Gareth Kay of Chapter joins Adam today to talk about the way planning has changed from its introduction. His perspective on planning from both sides of the Atlantic (and some on the Pacific as well) frames up this discussion very well. He takes Adam to school. Enjoy.
*Note: If you haven’t heard Rachel Mercer’s episode, you may want to listen first. She makes light of how we have augmented English planning which was the impetus for this conversation with Gareth Kay.*
Finally, Gareth says some kind words about Under Think It, Adam’s first book. If it’s good enough for him (he’s pretty smart, yeah?) it’s probably good enough for you.
Adam Pierno: All right, welcome back to another episode of The Strategy Inside Everything. I want to get right into it because I’m excited to have this conversation. Today we have the co-founder of Chapter, Mister Gareth Kay has been kind enough to join. How are you sir?
Gareth Kay: Adam, I’m really well, thank you for having me.
Adam: In full disclosure, Gareth and I have been talking for about 10 minutes before we recorded, and we had to remind ourselves that we had to start a show.
I know this is going to be a great chat. I hope everybody enjoys it as much as I know I’m going to. Gareth, you’re at Chapter now, you’ve been there for a few years since founding that. Would you mind giving people a bit of background on where you came from and how you started?
Gareth: Yes, sure. Hopefully, which is not going to be far too, a long-winded back story. As you can probably tell from my accent, I did not grow up here in Tennessee, I grew up in the UK. I was a failed musician. I was a drummer, not good enough. My bands were not good enough to have any success out there in the world. I ended up studying politics, philosophy and economics at University. I realized at the end of that course, that a lot of my friends were going off to work in banks or consultancies. I had a real aversion, frankly, to suits and was trying to think of what to do next.
Realized that my passion for economics really came from trying to understand why people did what they do, and what the choices they make in their day-to-day life, consciously, or more often than not, unconsciously. I realized that was interesting to me. Also, I was lucky enough to grow up at a time in the UK when you polled most people and they would say, “The TV ads were better than the TV programs.” They were, “Interrupting.” I think is around about 70% of people at the time would say, “The ads were better.”
This is the golden days of CDP and Lowe Howard-Spink, in particular John Webster at BMP DDB, who was just making some just awesome bits of amazing branded entertainment, to use a phrase of the day, for a whole bunch of brands. I just realized that maybe advertisement would be something I could ally that passion for people, with the creativity that I was craving. I wrote off to a bunch of agencies, I think 95% of them, either didn’t get back to me or said, “No.” I think I had serendipity to be quite honest, Adam, get an internship at a small agency in London called Harare Page.
They brought me in and it was great. It was such a small place, it was about 25, 30 people. There, as much as I went in there of all things an Account Manager, and believe me I was maybe the single worst Account Manager that has ever traipsed the hallways of advertising. I was lucky enough to get exposed to lots of different disciplines and basically be allowed to have a go at them, whether it’s broadcast production, or as I discovered this thing called planning. There’s a brilliant lady there Patsy Douglas, who worked there three half days a week. I just became really interested in this planning thing that’s– honestly I hadn’t heard about going into the industry.
That got more and more interesting to me. I realized that unfortunately, if I was going to really grow as a planner, it was not going to be the right agency for me, just because she was only there for one-and-a-half days a week. It was no mentorship. It was there, but it wasn’t necessarily fully ingrained into the culture. So I began to try and find a place to go and be a planner. I was very lucky to finally convince an agency, that after a couple of mergers after I joined became TBWA, to give me a chance as a planner. I was lucky enough as well to work with a brilliant head of planning there called Chris Baker.
Chris was one of the first judges of the IPA Effectiveness Awards. He was really good at showing how you could use data both in imaginative ways, to inspire more effective and more creative communications, but also to really prove its commercial impact. He was a great guy to learn from upfront, and then spent the next 10 years working with some amazing people. I got great advice from Laurence Green who founded Fallon there. The trick in your career is not to go and follow the agencies, or brands that you feel are the hot ones at the moment, instead look for the people you would be working with day-in day-out, who could give you a different take on what planning is or could be.
