Upside Downturn

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Participating creatives: Mauro Alencar, ECD/Partner, Fancy; Jamie Barrett, CD/partner, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners; Mark Beeching, Global CCO, Digitas; Marty Cooke, CCO, SS&K; Gerry Graf, CCO, Saatchi & Saatchi/N.Y.; Todd Grant, ECD, Cole & Weber United; Nick Law, EVP/CCO, North America, R/GA; Peter Nicholson, CCO, Deutsch, New York; Todd Tilford, ECD, Grey/N.Y.; Ian Reichenthal and Scott Vitrone, co-CCOs, Y&R/N.Y.; Matt Rosenberg, EVP of Client Engagement, Big Spaceship; Paul Venables, Founder/CD, Venables Bell & Partners

Sure, times are tough, but history has shown that recessions can lead to innovation and enlightened ways of thinking. Here, creatives reflect on opportunities to be mined on the tough road ahead. Additionally, we present some of the most brilliant breakthroughs to come out during financial slumps and the view from Argentina during that country's financial crisis a decade ago.

What will be the impact of this economic climate on the kind of work you'll be doing?

Gerry Graf
Gerry Graf
Gerry Graf: None, really. We'll always try to do something that is new and fresh. The campaigns that I am most proud of had little or no budget. When you have no money, the idea has to be fantastic. People also like to laugh when they are stressed and depressed. Maybe the work will lighten up a bit. Also, you are going to see more and more testimonials about how this product helps me save money or has a better value. So there will be plenty of opportunities to do something different than that and stand out.

Peter Nicholson: It already has (had an impact). Clients have been in a slow trend to do more conservative work, meaning work that they would say has a known impact. The words "guaranteed to work" get thrown around nowadays. The dependence on testing not as insight but as the decision maker is on the rise. Testing has become the client's de-facto creative director nowadays. The messaging in the work has also become less singular and packed with as many messages as possible. It's the strategy of, "Everything, but the kitchen sink. No, wait. Put that in there, too." And tonality has become more subdued and quiet—less entertaining.

Matt Rosenberg: Lots of marketers will be under pressure to reduce their budgets. Now, that's not a great idea because, as The Economist and many others have pointed out: (a) you still have to sell
Mauro Alencar
Mauro Alencar
into a down economy (probably harder) and (b) if the competition is pulling back it's an opportunity to take more of the conversation. But let's take budget pressure as a reality. You're a big marketer and you can spend $3 million dollars on 30 seconds in the season finale of Lost. Or you can spend $1.5 million doing something digital that provides conversation value, social value, function. You can do something as or more effective with a lot less money, because digital doesn't usually carry the same cost of production process and bloat that big splash TV does. That doesn't mean that spending half as much online makes you twice as smart. You have to use that half of your budget thoughtfully. That's where creativity and innovation comes in.

Mauro Alencar: It's going to get better. Obviously not easier, but better. Basically, marketing budgets will reduce, but marketing objectives won't. And that will make the best, most creative and most innovative work stand-out more than ever before. Some of the most beautiful flowers grow in the ugliest of environments.

Nick Law
Nick Law
Nick Law: It'll be more pragmatic. More measurable. More digital.

Paul Venables: Ninety-eight percent of advertising is awful. During difficult economic times, when companies can't afford to waste a single dollar on mediocre creative, and when outsmarting and creatively outgunning your competitors can lead to concrete market share gains, that number plummets to 97.8 percent. That's the sad truth of our business.

Scott Vitrone and Ian Reichenthal: There will be fewer scripts beginning with the sentence, "Open on a helicopter shot of the Serengeti."

Todd Tilford: Digital is obviously playing a larger and larger role. But there are no easy
Scott Vitrone (left) and Ian Reichenthal
Scott Vitrone (left) and Ian Reichenthal
answers. Save for a great idea. What is simple, however, is what we're trying to accomplish. And this is what everyone always tries to over-complicate. The goal is to create a relationship between a brand and an individual. The most successful marketers will be the ones who best use the ever-increasing options at hand to connect people to brands.

