sense of creativity. If you look at Australia as a nation, a culture, it’s extremely resourceful and creative outside of the realm of marketing and advertising.

Whether that’s music, film, cultural arts, theatre, it’s a very creative place. And when you get into the realm of marketing that seems to wither and often disappear. This is the Day wants to try and bring that creativity that’s in culture and in the context in which we live and wants to bring it into marketing more thoroughly.

Darren:

Carl, do you think part of this is because of the structure of agencies? I often think that where you have an organisation that says over here is our creative department, you’ve automatically said the rest of the organisation isn’t that.

Carl:

Yes, I think that’s absolutely right. The notion that someone is called a creative and someone else isn’t is incredibly old-fashioned. I think creativity can be at its best when it’s integrated, when lots of different people are delivering or thinking about a creative solution.

The big corporate agencies that continue to have separate departments, that continue to not integrate in a meaningful way are behind the 8-ball.

Darren:

I remember when I was a creative, some of the best ideas came from the accounts director, receptionist or even the TV producer who would often say, ‘what about this’. Being a creative director is the ability to spot a great creative idea more than necessarily having one yourself.

Carl:

Absolutely, it’s like the old notion of the football manager being a great manager but not necessarily a great player. And when you’re running an agency as well you have to have the ability to see and recognise good ideas and then bring them to bear, into the room.

Darren:

And yet almost all creative directors are appointed because of their body of award-winning work, for being recognised as great practitioners rather than being selected for being great directors of creativity.

Carl:

That’s right. I think practitioners don’t necessarily make great managers and vice versa. Managing and optimising creativity is a difficult task. Just because you are very good at the practice doesn’t mean you’re going to be great at marshaling it and brokering opportunity and even selling it.

I’ve known great creatives who were shit when it came to selling it and they need someone else to articulate it, which is sometimes the role of strategy—to help articulate or define an idea that perhaps the creative person involved hasn’t necessarily seen.

Darren:

And one of the things I appreciate is at the start of this conversation you talked about This is the Day being a creative resource and then you talked about strategy. Some people think that creativity and strategy are quite separate but the two are the same aren’t they?

Carl:

I think so. You’re exercising a very similar part of your brain for sure. I think the two are absolutely related. To think strategically is to imagine creatively and vice versa. The two are absolutely related. And good creatives in a traditional agency would be super strategic.

One of the best creatives I’ve ever worked within Australia, Pia Chaudhuri is her name. She’s a wonderful creative but she’s super strategic. You’d have these incredible conversations with her and you would bounce back and forth and you were part of her creative process. And she was part of your strategic process.

And that link between creativity and thinking strategically should be an open corridor.

Darren:

I know a lot of great strategists who are also incredibly creative. Creative in their thinking. They wouldn’t dare sit down and start to write an ad but they’re creative in their approach to the way they work on strategy.

Carl:

Yeah, that’s right. There’s an old school traditional view that strategy—writes the creative brief (an old fashioned concept in itself)—there’s a view that the creative brief shouldn’t go anywhere near the creative idea. In fact, if you develop a very strong relationship with a set of individuals; strategy and planners or creatives it doesn’t really matter about the creative brief and all that nonsense.

Darren:

I remember working with a creative who became a strategist, Martin Karafa, and his attitude was it was his job to get as close to the best possible creative expression of the problem. Then he said, it’s your job as the creative to improve upon it.

It gave him permission to use the analytical and the creative skills of the strategist to get the brief to the point where it became a challenge. The number of times you see ads and they’ve put the strategy proposition up as the headline. He said, that’s perfectly fine; it just meant the creatives didn’t take it further, which is an interesting approach isn’t it?

Carl:

They’re having to build on the high ground already. And arguably, great creative is standing on the shoulders of great thinking. Having said that, I’ve also seen great work with no strategic insight in it at all but it’s still great.

I don’t think you have to have great insights necessarily, to produce great work, but you have to be able to lean in and embrace original thoughts and ideas. And whether you’re a strategist or a creative you’ve got to accept that originality is probably the best place to aim these days. And that’s what This is the Day is about.

