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How Marketing Will Change In 2015: The Creative Forecast

Top agency, digital and brand players weigh in on the year to come.

[Photo: Flickr user Daniel Pham]

It’s a new year and time for prediction and anticipation. How much mobile-first, e-commerce-driving engagement will you be programmatically integrating into your 2015 360 strategy?

Marketing has made real, beyond-buzzword shifts over the past year in terms of recognition of the mobile, multi-device consumer, and the importance of creating compelling content, of all lengths, and across all platforms. But how will those shifts manifest themselves, and what new forces will shape marketing this year? Whether it’s via long form content, social platforms, or apps, the challenge of telling a brand’s story in an engaging way is ever present. The pace of culture is something both consumers and marketers struggle to keep up with, and yet the wheels keep turning, with new technologies, platforms and ideas continually challenging, enraging and inspiring us in seemingly equal measure.

We spoke to leaders in brand creativity about their insights, predictions, and prognostications—what they’re looking forward to, the direction they’d like to see their work go, how they plan to make next year more creative and more.

Photo: Flickr user Sean Hobson

What are the things (technological, societal, media-related, economic, or otherwise) that will most impact the work you’ll be doing next year?

Tor Myhren, worldwide chief creative officer, Grey: Our industry’s obsession with celebrities became massive this year, and I see this as an even bigger trend next year. Leader brands are using them to flex their dominance, challenger brands are using them as a shortcut to quick buzz, and everyone is using their social media tentacles as a cheaper media channel. I have never seen our industry lean more on celebrity, both as "the idea" and as a media outlet, than we did in 2014. Of course this simply mimics what’s happening in society as a whole. We are and forever will be a culture that cannot take our eyes off the stars. Micro-celebrities (like YouTube celebs) will continue to grow and become a more central part of media and partnership strategies.

Brent Choi, chief creative and integration officer, JWT Canada/JWT Toronto: There's a lot of talk about unplugging, but it really is talk vs. the tsunami of more tech, more often, to spark our growing need for more excitement, more fulfillment and in turn, more social currency. The result for our business is to create new and innovative ideas around the convergence of digital and experiential, that also has the ability to be documented socially. In other words, find a brand's place to allow consumers to experience things they never dreamed of, and allow them to show their friends they did it.

Ben Priest, founding partner and executive creative director, adam&eveDDB London: The only real challenge facing us every year is finding great people. That never changes. 2015 will be no different. Great talent is a rare thing but when you find it your business hits fast forward.

Allie Kline, chief marketing officer, AOL Advertising: Video and automation. Automation is taking hold and as this continues, it is freeing up brands and publishers to be more creative. Video will be the recipient of this creative explosion, and new ways of approaching and thinking about video will transform marketing and media the way programmatic and automation have these last 18 months.

Adrian Belina, partner and creative director, Jam3: As people's interest in Facebook continues to fade we will see fewer requests from brands to do campaigns and apps that reside within Facebook. In the last year, we've definitely seen a return to the microsite format, especially for digital campaigns, and I think we'll be seeing a lot more of it as brands continue to use Facebook as a conversation tool rather than as their main platform.

Gareth Kay, founding partner, Zeus Jones San Francisco: I think we will finally see privacy going public. There’s been lots of talk about privacy (particularly after Snowden) but all the evidence I’ve seen suggests that there is a greater public desire for greater transparency (and symmetry) around privacy than we maybe give credit for. Perhaps more importantly we are seeing companies finally try to give people back control of privacy. From established tech brands like Google and Apple moving to a default of private, to new offerings like BitTorrent’s forthcoming peer to peer browser Project Maelstrom or the launch this year of Blackphone (author’s disclosure: we work with Blackphone), there are signs that people are going to be increasingly able to vote for privacy without making trade offs for functionality.

This is clearly going to impact our work. I hope there will be fewer attempts to try and show "we know you" through the breadcrumbs of your data, fewer business models based on selling access to people’s information and more attempts to do things for people, not things that use people.

Jon Jackson, global creative director, Huge: People don't have as much room for bullshit in their lives anymore. With social and political issues top-of-mind for so many right now, we'll need to employ a greater sense of empathy and understanding in everything we do. Companies that are honest with people and really trying to make their users' lives a bit better are the ones that will do best. The work we execute next year will be focused on braver ideas, honesty, and empowering people with a little more control over their lives.