The beauty of that is, you begin over time, as Jeremy Bull more describes, how brands are built, which are like birds build their nests from the scraps and straws they chance upon. It’s how you build your planning style I believe, as well. I was lucky to work with a really amazing group of planners, all types of different levels, whether they were peers or the folks I was reporting into. They just helped me see different ways of thinking about planning and strategy. I left London in 2003, I decided I wanted to move across to the States. Again, serendipity is the story of my career. I’ve been an incredibly lucky man, probably the story of my life, to be quite honest.
Adam: What drove you to want to come to the States?
Gareth: It was as much pathetic thing where I was getting a little bit tired of London. There was some personal issues more importantly. I just didn’t know where to go and work next, and I would come over to the states on vacation, go to New York and then come back through Boston. I had a couple of friends who were in bands there, and I would come back through Boston. I’d thought about New York in the past, just when– “It’s just a bigger more hectic London, is it really worth the move, the thousands of miles to go and do?” I really began to like Boston.
I was always a big fan of the music scene there. I had friends there and when I was there for a vacation with my then girlfriend, who’s now my wife, I had a recruiter who set me up with three or four conversations. Three or four them didn’t really go anywhere because they were in big agencies. They almost felt too big to me, and also agencies where I wasn’t really sure if they knew what planning was, or if it really was properly placed into the offering day in and day out, of the agency. Almost like they felt that they needed to have it rather than wanted to have it.
Then literally, the day I was leaving to fly back home, she said, “Go in for a coffee with these folks at this new agency called Modernista.” I don’t know what they are looking for, if they know what planning is, but they were up for a cup of tea. So I went in there to what I thought was going to be a 30-minute cuppa, left there three hours later having been absolutely blown away by their ambition, by particularly– were two create founders Lance Jenson and Gary Koepke, who were just brilliant people.
Adam: Yes, those guys were doing amazing things.
Gareth: Amazing work. They just blew me away, and literally two days later I had a job offer and was packing myself up to move across to the States. It was just a case of being, right place right time with the right people. They asked me to come and introduce planning into the agency, was at the time I think two or three years old, and they’d done some great work for the Gap, they had done some great work for MTV, they were doing great work with Hummer. They asked me to come in and establish planning, build it into the agency and build out the discipline.
It was a chance, I simply just could not say no to. Was there for six years, had a really happy time, the agency went through pretty awesome growth. I think I joined, there’s about 25 people there. When I left, it was about 160, 170 people maybe, and I just decided at that point, that I needed to learn more about digital and what was going on in the digital space. The reality was then and in many cases is still now, it was seen as being a specialization, it was not really being done in a meaningful way, it had a lot of agencies.
I was also just really obsessed less about digital as being a channel to fill, and actually much more as about, how is digital transforming communication at the most macro, everyday level, how it’s transforming what brands, products and services needed to offer. I was having conversations with a big, global, famous digital agency in New York, that I’m sure you can guess the three letters off. I decided that New York was sadly, not going to be the right place for my wife and myself, I just had a daughter. She was about six months old and it just did not feel right.
My wife was incredibly generous as always and said, “If it’s the right thing to do, well go and do it,” but I realized I was going to be traveling and working long hours, and just felt really unfair to do. As I was going through that interview process, I called up my friend Mike Geiger who was the head of digital at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, and managed all production there. Really built out a very strong digital group inside Goodby, and actually was really influencing the way the agency was thinking about the work it made. I just called Mike up to ask him about R/GA– I’ve given them away, R/GA as you can probably guess. I asked myself what life was–
Adam: We can have it cut out.
Gareth: It’s fine we can leave it in.
I’m sure it’s not a major problem. Mike, I asked him about what was day-to-day life there, because he knew people who worked there. The next thing I knew, he said, “Don’t worry, I will find this out for you and get back to you.” Then the next day, what time was it? Probably about 8:00 AM, no, 8:00 or 9:00 AM, probably about nine o’clock in the morning. I remember very well I was getting my morning coffee at Starbucks near the office in Boston, and my phone went off and it was a phone call from Derek Robson, who was the president there.
He started the call off quite brilliantly by saying, “You probably don’t want to talk to me, seeing I blackballed you at BBH 15 years ago, or something.” Where I really thought I was going to get a job at BBH, working on Levi’s.
Adam: Is that true?