It’s about trying to devise better articulation around problems and come up with more original thoughts and inputs to make that process between strategy and creative more dynamic and more of an obvious conduit.

We’ll look to work with all sorts of folk moving forward; whether that’s agencies or clients, we want to help Australian marketing get even better.

Darren:

The timing of this is interesting. What we’ve seen in the last 5 years is a big move of the major consulting and accounting firms that do consulting into the marketing space. What they’ve bought is analytical muscle and research that a lot of agencies would struggle to match.

Carl:

Yes, they would.

Darren:

The difficulty for them because of the culture of those organisations is actually to go into the next stage; the innovation, the creative component. When you’ve got a culture that is very much data, insight, fact-driven, to then do that quantum leap into creating must be incredibly difficult.

Could you see a role for This is the Day working with those organisations to provide the creative.

Carl:

Thinking and thoughts? Yeah, absolutely. One wouldn’t say no to anything like that. It’s an opportunity to let creativity do the hard work. And creativity and original thought when it’s properly articulated and expressed works wonders. It works very hard in a commercial sense. Yeah, we would want to work with people like that.

Darren:

To take you back a bit. You’ve worked with both client-side and agency-side and you also ran a PR company, One Green Bean.

Carl:

Yes, I did. And I’ve got a special love for One Green Bean and a special affection for earned and owned media and ideas that garner attention. Those are the ideas that are very special, that travel well.

Darren:

Before we get onto that I want to ask you do you see the same type of segmentation of creativity in PR firms that you see in agencies? Are PR firms more likely to integrate ideation into the whole organisation?

Carl:

Yeah, absolutely, there’s far less ego and structure. And also PR accounts and scopes of work are less in terms of the dollar. So, there’s far more collab, integration, an ethic of getting it done in most good PR agencies.

In fact, good PR agencies are no longer just PR they’re offering integrated work and solutions. A good PR agency will be able to take that creative muscle and is very good at collaborating and applying that muscle to social, creative content, and to wherever that muscle is needed and whenever clients are prepared to pay for it.

Darren:

And this is my experience that they’re happy to pick up an idea that’s been created somewhere else without treating it like ‘not created here’. And then applying it into the areas they’re responsible for such as owned and earned media.

Carl:

I think quite often the owners of the creative idea or campaign will come along to the PR agency and will go ‘PR that please’ and quite often that idea just isn’t PRable. It isn’t interesting or important and it’s not going to generate attention. No one’s going to want to write about it or share because it’s just an ad. It’s not particularly newsworthy.

I think in that moment good earned media specialists will say we need to make this fly and in order for that to happen they need to get involved earlier next time, they work together but also try and put some fuel into this and make it work harder. They won’t destroy the idea necessarily but they will try and be consultative and add their value and expertise to make the idea sell harder.

It’s a difficult thing because you can look at stuff and go that’s really beautiful or I’m mildly entertained by it but you’re not necessarily going to be able to get it into news and sharing.

Darren:

This reminds me of the whole dichotomy you see in omni-channel marketing. There’s a school of thought that omni-channel means the collar and cuffs have to match, that everything has to be a visual replication in every channel. The idea is not the central piece, it’s the expression of the idea that counts.

Whereas the other group say it’s the core idea. Because if you’re going to express that as a 30-second TV ad that’s going to be very different to a short-form film or a radio ad.

Carl:

Absolutely. Inevitably, the traditional agencies, the WPPs and DDBs of this world will argue that their idea is the core idea and that needs to be consistent. Consistency is often used when you’re talking about ideas working through media in those bigger groups.

But in fact you just need the idea to be coherent. I don’t think it has to be collars and cuffs.

Darren:

I think the reason is the way they look at it. You walk into a boardroom and someone’s gone to the trouble of printing out all of the different things and sticking them up on a wall and they want to see consistency. But the consumer never sees messaging like that.

They wake up in the morning and the radio goes on and they’ll hear an ad or they’ll see something, an outdoor, on the way; it’s not all put together on a boardroom wall to be reviewed.

Carl:

And ideas just don’t exist like that do they in real life? Creativity is a very powerful force. Advertising is a relatively weak force. When it works (and I’ve written papers on this) and I’m a huge fan of advertising that’s powerful and effective but for the most part it’s a relatively inferior weak force and isn’t half as poweful as it might be.