John Patroulis, chief creative officer, BBH NY: How a company behaves in the world is becoming increasingly important, which is a wonderful thing. Wonderful for the kinds of ideas we can create and the kinds of behavior we can inspire. In a world of perfect information, the activities, values, and stances you take really matter, and affect the health of your business whether you like it or not. A nice side benefit just happens to be happier, more inspired employees, customers, and planet. Using our strategic and creative muscle to help a company find its soul, its authentic space of good, ­and creatively express that in actions as well as communications (or, when done right, actions that are themselves communications) will be an important focus, along with everything else we do with them.

Linda Boff, global executive director of brand marketing, General Electric: Virtual reality! We’re fascinated by the limitlessness of it and began creating content for Oculus Rift this year. It’s a great storytelling platform, particularly for GE, because it gives us another incredible way to show how our big machines perform in extreme conditions. We can take someone on a journey to the sea floor or into the human brain.

We’re also paying a lot of attention to connected TVs and thinking about how brands can play with original content. We love that media is becoming more ephemeral through platforms like SnapChat, Yo and Yik Yak, and at the same time, more long form with platforms like Medium.

Data is also going to have an impact on what we do next year. With data, you enable things, and there’s an opportunity for GE to tell stories with smart light bulbs or thermostats as media.

Michael Lebowitz, CEO/founder, Big Spaceship: Over the course of this year, a lot of interesting developments have started to emerge like connected devices and the internet of things, where there isn’t even a screen to focus on. It begs the questions of how we’ll navigate the fact that it’s in our nature to create clutter. Everyone needs more focus and less clutter of content.

That’s going to have a huge effect on Big Spaceship’s business. My goal will be to start breaking down the artificial barriers between products, services, marketing and social connectivity and begin thinking about them holistically. My philosophy is that every interaction matters, and it’s really hard for a brand to live up to that when the interactions are artificially siloed. The more you can get over your own infrastructures in business, the more success and value you can provide.

Photo: Flickr user Robert Bowdidge

What are you hoping to do more and less of?

Belina: My passion in the digital industry has always been about creative exploration and innovation. So, hopefully we'll continue to find clients and that want to push the limitations of what can currently be done in digital. We've had a lot of fun with WebGL this past year and I think brands will continue to grow—slowly, though—to be more comfortable with using WebGL, in order to create sites that are more innovative, experiential, and narrative based.

Which leads me to what I'd like to do less of: I'd love to spend less time and energy tailoring website experiences to very specific users that fall into very small percentages. A great example of this is to look at the proportion of spend—in creating the overall campaign site—and the effort it takes to make that site also work for IE users. In most of our digital advertising campaigns—not the brand sites—the penetration for IE 8 users is less than 1% but we're still spending over 20% of our overall development budget degrading a website that was made for modern browsers. It's time to focus our efforts and spend the budget on where the users are, and not where the brands' old computers and operating systems are.

Kay: Same as the last year: less stuff that feels like a new, clever way to spam people and more stuff that genuinely is useful and helpful to people. We’re obsessed by trying to make things that delight people, that they find valuable and offer some gift for the time they spend with them. More things that reduce friction and increase delight, less things that interrupt, agitate and frustrate. More things that close the gap between a better experience for people and the real, root commercial challenges.

Jackson: People are busy. Their lives are complicated. There's so much choice that there's not a lot of point in creating something that's not intended to be the best in its class. A lot of people will tell you that that's what they want but they don't always mean it. We only want to work with people who are serious about shaking things up and making things that have a positive impact on people's lives. Whether that's a product that gives people easier, faster access to healthcare or financial services, or a campaign that makes something easier to understand. Everything we do needs to be truly ambitious.

Kline: I want us to take even more risk. We are amidst the most disruptive time in media’s history and we want to be the company and brand that makes room for unprecedented transformation in both culture and code.

Patroulis: More soul, more instinct, more humanity. More human truths, less advertising truths. More innovative solutions instead of good versions of expected solutions. More taking all the information we have, all the data and feedback and activity, and using it as another tool of creativity, instead of a tool of paralysis. Less pretty much anything that isn’t the above.

Boff: As an industry, we need to do a better job of putting the user/viewer/consumer in the middle. I worry that with all the shiny new media toys we all have access to, it’s going to become easier to forget that the User is King. As marketers, we always must remember that someone is on the other end of the experiences we are creating. We have to assume they have no patience and don’t know anything about our brand, so that we make things "stupid simple" and delightfully pleasing every single time.