Gareth: Yes, it was a dream job. I’d done the absolute marathon of interviews with amazing people there like Jim Carroll and Emma Cookson. I went in for what I believed was my blessing by the head of the Levi’s account, who was Derek at the time and for some reason, just absolutely bombed the interview. Derek was brilliant, he obviously, for some reason, remembered who I was and just started the call up by saying, “I guess I need to apologize for saying no to you at BBH.” I just laughed about it. He said, “We now really want you to come out and have a chat with the folks at Goodby.”
I had never really thought about moving to the West Coast. Obviously, I had a huge amount of admiration for Goodby there, probably one of the two or three agencies in the UK I was really aware of, primarily, because you see a show on the UK called Talent on TV, that would have some of the best adverts from around the world. Quite often, the feminist adverts.
Adam: Yes, right. Goodby would show up.
Gareth: Yes, Goodby would show up. I was always like, “Those guys just do amazing work.” I felt I had to go and say at least hello to them, and get a sense of the place.
Adam: You essentially chose the Boston of the West Coast as [unintelligible 00:11:51]? [crosstalk]
Gareth: Pretty much, yes. A very European city. As usual, I wasn’t making the big brave move. I went to meet the people there. Met a lot of the partners, met a lot of the folks in the creative department and just fell in love with the place over the course of literally one day. Again, it was thing where two days later, I made the jump over to Goodby, Silverstein, had an amazing five years there. They put way too much faith in me. I hopefully paid some of that back to them. I started off running digital strategy. They then for some reason, asked me to take over at the brand strategy group, and then the overall strategic function. Left there as a partner and chief strategy officer.
Left there, honestly, really, really, sadly because that place, I learned more in five years what I’ve learned in my whole career, from folks like Derek, from Robert Riccardi, from amazing planners there like John Thorpe, from great creative people like Margaret Johnson. Importantly, I went through a massive transformation period working with Rich Silverstein, who just taught me so much about the power of simplicity in ideas, the power of making decisions, the power of really sweating with details. He just taught me so much about how to look at work, how to evaluate work and how to make ideas come to life in even more magnificent ways, once you’ve actually made them.
I learnt so much from them. The point came towards the end of my time there, where I just decided that I was getting increasingly frustrated about the realities of working inside an advertising agency, where they have a muscle memory and rightly so, which is set up to make amazing advertising, and do that in an efficient and effective way. Allied with that, a group of clients who have a certain perception of what Goodby, Silverstein was really good at, and they were really damn good at making very emotional bits of film.
Yes, they were doing great digital work as well, but really the heritage was, they’re making amazingly compelling bits of communication that would drive an emotional connection between people and brands. It was really good at doing that, that’s why clients came there. I was sitting there, probably in my last year or so, doing a whole bunch of new business pictures, working on my existing clients and just honestly sitting there and going, in all conscience, “Is making an advertising campaign the best thing to do? Is it what they really need?”
It felt in many ways like the client briefs were increasingly becoming like paint-by-number pictures, where they’d had their internal marketers work on the brief, probably with some type of brand consultancy as well, more often than not, by that point. You would get the brief from the client and you would sit there and go, “I’m not sure if this is a right picture.” I’m pretty damn sure that painting is the wrong activity in order to solve what is the underlying business problem, that is getting in the way of them either growing their business or maintaining their business.
Adam: Yes, 60-second TV’s to you is not going to fix this?
Gareth: Absolutely. It’s definitely not. I’m not saying that I’m absolutely going, “Advertising does not work anymore.” It absolutely does work, but it’s not the solve to every single problem. I just really felt that I wanted to give it a shot and take a chance at trying to build a different type of creative company. One that was much more focused around solving a problem in whatever form it takes and try and give all the clarity and objectivity of advice that’s great in management consultancies.
Consultancy is frankly, like naked may have done back in the day, but then also be able, not just to leave it to the, “Here’s a type of thinking,” but actually go and make what those things work. That made me feel that to do that you had to start with a blank sheet of paper. From that, was the genesis of Chapter. That’s a very long answer to a very simple question. Apologies.
Adam: That was fantastic. Fantastic background for my next question. You have switched from tea to coffee. I heard you say that clearly. You drink coffee in the morning not tea now.
Gareth: [laughs] Absolutely so.
Adam: We have converted you. You’re an American now.