Vitrone and Reichenthal: Clients will be spending on digital, but hopefully because digital is right for their brand. If clients are turning to digital just because the economy has turned sour, then they're not in it for the right reasons. Smart clients will keep investing in their brands, regardless of the economy. Todd Grant: Fluidity will be key and demand for instantly communicative work will be up: Ideas that reach targets through social networking, mobile phones and newer hybrids.

Alencar: Probably. But not for cost reasons. Clients who are less prone to risk because of the instability of the economy will demand more accountability from their marketing partners in terms of metrics, etc. But the industry was already moving in that direction anyway.

What is creativity's role, if any, in shaping the next economic era?

Graf: Creativity's role will be what it has always been. It's not like you say now we have to be more creative or less creative. The people who do creative work will move their brands forward and those who don't will, at best, keep them where they are.

Todd Tilford
Todd Tilford
Tilford: It is and always will be about ideas. Ideas will shape the next economic era just as they always have. May the best ideas win.

Grant: In hard times creativity often brings out new ways of getting by, recycling, reinventing or reusing. New industriousness always comes out of legitimate problem solving because it has to.

Beeching: Creativity will lead us into the next economic era if it embraces media, collaboration and learns to listen harder to the consumer. The media neutral "good ideas can come from anywhere" nod to integration isn't enough. Who needs a Switzerland of creativity? What we need is channel belief, not agnosticism, ideas that embrace media and help shape which channels to use, which not to use, and how to use them.

Jamie Barrett
Jamie Barrett
Alencar: I wish I could say our creative work has that big of an impact on the economy, but it truly doesn't. There was never a shortage of amazing creative work being done before the recession and there is great creative work being done right now, in the middle of this mess. You could argue that great creative could help sell more American cars, but not for long if they continue to suck. The good news is I think we hired a great creative guy and put him on the job. His first day was January 20th and his name is Barack Obama.

Nick Law: Our industry's creative minds will not just be concentrating on messaging. They'll spend more time on product enhancements and digital services that transform businesses.

What's your advice to your colleagues and clients during this time?

Tilford: When you present someone with a new way of looking at something, it opens up new synapses, new neural pathways in the brain. A new, compelling, innovative idea actually changes someone biologically. Don't ever let anyone tell you what we're doing isn't brain surgery. Certainly, during these times, the best brain surgeons will be in very high demand.

Grant: Look for the opportunities a recession might create. Don't act with caution or anxiety, think big.

Beeching: The biggest creative challenge in this recession is to identify more powerfully
Todd Grant
Todd Grant
with consumers as real, social animals, not focus pocus groups. That means putting digital, not ego, at the heart of our creativity—because it allows us direct contact with people and their conversations. It's time to take creativity and planning out of the zoo and into the jungle.

Marty Cook: When fear is in the air, I always have the same response when it comes to our creative work: be brave, be bold. Like steering into a skid, it's counter-intuitive. But bold works. It stands out from all the timid, fear-inspired work. And it charts a clear path in a time of uncertainty.

Jamie Barrett: I've always thought optimism in the face of pessimism was a great response. As long as an advertiser has something to be optimistic about, of course. You don't want to appear clueless and out of step. You don't want to be like Leslie Neilsen in Naked Gun when he walks out of Platoon, laughing his head off like it's the funniest movie he's ever seen. But there's a way to be optimistic in a credible way. People are hearing from enough places that times are tough. For advertisers it's a chance to be a positive antidote.

Vitrone and Reichenthal: During WWII, the British Ministry of Information printed posters that said, "Keep calm and carry on." That's probably good advice now, too.

What are the opportunities here?

Law: Hopefully our industry will finally start delivering on the hollow promises of a thousand "brave new world" power point decks. Agencies will stop talking and start doing. At last, the triumph of practice over theory.

Nicholson: The opportunities in this type of market are abundant, but they're big IF statements. If a company takes a slight risk and takes a bolder approach that allows their message to have a strong point of view, it will be heard. It will stand out if a company stands out from the rest. Avoid the pitfall of perpetuating the tone of the world through communication that reminds them of how things are. I don't usually believe in thinking of a genre of advertising first before the message, but the world needs to laugh a little. Ads need to be funny right now where appropriate-not vulgar and offensive, but a clever smart humor.

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