If you look to markets like New Zealand or the US, UK you’ll see far more creative work working harder for clients. There seems to be a reticence quite often in Aussie marketing departments to really push boundaries and push work into an interesting place and that’s a shame.

Darren:

A lot of it is based around the idea of paid media, which means I can just ram it down your throat until you pay attention as opposed to owned and earned and shared where it’s really about the idea being so contagious (a great term to use during a pandemic) that people actually want to engage with it.

Carl:

Yeah, that’s right. If you look at great campaigns or ideas—let’s use Cannes as an arbiter of what’s great for just a moment—often the very best ideas have earned at their heart. They have a real brilliant component that is able to either seed the idea or help it travel more efficiently and work really hard for those earned and owned channels.

I’m thinking about Meet Graham from BBDO or the Carrefour work in France last year. Those are ideas that travel brilliantly because they have this kind of news component. And it’s that that leads the idea into people’s hearts and heads.

Darren:

I’m glad you used 2 examples where there was actually paid advertising from real advertising clients. One of the things that always annoys me when people raise the Cannes Lions, they start using examples that are all not for profits. And the question is, is the only way the agency can produce a piece of work like that is having a client that’s not paying for it?

Carl:

Yes. If you have a very good agency with a good track record and there are lots of those agencies in Australia then you should probably let them get on with their job rather than interfering to the extent you diminish an idea.

That said, I’ve also worked with clients in Australia who have really optimised or augmented the work and made the idea that much better. Ideally you have a meeting of minds don’t you? But quite often, these days, agencies will have lots of interesting ideas and those ideas can get dumbed down and you end up putting out the lowest common denominator.

Darren:

What you’re talking about, having a client and an agency working together, it’s a co-creation.

Carl:

It is.

Darren:

And that requires a level of maturity, especially on the client-side, which, I think often doesn’t happen. There are so many clients now in such precarious positions within their own organisation. When we look at the publicised tenure of senior marketers it’s 2 to 3 years.

Carl:

It’s nothing.

Darren:

How can you possibly make brave decisions when you’re feeling the sand shifting under your feet?

Carl:

It’s not easy and I’ve been a client, I’ve bought difficult work and suffered as a consequence. It’s much easier to take the path of least resistance and buy something safe that will shift a few intermediate metrics to make everyone think well there’s nothing to see here. But there needs to be something to see here!

Darren:

Especially now as we go into the post-COVID 19 recession. Marketers are all asking how can I achieve more with less?

Carl:

Absolutely, and that’s become acute. And do you spend money at the top of the funnel or the bottom of the funnel? Do you try and split your money accordingly? Do you do the long and the short of it (which is what Mr. Ritson talks about)? Do you just hold the tiller and hold steady or do you try and spend your money in a more meaningful way?

It’s going to be super tricky for lots of marketers and for agencies. Where we get to in 2 or 3 years’ time, the tools we use and how we do it will be far more nuanced than some of our commentators are suggesting at the moment. It’s a binary view on do this, do that, you’ll be fine. But in fact it is unprecedented, it is completely unusual.

This is a pandemic and has created an extraordinary environment in which to try and make your brand grow and try and make marketing work. On top of that we’re going to start seeing different societal behaviours as well. Behavioural economists say it takes about 60 days for a new habit to form.

New habits are forming right now that perhaps we haven’t thought about how we’re going to make them part of our customer journey. It’s going to be super tricky.

Darren:

The other thing it seems to have done is accelerated a lot of the changes we’d already seen. There was this move towards online ecommerce and retailing. There has been cocooning since the 90’s and cocooning has become a big thing. We’ve seen the rise, especially in the last few months of the home delivery—Uber Eats and things like that. All of these things will continue in some shape or form.

Carl:

That’s right. More than ever, homes are sanctuaries and that cocooning is going to continue to grow. There are some other things that have happened as well in terms of strategies falling by the wayside.

Things like brand purpose, which loads of people have banged on about and it drives me mental. Simon Sinek, lovely man that he is, and a very smart man—he’s made a lot of money, much more than I have. But the brand purpose thing drives me mad.