Adam: So, you have done planning on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean and you’ve endured a lot of change in the advertising industry. I wanted to see what you think, how planning has been adapted for either– Let’s start at the beginning. How different is planning in the U.S. than it is in the U.K. now, and when planning was born in the U.K.?
Gareth: Sure. It’s really hard sometimes to answer that, as being the broad brush of, “Here’s what makes the U.S. in totality, and the U.K. in totality different,” because the reality is there’s different types of agencies and approaches on both sides of the pond. Some who I would argue do it, “Better,” than others. I think there are some traits that at least– Again, this is based on my time in the UK. This is 15 years ago now, and the realities of the U.S. over the last 15 years, I think there are some differences. I think a lot of that may come from the fact that, frankly, in the U.K., the discipline is 50 years old now.
In the U.S., it is about what’s probably 30 years old now, maybe 25 years old now, I’m just trying to guess at when Jay [unintelligible 00:17:42] brought it in. It came in later and into more established organizations. It was brought in as Jay [unintelligible 00:17:51] famously said, “As the best new business tool ever invented.” There was a real sense of, “This is really powerful at getting business into the company.” As a result of that, I think maybe got a bit of baggage around being a new business winner, rather than actually something that really creates value throughout the relationship with the clients.
I think there is greater simplicity in the U.K., frankly down to the size of the country, but also down to the way that client organizations are structured and probably, at the time as well, the types of clients who are mostly spending money on advertising. They came mostly from the consumer packaged goods world. There was a simplicity of product offering and these were quite often either brands that have been around for years, or you were entering a brand into an already established marketplace. There was just lots of stuff that made it sometimes feel a bit clearer in what the output needed to be.
I think in the U.K., there’s a legacy of planning being one, the way of bringing real people into the advertising development process. That’s partly about doing qualitative research and quantitative research, and doing that earlier in the process to inspire strategy and creative work, to use it likely to help shape the nascent creative ideas. I think there’s also in the U.K., I would say, much more rigor around effectiveness in being able to demonstrate that the work works.
I think honestly, about sounding like some foreigner from abroad who’s just going to flip through everything when he comes into the country– It was a real shock to me, Adam, when I came in having lived through trying to write IPA Effectiveness Award papers, which I think now at 30 years old, are incredibly hardcore in really demonstrating and isolating the effect of advertising over the long-term. As opposed to looking at something like the Effies which were much more, I would say, correlation as opposed to causation, and would quite often look at the impact in the short-term rather than the long term.
I think that’s one of the things that is just, honestly, an impact of time. It’s hitting the UK now as much as it hits the US, but there’s a real issue with the short-termism of impact, that clients increasingly look for, primarily driven by quarterly reporting on Wall Street. When the reality is, and all the evidence that Peter Field and Les Binet have seen over the time, is that advertising’s effect happens primarily over the longer term. That again, was a massive learning for me which is, there’s a desire for immediacy in the US that perhaps– Obviously, it was always there in the UK, they were looking for, “Where’s the sales uplift?”
There’s also much more understanding, openness and respect for the long-term value that brands can create, and how that helps you sell more at a later date, at a higher price to people, which I’m not sure is always so widely, or deeply held in the US.
Adam: I have been thinking about this very issue. Somebody can go buy a car, I can go to the Kia dealership and Kias are a fine car, at a lower price I can get pretty much every feature I want, or I can go get a Maserati if I’m fortunate enough. The person who has the Maserati for three to five X the Kia cost, does not feel ripped off. He feels or she feels, that they got a value because they got the brand and all that comes along with that brand. Hyundai could not have launched Kia as a luxury brand. Genesis is their luxury brand.
They spent a dozen years getting it to where it is, where people are finally going, “I’ll pay $50,000 for a Hyundai.” Sure, I understand why. That commitment to long-term thinking is is a lost art for– That I don’t think is exclusive to Americans but the quarterly, and now for e-commerce brands, let’s post something and we’ll know in an hour if it’s a hit or not. It’s like, “Guys, come on, you’ve got to think bigger than that.”