Lebowitz: I want to be thinking more about the full scope of how people actually experience a brand or product and less about a single tactic that a client is fixated on. While that’s always been my mantra and approach to attacking clients’ business problems, I’m noticing marketers asking more and more for a specific tactic like viral video or a cool app just because everybody else is doing it and because they gain a lot of eyeballs across the Internet. I want to be doing more projects that start at the heart of consumer behavior—social—and pull in other tactics that make sense for the brand and the people who interact with it.

Photo: Flickr user Richard P J Lambert

Your creative year: What will you do in 2015 to be more creative or grow creatively?

Choi: Encourage and celebrate bravery. Taking risks, albeit calculated ones, is the best thing to break through in today's world. It also attracts and retains the right talent, as well as the right clients.

Belina: I'll be looking to get inspired from entirely different industries and areas completely outside of advertising, design and technology. Another thing I'm going to do is give myself more time. This industry is fast and tough, and it's important to remember to take time, to step away, to turn off push notifications and to just sit, think and imagine.

Kay: I think it’s all about increasing diversity and difference: different, diverse inputs; spending time in different places; working with people with different worldviews and skillsets. I’m a firm believer that the simplest way to get to different ideas is to work with different people in different ways.
The other thing we are trying to do as a company is to be very deliberate about the diversity of projects we work on. It’s very easy to build a company that does one type of thing but this 'deepening in expertise" tends to lead to over-developed muscle memory and a habit of seeing the world being full of similar sized holes. We are deliberately going to choose to work on problems we haven’t worked on before and often, at first, have no idea how to solve. It keeps us interested and, we think, it provides greater value of perspective and new learning for our clients.

Jackson: In order to grow creatively, you need to have new experiences—and a lot of the experiences that produce the most growth come from traveling and interacting outside of your comfort zone. I'm a big believer in doing at least one thing each year that you've never done before. We're also making an effort to find and hire people from around the world with very different creative backgrounds in order to push our creativity through a broader collective experience. Our goal is to be able to braid together, for example, five very different creative perspectives on any one problem and get five very different, amazing ideas.

"Our business model doesn't allow for constant beta. It doesn't allow for over-resourcing to invest in R&D. Yet, considering the new competitive set for our business, this is the exact behavior agencies need, to not only lead, but to survive."

Kline: Immerse myself in culture. Looking at media through the eyes of my two young daughters is the purest way to think about where we head strategically. There’s nothing more inspiring than seeing life through the eyes of fresh generations. That’s where creativity is born.

Patroulis: Hunting down fear and killing it wherever it hides. In conversations. In ideas. In briefs. In executions. In how we’re shaping our own business. Fear is the enemy of creativity, and we’re on too much of a roll right now to give it any air. We owe that to our clients, our partners, and anyone who might interact with anything we make. Chaos often creates fear, but chaos is also where all the opportunity lies. And we’re living in a wonderfully, fantastically, excitingly chaotic world. Creatively. Technologically. Behaviorally. And that’s something to enjoy instead of fear.

Boff: Brand as Network. Increasingly, brands are becoming the new programmers. GE’s owned/social audience is nearly four million people, larger than many cable networks! We get extra credit for being unexpected. After 122 years, we need to continue to surprise and delight people. Everyone is familiar with our brand. That’s a great canvas on which to paint new, modern pictures.

Own, not rent. In a world where we are now programmers, owning is better. As owners, we control the narrative (and can rent out space to others!) Publish the most remarkable content—it will find an audience. Every piece of content we publish needs to be remarkable. This is true from a short Vine video to a longer-form TV ad or a tweet. It all matters. Our goal is to be remembered, shared and to drive brand value. We need to ensure every 6-second video a tweet or a film is as great as it could be.

Lebowitz: I want to read more books. Whole books—not just skimming them. I also want to give myself more room to breathe by being more intentional with the resources I have—reducing clutter and getting to the things that matter. I think that advice applies to everyone at every scale. I want to really think about what the best way is for me to spend the resources that I have—and it’s not just a constant processing of stuff.

Photo: Flickr user David Goehring

What will be your biggest creative challenge next year?

Myrhen: Producing work at the speed of pop culture so that our brands are fast enough to draft off the fleeting conversations and fascinations driven by mass media, celebrity gossip, tech trends and memes—that's our biggest challenge of next year. Brands that are nimble enough to react in real time are winning. This is of course true in the digital space, but even with film and video you must now be able to ideate and execute faster and cheaper than ever in order to keep up with culture. This is a trend that will never reverse, so we better get used to it. Speed kills.

