Havas Worldwide CEO Andrew Benett on the Reality of Digital TV

Can't Invest in Content Fast Enough

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Andrew Bennett at 4As
Andrew Bennett at 4As

Andrew Benett, global CEO at Havas Worldwide and Havas Creative Group, came up on the creative side of the ad business. But he forsees a future of hyper-targeting, in which creative depends on media, and media relies on creative.

He talked to Ad Age about what exactly that means and how agencies are coping with having to produce versions of their work for diversifying formats and splintering audience targets.

Ad Age: Is TV really going digital? What does that mean for advertising?

Mr. Benett: Media budgets are finally catching up with consumer viewing. As brands shift 20% and even 30% of "television" budgets from the legacy broadcast format to digital TV, which can be mobile, for example, we need to challenge the nature of the classic TV commercial.

We need more marketers to experiment in that second-screen space.

Where it's more complicated is on the first screen. I don't think there have been any breakthroughs, and no one has cracked the code yet because there hasn't been the ask. You're seeing different messages targeting different groups in any one campaign, but it's not bought at the household level. It hasn't happened in the first-screen market because it's not in best interest of any of the cable operators or even the networks.

Ad Age: How are you responding as an agency group to the shift to all of the digital creative formats?

Mr. Benett: At its current trajectory, digital advertising spend should surpass TV around 2017 or 2018. While buttons and banners have their place, marketers are going to need more potent forms of digital communications to justify that level of media investment. I'm excited about the possibilities that increased investment in branded content, native ads and mobile offer. We're going to see the inclusion of episodic content, real-time video and smarter, data-enabled communications.

Over the years we've always been consistent in our decision not to buy a large-scale digital pure-play agency. Every one of our creative agency groups has digital fully baked in as part of the model. We believe in the integration and power of relevant disciplines into a true single agency P&L.

Ad Age: How does all this that affect your production approach?

Mr. Benett: Historically agency producers would manage outside production companies. Now we're insourcing more and more of that. We're even doing a front-end production where you'd traditionally hire a production company, and it's the same level of quality.

If we're doing production and shooting for any communications needs, it doesn't mean it has to be a multimillion dollar shoot. People are getting more efficient. Why wouldn't you create an asset library that can get used across channels? It makes versioning and targeting easier from a production standpoint. I think you'll start to see more and more of that as the world becomes more hyper-targeted.

Ad Age: Is there a change in the balance of power between media and creative agencies with new digital buying opportunities?

Mr. Benett: It's not a change in the balance of power. One of my favorite global creative directors said the other day there's no original idea. It's almost true. We're going back to where we were 20 years ago. Branded content is not a new idea.

What we're trying to do in bringing comms planning into agencies, or integrating media and creative, is recognize that the two go hand in hand. Video content needs to be concepted; we need to think about data optimization, production and distribution; then refine content after we learned something from the data and redistribute it.

Ad Age: What investments do you still want to make on the digital front?

Mr. Benett: We'll continue to invest in all aspects of content and production. We can't invest enough in content. I define content from upstream -- the best traditional TV spots -- to global versioning for digital video.

On the creative business, we'll continue to invest in not just people designing digital wire frames for e-commerce platforms but people who really get e-commerce. We announced the acquisition of Plastic Mobile in Canada. We'll do more like that. We're not going to invest in deep back-end technology. There are very few agency groups that own a back-end partner who will do a final build. We've built several e-commerce sites, but then we do hand it off, whether it's to an Accenture or pure-play build company.

This conversation has been lightly edited.

To hear more from Andrew Bennett on agencies' transformation in a post-digital environment, come to the Ad Age Digital Conference on April 14 and 15 in New York.

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