Gareth: That’s so true. Even the short-term impact of brand on purchase choice of those in the market at that moment in time is often not looked at. I remember, before my time at Goodby, I remember seeing the case study for this and just going that– It’s one of those killer bits of research you use in a pitch that I believe, John Thorpe, Matt Hermann and Ted Florea had done, when they pitched Hyundai in the US. We did that really classic simple bit of research, where they basically were talking to a bunch of people looking to buy a new car, in the price range that Hyundai’s live in.
They had a shot of a car amongst other cars, with all the specs down the right-hand side, and asked people what they thought of the offer, would they be open to considering that as their next car purchase. We did that in a much more eloquent way than I just explained. Got people to give a five-point consideration scale. The thing about the first piece of stimuli that people saw, was that the car had no badge on it. It was an unbranded car, so it was from, “Maker unknown.” They then showed people the same piece of stimuli with the Hyundai badge on it, and consideration dropped by about 15 points.
You immediately could go– There is a brand tax that exists, and if you don’t actually begin to address that then you are depressing. Forget the long-term, you are dramatically depressing your market opportunity tomorrow and today. That was one of the great bits of research which really demonstrated the impact of brand on peoples’ minds. It just shows, yet again, that we are irrational, emotionally-driven animals. We are not homo economicus in any way or form. We do things that we may not really think about, but we have that irrational love-hate affair with brands based on the associations we’ve unwittingly built in our minds over time.
Adam: Oh yes. They take a long time to change.
Gareth: Absolutely. The problem is, I don’t think we understand. Those associations and that rewiring in people’s minds, takes a heck of a long time to do.
Adam: Do you see that as a continuing trend? That’s not a problem with US planning, but it’s the way business is conducted in the US. Therefore agencies and planners here have to adapt and react to that short-term push.
Gareth: Yes. That’s one of the biggest challenges facing the marketing industry broadly today. Facing business broadly today. We’re seeing it both sides of the ocean at the moment, both sides of the Atlantic, definitely that is being seen in the UK. The latest back-to-work that Binet and Field have shown is that, campaigns are becoming increasingly short-term in nature because one of the downsides I guess, for digital revolution and the digital landscape nowadays is, there’s lots of metrics that can be measured in the short-term. Far too many objectives are being built around the short-term, and people simply are looking about long-term effects.
I think planning over here is different because that was probably something that’s existed before-hand. I think allied with that was just the way it was introduced into the US, where it was primarily seen as being a new business tool and it was being bolted on, more often than not, to agencies that had existed for a long time. They’d done great work without the discipline. I think it’s quite telling that maybe, and I would still argue, that the strongest and most influential planning department in the US was the one that Jon Steel built up at Goodby and the legacy that he left behind there.
I think part of that was that Jeff and Rich would genuinely interested in how it could make the work better, not just be a way to win more work, but more importantly, it was a timing thing. I think Goodby was two or three years old when Jon Steel came in and began to introduce and build the discipline. It was malleable enough as an organization, for it to really become an absolutely fundamental part of the company’s DNA. I think there’s no happenstance and surprise that that is why Goodby has produced, over thirty years now, by and large, very high-quality work that is highly effective, year in and year out.
I think one of the things I loved doing the most, I mean this sounds so chest-beating and silly, but we used to have a credentials slide. We did some analysis based on the number of Effectiveness Awards won per million dollars of revenue or per billings. If you just look at the number of Effectiveness Awards, clearly there’s an agency size effect that comes into play which is, if you’re making more work, you’re getting more bats and more swings, therefore you should win more awards. Taking away size of agency and looking over the course of the last 20 years, I’ve seen some analysis that showed that Goodby was the most efficient agency, at being effective in the US.
We just won more Effectiveness Awards per million dollars of billings than any other agency in the US. I think that was testament to the legacy that Jon Steel, Chris Chalk, John Thorpe had built up. Also, honestly, the fact that Jeff and Rich believed it was really important to making the work better, both more creative. Our belief was, the more creative the work was, the more effective it would be. That’s creative not just in the sense of doing something new, but really finding the human problem to address in advertising and finding a fresh way to go and solve that. They were just really good at finding better problems to solve.