People are now demanding that brand purpose has got to get real. What’s your action? What are you doing?

Darren:

When I read Built to Last he talks about purpose there but organisational purpose—why does the company exist? And Unilever, everyone talks about Dove and natural beauty and Axe or Lynx but they’re ‘brand purpose’. At the core of Unilever is a very clever and focused strategy around sustainability.

Producing a company that has the least amount of impact to then help the communities that they serve. To me, that is the purpose that then needs to permeate out through those various brands not creating purposes in these satellite brands.

So, companies where the brand and the company are the same thing are more likely to be able to get to a unified purpose because that purpose would come from why the company exists.

And it would be beyond just to create shareholder value. There has to be some other reason, which is one of the reasons why I liked Built to Last because it looked at what is the core purpose? What is the core purpose of Disney? Walt had a very clear view—it was making magic live in people’s lives.

And when his brother took over after Walt’s death, he didn’t have that as the purpose because he kept saying what would Walt do? He was 2nd guessing what his brother would do rather than actually having the purpose as core of the business. Founders often have a purpose that drove them to start a company.

Carl:

Yeah and that has to be able to create legacy. If your mandate, these days, is just to make money, ultimately that’s not going to wash. Unfortunately, for lots of agencies, that really is their purpose. They might talk about creativity and so on but really they are only trying to make a profit.

Darren:

Especially when you’re publicly listed and you have to answer to shareholders.

Carl:

Absolutely.

Darren:

But again, going back to Built to Last, he says, ‘profit is to business what breathing is to humans. You don’t live to breathe but if you don’t breathe you die.’ And a business has to make a profit to live. But it’s not the reason it exists.

Carl:

There have to be other things. That’s why I like John Grant, his writings about greener marketing (in a meaningful way) back in 2004 and climate has become a very big thing again, particularly during COVID. If countries can mobilise in the way they have done around COVID, why can’t we do the same around climate, which is a reasonable question?

And John’s got a new book about sustainable brands and marketing and I think it’s absolutely right now that businesses need to think about other ways than just making money. Inevitably, he’ll talk about brands like Patagonia but he talks about lots and lots of other examples also that are doing their damnedest to create sustainable brands and marketing, which I think is perfect.

Darren:

We’re going back to the past.

Carl:

We are.

Darren:

The original corporations were set up, and it was a privilege given to individuals as long as they acted in the good of the community. And it was only when the corporation was given an identity separate from the humans that ran it that that was suddenly lost. That the corporation could make decisions and do things without the individuals who were making those decisions being accountable.

That’s where it lost its humanity. If anyone wonders where business lost its humanity, it’s when we allowed companies to be entities in their own right. That entity relied on the ethics of the people but it wasn’t enshrined in law. There was no consequence.

Carl:

And we’re seeing that play out in a very bizarre way in the UK with Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson where people are beyond accountability it would seem. But you’re right about corporations and the relationship between them and brand and the individuals running that brand. We’ve seen it with the banks who have been absolutely hauled over the coals by the Royal Commission.

And there have been a few examples made but for the most part, they’re making more money now than ever. Again, that’s why I like John Grant’s writing. He has a very smart socially community-driven point of view about how brands should behave and connect, not just for green wash sake but for the future of the planet.

Darren:

But also for the future of those corporations. People are going to question more the ethics of these brands and the companies and corporations that own them.

Carl:

And that is something that undulates, that notion of keeping things tidy in your cupboard, make sure there aren’t any skeletons, be decent and trade properly and be a proper corporate human; all of those things are going to become more and more important.

Darren:

My concern is that the industry keeps doing things like questioning whether all this adds to the bottom line. It always comes back to consumers will say that they will pay more for brands that act ethically and everyone goes ‘bullshit’ because we know the difference between asking someone what they’re going to do and what they’re actually going to do is totally different.

It’s more important than just creating profit. If you go back to the argument that you have to be profitable but how much profit do you have to make? How much becomes obscene profit? And what is the responsibility of the corporation?

Remember Cadbury; in Bourneville they actually built houses for the workers and they created a very high standard of living because the company was reinvesting back into its community and that was driven by the religious beliefs of the owners of the company.

