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Advertising Today and Tomorrow: The Changes, Challenges and Choices

Andrew Robertson, CEO BBDO Worldwide, and Ella Stewart, CEO BBDO Russia Group offered insights into the industry at a public talk in Moscow

What is the difference between advertising in the USA and Russia? Is the approach to targeting changing? Has customers’ perceptions of advertising become more negative? And what should we expect from advertising in the future? These and other topics were discussed by Andrew Robertson and Ella Stewart, the CEO of BBDO Worldwide and the CEO of BBDO Russia Group respectively, at the Moscow Museum of Modern Art on September 26. 

You can check out a roundup of the key points they made below:

The Ad industry in the USA and Russia

Ella: Let's remember how that all began. In Russia advertising appeared as a kind of foreign campaigns adaptation. For the first 5 years, Russian agencies were only involved in adaptation campaigns into Russian. It worked both for our customers, and for the international markets. Now there are more and more cases when Russian advertising launches in the West. For example, BBDO Moscow created videos for the UK and Eastern Europe. Yes, we are less experienced, we have a need to learn more, but at the same time we grew up and reached high levels, so the audience doesn’t notice much difference between Russian and international advertising. Furthermore, creators around the world are doing the same thing: they create emotional advertising that touches customers’ feelings.

Follow the audience

Andrew: Once I got a text message from an airline. The first sentence said: “Do you want to make changes to your flight schedule?” It was about the fact that there was going to be bad weather in New York the next day, so there will be a lot of delays, and it basically said that you`d better switch your flight to another day. Normally it would be a very irritating message: weather alert, bad storms expected in New York, expect delays. But that time I felt completely different. The following day I flew to DC, spent 4 hours on the ground and I didn`t get angry because of the way I felt from that text message. And the point of this is: consumers’ expectations now are connected to the experience surrounding the purchase process. Even the four seconds that took me to read that text message can add value to my experience. And, therefore, I attach it to the brand. The fact that we`re going to be dealing with consumers who are ever more demanding creates the lead for even more creativity, because you've got to create a magical experience for every audience. 

And in the digital age, now we have the opportunity to target more precisely. We are able to understand much more about individuals. We know what interests them, what motivates them, what they get excited about, and purchases they recently made. It enables us to deliver more relevant messages. And that`s a good thing for the consumer, that’s a good thing for the advertiser and that`s a good thing for them together as well. It means that we can potentially serve less advertising to individuals, which means they get less irritated. The advertising served to them is more valuable as it is more relevant. 

Where is the line between provocation and an emotional campaign?

Andrew: I think advertising is art, and all art has to surprise you some way. It takes different forms: sometimes it`s a punch in a face, sometimes it`s a joke, sometimes it`s music or even a stupid video. But I think that the main point is about the culture of advertising in which we have to live. The context can literally change in a week. I think we will see probably “safe” campaigns. But I don’t think we have to move away from emotions. The advertising shouldn’t depend on shock, but it might create the feeling of something surprising.

I think we can create experiences that are unlikely to cause offence, but which are enjoyable, memorable and effective. We should learn it from smaller brands. We’re going to see deliberate campaigns, where brands say: “I`m going to take the stand on an issue. I believe this matters so much to other people that I will make enough of them love me and enough of them hate me”. The kind of issues that divide countries, where if you take the position, you may lose a lot of people, but you might win because of the strength of your position. I think we will see more and more such activism from brands. You can't settle down in the middle. You have to take a position.

Ella: Unfortunately, Russian advertisers are not very free. There are several cases of provocative campaigns, which have created buzz, but somehow, we are very quickly moving towards being on the “safe side” — we tend to not offend anyone. If you are speaking on behalf of an international brand, you have to live by the laws of the country where the brand has come from. Mostly BBDO works with international brands. Therefore, we should correlate campaigns to the context.

Complicated relationships: what’s going on between audience perception and advertising

Andrew: There are people, who are ultimately prepared to pay to not see advertising. There are also lots of people who are perfectly happy to have advertising in exchange for free content. Spotify have examples of 2 different subscriptions. You can pay nothing, and you will have to listen to advertising, or you can pay 10 dollars a month and have it ad-free. Again, if you can make advertising more relevant, which you can, when you know who it is, there’s less of it which means less irritation for the consumer.

Ella: It is harder in our country to create effective product placement. Look at James Bond: we know that the movie is full of product placement, but it doesn’t mean that sales of promotional stuff increases. I’m pretty sure, although I don’t know the numbers, that Nescafe’s sales didn’t increase after “Night Watch”. This is due to our “positive youth”: we have no experience, no base, no research, so that we closed our own product placement initiative almost immediately after the opening, since the format itself was ineffective.

The Future of Advertising: forecasts and BBDO’s strategy

Andrew: Many things might happen that no one can imagine: new media will appear, formats that no one else knows about. But, if I had to bet on anything, I would do it on video. Nevertheless, regardless of new channels and instruments, BBDO adheres to one strategy: we follow consumers. If they spend a lot of time on any platform or in a kind of environment or on a channel, we will go there.

I believe that in our business there are currently many things that will and should be automated. Now some tasks take a tremendous amount of time, and with the help of technology workflows will accelerate, improve and become cheaper. And I think that everything that can be automated should be automated. With the help of technology, I would also like to free up human resources and invest more in people — in their creative potential, in things that are inaccessible to machines. I am sure that the value of ideas will only grow. Therefore, I repeat, the business will become more automated and at the same time creative.

Ella: Well, firstly, I think that there will be TV ads, OOH and other “classical” advertising, but I absolutely agree with Andrew that the approach will change: it will become more targeted. And again, speaking about product placement: in future you will not understand that a brand was influenced on you through a good movie or podcast.

That is why we should focus on consumers and fulfill their needs. If you try to predict what will happen to new technologies and everything else, you will just get crazy. Or if you follow only what your client says to do, then you will not make consumers happier. We need to create long-term love for brands and nurture this feeling in audience.

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