Adam: I’ve always thought of planning as a long-term investment, that you’re looking out at in the future, you’re forecasting, you’re gauging behavior today and insights today that are going to shape the future. In this quarterly, or hourly satisfaction of clients era, how can planning maintain its effectiveness inside agencies with its clients, when it has to succeed now and down the road? You see clients get hired and fired in six months because–
Gareth: Absolutely. The short-termism affects everything, as you say. Particularly in terms of 10-year CMO. I think there’s a couple of things I’ll say to that Adam. I think one is, I still believe that planning is about helping shape the future in that brand’s favor, and I think that impact can begin to be felt in the business today, not just tomorrow. I also think it is about, are you a planner who is really good at going, “Here is what the world is going to look like and where your brand might need to go,” or are you really good at being useful in terms of the planning and thinking about, “What does that mean for the work I’m producing today for the clients, and how can I really make sure that it spreads into the work?”
That comes down to making strategy that is useful, just not clever. There’s far too many strategy decks that you see, which are either the bleeding obvious or the other end of the spectrum. Very clever but you just don’t quite know what to do with it. I think the best planning is really good at making it useful to the creative product today, not just the creative product tomorrow. I also think a lot of good planning– Yes, it is about shaping the future, but I think it’s also about helping companies, maybe see the real problem they need to address.
Honestly, that’s now a chapter where I think we’re seeing a lot of success and value for the clients we work with, is about being that kind of partner who can bring in an external perspective, to help them really understand the real human problem that lies behind the real business problem. Unfortunately, I think one of the big challenges alongside the short-termism we’re seeing, is just that increasing march of silos of specialization that have begun to crop up inside client organizations. As a result, have informed the advice ecosystem that those clients tap into.
The clearest one to me is the division between product and marketing, always slightly shocks me because the last time I checked, product was one of the four Ps of marketing. Now it’s being basically divested– I think that’s partly down to honestly, a lot of marketers basically falling in love with the promotion piece of it because that was something that was fun, relatively easy to control, they had really good partners around. It felt probably one of the easier levers for them to pull, and they took their eye off the ball on products.
I think they ceded ground that others chose to fill, but that really worries me. Which is, if you can’t think about how you can address the product to better meet people, or to fulfill unmet wants, that’s a real issue. Then you even look inside that marketing world, which I would argue now is really more often than not, sadly, it’s chief communication officers rather than chief marketing officers. Inside that communications well, there’s now been massive fragmentation where there’s digital agency, social agencies, et cetera, et cetera. It’s become a landscape where people are working to fill channels rather than to find the problem. To solve the real problem to solve, then apply creativity to solve that problem.
I think there’s just a real issue in the fragmentation of the industry now, that is arguably as big a problem as short-termism, if not arguably, actually maybe a bigger problem because you’re seeing both incorrect issues being solved. Lots of companies, basically making very expensive band-aids to address their symptom of the day, rather than the underlying malaise that they find. I think also just a lack of objectivity that is being provided by planners and strategists because they have to serve how they make money.
No one is providing that real cohesive story of, how should the brand feel across every touchpoint, more importantly, what are the things you should do in priority, in order to really address the human problem or better still seize the human opportunity that’s going to go and drive the business forward over time? I’m incredibly worried about this growing specialization and fragmentation.
Adam: I know, but I was very encouraged yesterday. Have you seen the Square Terminal work?
Gareth: I haven’t, no. It’s good?
Adam: What I would love to do– Not only is the work good but talking about the four-piece, it’s a product that solves an actual need from Square, which is we’ve been waiting for them to do something, right?
Adam: I think it was a 60, and I don’t know if it’s TVC or if it’s just video, but it was so emotionally intelligent and smart about giving me the benefits of it as a consumer, as a store owner, as a retailer but also making it part funny, part recognizing the frustration, part saying, “These are the problems you have, I’m going to solve it.” It’s so quick and smart. Yes, I’ll send it to you because I’d be interested to get your– in that– Yes, it’s really lovely. [crosstalk]
Gareth: I think you make a really important point which is, there are, I would argue, two things of brands we need to think about nowadays, and result strategists need to think about. Which is, one, how can you make a brand emotionally intelligent? I think that’s a lovely phrase you just used and it is not simply about, how do you make it functionally correct or make it functionally clever, it’s about the emotional intelligence. Look at how Google has evolved for example, over the last decade or so. We talked about this earlier on. They’ve become a brand that’s gone from being functionally brilliant and obviously highly intelligent, into having real emotional intelligence.