Carl:

That’s a fantastic example. In the 90’s the notion of the triple bottom line emerged; that companies would be good for people, planet and profit, as well. And Cadbury was an example of that before it was bought (it’s been bought by Mondelez hasn’t it?). I think those examples where community, brand citizenship and profit all meld together are fewer and fewer.

We were talking earlier about the notion of the corporate brand being inseparable from the real brand.

Darren:

Where it is the same. I understand Mondelez, Unilever and Proctor and Gamble and Nestle because they have a corporate brand and then literally hundreds of other brands that are largely, in the consumer’s mind, disconnected.

Carl:

So they have a house of brands.

Darren:

You go to Kellogg, every single product has Kellogg. Every single dollar you spend on any sort of marketing promotion is going to be building the Kellogg brand.

Carl:

That’s right.

Darren:

I just want to go back to something you said. It’s going to be a challenge for marketers and agencies. Specifically, what do you see as the challenge for agencies in the next 3 to 5 years?

Carl:

That’s a huge question. I think it’s going to be increasingly hard to fight the good fight. Where costs are going to be constantly looked at, where money gets tighter and tighter (budgets being constantly reduced), procurement tells us that. I think it’s going to be harder to fight for original creativity. I think it will be easier to take the path of least resistance and put up ideas that just get out and are safe.

It’s going to be harder and harder to push truly distinctive, bold original ideas. That’s obviously a shame. As we emerge out of COVID where we can see things that are potentially interesting, trends like the passion economy, the extent to which persuasion has had to become hyper-sensory with fashion brands, the real evolution of online retail, all of those things are interesting.

But I think agencies are going to be increasingly distanced from those things and they’re going to struggle to make a mark. That’s a shame again because it’s my industry; I love communication and brands. A brand is an extraordinary thing, an incredible advantage for a business but unfortunately, we don’t seem to love them as we should.

And we don’t seem to be able to sustain them and treat them as they should be treated.

Darren:

Sir Martin Sorrell, the architect of WPP and now the architect of S4Capital has done a complete pivot from a company that’s all about building brand value to a company that’s all about driving business growth. He talks about the role of data and digital and how the future is going to be all about those 2 as a way of building growth for businesses.

We’ve got much of the rest of the ecosystem of advertising which is still very much creativity and brand building.

Carl:

Yeah, they are.

Darren:

And then they bolt on much of what he’s talking about. I think he’s separated the two. That’s dangerous because you’ll end up with a stream that’s all about short-term growth and milking all of the potential out of the marketplace and the other team will be over here and largely fighting for a share of budget. Do you see a way of bringing the two together?

Carl:

Great marketing, and it’s increasingly hard to see but brilliant marketing, should pull both of those things together. It should be able to activate, inspire and connect at both top and bottom of the funnel.

To separate them is what agencies have been doing for a very long time whether it’s digital or direct, above the line or media, that model of segmentation and separation has been happening for a long time.

Perhaps Sorrell is just adding to a segmentation that was already in place but the smart, interesting places (and they’re few and far between). There’s a little agency called Where Bear Meets Eagle & Fire, which is a brilliant name (Mica Walker’s agency) but they’re doing really interesting stuff because they are pushing things together.

They are taking different channels, ideas and crunching them together. And it’s in the crunch, the collision that interesting things happen.

And hopefully, This is the Day will get to a place where it’s doing that sort of work with and for people also.

Darren:

Well, Carl, I’ve just noticed the time. It’s been a fascinating conversation. All the best for your new venture, This is the Day.

Carl:

Thanks for having me.

Darren:

Before you go. Do you think there is a time now for the independent agencies to rise?

Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals, Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by Darren Woolley and special guests. Find all the episodes here

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Darren is considered a thought leader on all aspects of marketing management. A Problem Solver, Negotiator, Founder & Global CEO of TrinityP3 - Marketing Management Consultants, founding member of the Marketing FIRST Forum and Author. He is also a Past-Chair of the Australian Marketing Institute, Ex-Medical Scientist and Ex-Creative Director. And in his spare time he sleeps. Darren's Bio Here Email: darren@trinityp3.com

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