‘Everyone hates advertising and so we need new ways to cut through’ – Digitas’s Keith Byrne

Relying solely on smart art direction and clever copywriting is no longer enough, says Digitas's Keith Byrne as he makes a case for campaigns driven by data, technology, media, storytelling and user experience

Nike’s LDNR film

The role of the modern advertising creative is evolving. To build todays’ big campaign you need a grasp of data, technology and media. Then to execute this campaign you need to be a master of storytelling, design, user experience and so on.

As a result of this, the creative process is changing. What is considered good craft has really gone far beyond smart art direction and clever copywriting.


Don’t get me wrong, we should always place great value on traditional craft skills but now there is a growing list of other creative techniques that brands are using to cut through and sell.

Modular storytelling: Creating a piece of content that can be cut-down, segmented and re-purposed across multiple channels has been happening for a very long time. But it’s usually a campaign afterthought: “Now that we’ve made the hero-film, how do we get the most out of it?”. 

The recent Nike LDNR campaign was a masterclass in well planned, modular storytelling. The campaign’s main driver was a  three minute long film cast with 250 London kids.

A day before launch, each child was given their cameo in the film to share over social channels. This resulted in thousands of films and GIFS being shared by the target audience to the target audience on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Tiktok. #LDNR was trending on social before the campaign even launched.

Modular storytelling works well when you have a big theme that can be broken down into mini stories.

With Nike LDNR you had multiple athletes from different sports competitively comparing how tough their training is. The perfect ingredients for a socially-driven ad campaign that was heavily awarded at this years’ Cannes Lions.

Platform hacking: Another way that brands are cutting through is by hacking a social platform or app, often by adding a new feature or reimagining an existing one. AAMI, a car insurer in Australia recently created an amazing road safety campaign in partnership with Spotify.

Each year AAMI collects data from accidents across the country. They know exactly where and why accidents happen. Through geotargeted Spotify radio ads, AMMI used this data to warn drivers about the specific road they were driving on. AAMI turned a Spotify radio ad (the thing people hate about the platform) into an engaging, personalised, relevant real time message. 

Seamless offline-online integration: China is leading the world in offline-online integration, constantly blurring the lines between media channels and creating new ways to sell. A recent, fantastic example of this was KFC Pocket Stores, where the brand allowed customers to create their own retail store on WeChat.

KFC fans sold chicken to their friends via WeChat gaining personal discounts for their efforts. Fans could design and personalise their store even choosing what products they sold. You simply ordered through your friend and then picked up your meal at a KFC close by. 

KFC Pocket Stores brought elements of social, commerce and gaming together to create 2.5 million WeChat stores, that in turn sold $6 million worth of chicken. No app, no big expensive ad campaign, KFC simply turned its fans into franchisees on a platform they use every day.

Voice selling: Smart speakers are the fastest selling consumer technology since the smartphone. Alexa, Siri and other voice technologies will surely change how we shop. It’s still early days for this technology and there isn’t yet wide spread usage, but a few brands are starting to effectively sell with voice.

The key thing about using voice technology is efficiency. The voice experience must be quicker and more convenient than an online store or app. Last year Virgin Trains in the UK became the first company in the world to sell train tickets via Amazon Echo.

Virgin noted that it takes about seven minutes to book a train ticket online, but with voice it takes two minutes.

Virgin Trains admit that they are still very much in the ‘test and learn’ phase with voice technology, only offering travellers single journey tickets, but as more customers use this service they will expand their offering.

What inspires each of these new creative techniques is mixture of innovation and thinking. More media channels mean there are now more ways for brands to sell, so it’s imperative that creatives are given proper time to think in non-traditional ways, and I really urge clients to push their agencies in this direction.

Because the obvious truth is everyone hates advertising, so we need to constantly find new ways to cut through.

Reinventing how brands behave, communicate and sell excites me. Modular story-telling, platform hacking, seamless online-offline integration and voice selling are some of the new ways that brands are cutting through right now.

But they will some become the norm and then we will have to create some other new method. It really is an exciting time to be a creative in our industry because change pushes you out of your comfort zone and its usually at this moment when great work happens.Keith Byrne is creative director at Digitas Asia-Pacific, based in Singapore


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