I think that’s just a really important thing to think about when you’re building brands. It doesn’t just mean– if you’re trying to think about how you might impact products doing the functional stuff, it’s about how can you make the product experience through emotional intelligence. I think the second thing that goes as allied to that is to shift mindset from trying to build brands that are human-like, i.e. what is our personality of the brand? Is it funny or humorous? Who really cares? To actually making them human-friendly and thinking about, what can you do that provides some greater difference of value to people?
Whether that’s through better utility, through entertainment, through a different approach to solving a different problem, but just making them genuinely human-friendly. It’s just something that I think we forget about far too often. We just end up getting caught in this tropo of, if this brand was a person what would it look like? Who is our human archetype? [crosstalk]
Adam: That question pressures me so much. “I can’t connect through a celebrity so let’s not be a celebrity.” I think the better question is, how will we connect to it?
Gareth: Absolutely Adam. I guess that thing where it always struck me as a bit weird even when I first started in the industry they were going, “Let’s go and give this inanimate thing, human characteristics,” and I understand to a degree how that works. You do begin to form associations inside people’s minds, but I think those associations can be better formed by thinking, “How can this brand credibly be more human-friendly?”
It’s not just about working out where the pain points are, where the opportunities are and then building your offering around that. I think that’s sometimes where some of the designs consultancies and design thinking falls down, is you end up with quite generic experiences. You have to look frankly, at web design nowadays and see where apparently there’s only two ways to build a webpage. I think the trick is allying that with all the stuff that planners have always been good at, great creative people and agencies in particular, ad agencies have been good at.
Which is, understanding what the brand’s point of view and belief system is, but then exploding that across all the different moments of opportunity, and working out where should you actually try and solve the problem, because there’s probably some things that you shouldn’t really bother touching. Secondly, when you do work out the problems you want to solve, or the opportunities you want to seize, actually how you are going to do that? As much as I think there’s a lot of good in the whole conversation around brand purpose and the whole Simon Sinek, “Why?” school of brand thinking, I think there’s a danger in that it’s maybe making us forget the what and the how.
I think increasingly in a world where there’s a greater transparency about how businesses and brands behave, actually the what and the how, is arguably more important to people than the why. It certainly, at the very least, needs to be connected and there’s far too many brands now that go, “Yes, we’re purpose-driven,” we go, “What do you mean?” They go, “We’ve got this purpose statements. We maybe made it.”
Adam: Sometimes one of the purpose just to be like, “We make razors that shave your face well,” and I’m good with that being your purpose.
Gareth: I don’t need a razor to go and solve world peace. I think, the other big danger is, they’re into that purpose statement and literally go, “Well, we’ve got a purpose statement so we’re just going to message it to people now in advertising,” rather than actually drive that purpose through the business. It begins to affect the products and services, an experience that they create. It becomes this really weird thing of– that old adage of, “Putting lipstick on a pig.” People see through that pretty fast.
Adam: Absolutely. All right, well I know you have to go. I want to be respectful of your time Mister Kay.
Gareth: Well Adam, thank you so much.
Adam: This was fantastic.
Gareth: Thank you for having me.
Adam: Of course, you and I could probably go on for another couple of hours, just sending ideas back and forth, so thank you for making time. I appreciate it.
Gareth: Adam, thank you so much. Thank you as well for launching your book because honestly one of the best books on marketing I’ve read in a long time. A, because it’s very well written and very funny in parts, but also it’s just clear. It’s one of those great books which actually is useful to people and points towards how to practice.
Adam: Thank you so much.
Gareth: Thank you for sharing and being generous with your thinking, and sharing that with the world.
Adam: Two thoughts on that, number one, I’m adding that quote to the blurb on the book, for sure. Number two, I’d maybe sending you a beta of the second book.
Gareth: That would be great. I’d Love to. Love to read that, it’d be terrific.
Adam: All right, awesome. Thank you so much.
Gareth: Adam, I hope we meet in real life. If I’m ever near you, I’ll let you know. Likewise, if you’re ever this way, please let me know.
Adam: Absolutely, will do.
Gareth: Adam, thank you so much.
Adam: All right, thanks.
[00:41:01] [END OF AUDIO]