Choi: Our business model doesn't allow for constant beta. It doesn't allow for over-resourcing to invest in R&D. Yet, considering the new competitive set for our business, this is the exact behavior agencies need, to not only lead, but to survive. So the challenge as a creative leader is to more than ever, be brave, and place your bets really well. We only get to act on a few opportunities. They better hit and hit big.

Priest: Finding great people and having fun while keeping the standards up.

Belina: We're going to see a lot of growth in 2015 and that means that I'll be shifting my role from being the creative lead within projects to leading creative teams who are leading their own projects. As a creative, you always want to be involved in every aspect of a production, but I'm really looking forward to helping my team grow creatively and professionally, and to celebrate their success and achievements.

Kay: Saying no. It’s too easy to say yes to everything.

Jackson: Being honest. Being honest with our clients and being honest with ourselves, about everything. Being prepared to throw everything away and start again if it's not good enough is the only way to get to work that is truly exceptional.

"We’ve gone through a period of time where our clients’ brands have turned over a lot of their presence to other people’s platforms, but I think we’ll see a move back towards creating some owned properties in marketing . . . That shift is going to open up a new space for us creatively."

Kline: Finding the balance between taking big risks and investing the anchors that have served us well historically.

Patroulis: Speed. At our best, we lead our clients’ business with ideas that lead culture rather than follow it. That includes helping our clients and partners change with us just as we change around them. Asking those we work with to adapt their process as well so we can get to the best ideas together and get to them quickly. Because the speed at which you can execute well really depends on what the idea demands. So there’s only so much you can do there before hurting the outcome. But how we work, how our clients and partners work, clearing things out on both sides to get to great thinking quickly, that’s the biggest challenge, and of course, the biggest opportunity.

Boff: GE does business in 170 countries. We are a branded house so we need to show up consistently everywhere. But we need to be locally relevant. If we don’t start with local insights, we’ll miss by a mile. But if we don’t play into our brand’s overall strength, we risk being too diffuse. I think that’s the challenge of multinational brands. Anyone can be great on their home turf. It’s the away games that are the hardest to win.

Lebowitz: User interfaces are starting to dissipate—the best products are the ones you don’t really feel like you’re using. That doesn’t really bode well for advertising, so it’s obviously going to pose a huge creative challenge to everyone in the industry. We have to create more value than ever before, and we’re being forced to ask ourselves, how do we get out of the way without disappearing?

Another hurdle is that we’ve gone through a period of time where our clients’ brands have turned over a lot of their presence to other people’s platforms, but I think we’ll see a move back towards creating some owned properties in marketing. I think in a very different way than before, the microsite is going to have to come back. You can’t turn everything over to someone else’s platform, and you can’t just commit to something that you can’t ultimately control and measure in full. That shift is going to open up a new space for us creatively.

Photo: Flickr user Se Re

Predictions for 2015’s most overused buzzwords

Myrhen: "Innovation." This is always a strong contender for buzzword of the year, and seems to have held the crown since, like, 2010. But don't count it out for next year, mainly because it means everything and nothing all at once and therefore is a nearly perfect word for any business situation. Then maybe some corny mashup words like "demotainment" or "solvertising."

Choi: "Narrative." It's already overused. But I think it's about to explode! I get why. It sounds a lot fancier than "storytelling." And with the proliferation of touch points, it's our job to find that—wait for it—narrative that connects it all.

Priest: "Buzzwords."

Belina: "Stunt." "Organic." "Authentic." "Product innovation." And of course, "buzzword" itself. All that being said, "viral" will probably continue to dominate brand boardrooms across our many lands. Unfortunately many people still think it's a strategy.

Kay: "Omnichannel." "Holistic." "Integrated." "Digital transformation." Overused now and I fear even more overused next year.

Jackson: "Wearables." "Latent." "Native."

Kline: "Big data"—it’s not about the size, it’s what you do with it that matters. "SoLoMo"—come on, Social Local Mobile, give me a break. Everything should be inclusive and these silos have got to come down. "ROI"—it’s an unnecessary qualified. Everything is and will forever be measurable.

Boff: Where do I start?! Anything that sounds like "native content," "branded content," or "content marketing" would top my list. Great content is great content. "Mobile first" would be up there. It’s so obvious—do we need to keep saying it?!

Lebowitz: Any word that has less meaning than it needs to have. I would love to see the plain language movement infiltrate our industry. Let’s just keep it simple, because everything else is already so complex.