Jean-Marie Dru on Why Disruption Isn't Destruction

TBWA Chief Opens Up About Working With Apple, Netflix and Other Innovators

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Disruption in the marketplace doesn't have to be destructive.

That's the word from Jean-Marie Dru, the French advertising man who merged the agency he started, BDDP, with TBWA. Jean-Marie, who actually trademarked the term "disruption methodology" back in 1991 and has written several books on the topic, contends that disruption and destruction are not an either-or scenario.

"They're very different," Jean-Marie told me in a video interview prior to his induction into the Advertising Hall of Fame. "People believe that you have a choice between incremental, a new line or extension, something like that, or something so disruptive that it will destroy your market. That's wrong. In the middle you have thousands of possibilities of disruptive strategy that don't destroy market share."

Take Tom's shoes for example. Jean-Marie said the company is very disruptive but it didn't destroy the shoe market. "And Nescafé and Nespresso, they are very disruptive, but they don't destroy the marketplace. So you can be very disruptive without destroying the market base. This is very important because there is too much confusion" between the two.

But how about the internet, which has done a pretty good job of laying waste to more than a few print publications?Jean-Marie replied that the internet "forces everybody to be really creative." In the '70s and '80s and '90s, 10% or 15% of agencies were creative. "Ninety percent were not creative at all, just repetitive and boring. Now if you're boring, you just know you won't make it. Procter & Gamble didn't come to Cannes until 2003 or 2004. Why did they come to Cannes? Because for the first time they understood that like every other company, they had to become very creative."

So, in Jean-Marie's view, the internet, while a big change, "is an opportunity to be creative. Now everybody can be very interactive, very digital, very smart, and you see incredible new stories, thanks to the internet. It's been tough for everybody, but it's an opportunity at the same time."

Burberry is an example of a brand that has reinvented itself through disruption. Jean-Marie said sales of Burberry in the last five years have tripled. "Everything is digital, which is strange for a fashion brand. They start with digital. Whatever item you want to buy, you can buy it on the internet with 1,000 possibilities. If you go to its store on Regent Street in London, the design of the store is like the website."

Disruptive brands can be more demanding, Jean-Marie pointed out. "We are lucky enough to work in L.A. for Apple, Netflix, Airbnb and Twitter," he said. "Good for us. It's tough because they're expecting new things from us. If you say to Airbnb, 'We have to build a brand,' they say, 'Come on, we already have a brand.' It's not always easy to understand each other, but it's helping us to think differently."

Talking about thinking different, to paraphrase Apple's famous line, Jean-Marie said it's "very difficult" to work for Apple "because what we tried to do is to be as simple as possible. Simple, simple, simple."

If you've seen the campaign with the photographs, when you see it outside it's fantastic. But try to imagine you're in the office and somebody says this is what we're going to do -- big photos. You're going to say, 'Is that all?' That's why it's very difficult."

How do you handle that? I asked Jean-Marie. "Well, there are two or three guys in the L.A. office, starting with Lee Clow, who have a fantastic feeling of understanding the difference between simple and simplistic."

Jean-Marie and Lee Clow have become good friends over the years. "I think what he likes about me is the fact that I'm always struggling to find inspiring strategies, to help the creatives to be more creative.

"Disruption for him and me is nothing but a methodology to come up with interesting strategies for the creative. That's it. A springboard for the creative. He knows I love creativity. ... He thinks I am a crazy account man."

Jean-Marie's creative philosophy also revolves around speed. Disruptive Live is how TBWA creates in real time, and the New York office alone created 3,500 pieces of content in one year.

The point is that "more and more clients need fast and cheap. You can be good, fast and cheap. To be great, fast and cheap is very difficult.

"Before, when we had three months to build the campaign -- that level between good and great -- you could spend hours and days trying to move to the next level. Here you have to go fast."Jean-Marie said his agency achieves good, fast and cheap 90% of the time. Great, fast and cheap is "very seldom."

I asked Jean-Marie about the difference between the French and American ways of doing business. The French, he said, "overconceptualize. ... We like to think too much. I think we're not pragmatic enough in my country."

But "you would be surprised to know that at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show, we had 200 French startups," the second country in the world in that category. "There's a huge gap between what we are and the image we have, especially in America. We're not so bad, but people don't know that."

But Jean-Marie believes France itself could use a dose of disruption. Since 1988, "nothing has changed. It's a pity, because we have all the resources, all the energy."

Jean-Marie is a big advocate of sales-based agency contracts. "I'm trying to push, as much as possible, where the incentive is linked to the sales, so $10 a car or whatever. If you can do this, it can be very effective. But not all clients offer that."

One reason might be such deals would make the job of procurement people more difficult. "You agree on a percentage of sales, then they've got nothing to do anymore."

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