The Need for Diversity in Advertising

Race has become, over the last few years, a heated topic, not just here at home in South Africa, but globally. America has in the last few years, looks to be retreating back into the civil rights battle of the 1960’s. Europe has been swept with extremist racial viewpoints whilst managing the migrant crisis. Australia too, driving some rather unsavoury migrant policies and opinions. It feels as though we were living happily together for a while and it has bubbled up again because there simply is not enough change or representation.

Within the frame of the advertising world, the only world I really know well enough to comment on, there definitely is not enough change within our staff and in turn, the advertising we put out to the world.

Particularly in South Africa, our communication and agency staff is certainly not reflective enough of a true South African demographic reality. A diverse staff provides diversity of thought and consumer insight that desktop research or “cultural immersions” could never provide. The white, heterosexual, mid- to high-income view is most likely not the most popular or widely-accepted view. Especially not here on the tip of Africa.

It will take time for us to develop great black ad talent, as many of the marketing and advertising qualifications are from private, inaccessible institutions. We aren’t exactly recruiting talent from high school like the accounting firms, or developing creative programs in schools to put the creative industries top of mind. The industry is simply not thought of or in their sphere of awareness.

“Diversity of thought is powerful. We need to become the industry that embraces a vast array of talent from different ethnic and racial backgrounds, while also making a real effort to recruit people of different cultural experiences, ages, genders, religions, sexual orientations and lifestyles. This will give us the insights and the skills to evolve alongside the massive demographic, technological and social shifts that we’ll see in the coming decades” – AdAge

But it’s not just about race, it’s also about representing women, lower income groups, the LGBTQ community, and language equally. We disconnect ourselves from our audiences when we put across inauthentic views and assumptions. People resonate with “people like me”. Race, gender and income brackets are immediate visual isolators.

With younger consumers (I’m purposefully avoiding using clichéd marketing terms here), they want to support brands that are ‘good”, brands that represent diverse people and relationships. They are more likely to put their money where their heart is and they can see right through inauthentic advertising.

Advertising is a powerful medium. If we have the power to change how someone feels about a beer brand or a bank, we aren’t optimising our communication for good well enough. We have the opportunity to have a positive, widespread impact on people on more important issues. We should, as agencies, push back against clients and educate them on real people and real problems their products can solve. We should put across messages that are positive and authentic, and we can only do that by making people real, as part of our staff and as part of our audiences.

Two great articles about diversity in advertising (from a rather Americanized viewpoint):

Adweek: Survey on growing demand for diverse representations of families in ads

Adage: The advertising industry needs diverse leadership 

Image source: unsplash, Andrew Ridley

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The Economic Value of Ideas

A question that has long plagued me has been one around attaching real economic value to creativity. By studying both advertising and economics, my academic background is one of contradiction but has also given me a unique approach to business and creativity. For me, creativity holds great value, value that should translate into real bottom-line impact in a business. I have attempted, and not quite yet gotten there, on an economic model that will simply and concisely show that creativity has real monetary value. I have involved some real economic minds on this one but find their grasp on creativity lacking, expectedly.

A thought process that has come out of this argument has been on a personal level too. I am someone who makes money for businesses through my ideas, my time is then charged for as a resource for the business I work for but does time always reflect true value and meaning? In working with large, traditional advertising agencies I have picked up some serious inefficiencies in the way in which they work, charge for work and promote staff. I have too often found ill-experienced employees over-charging clients for poor creative and strategic work and leaving meetings with an arrogance of “the client has no idea what they are talking about” after receiving criticism for the work. They would tell me that they worked all hours of the night and weekends to produce the work but they really have little to show for it which tells me, billable hours are no reflection on quality of work or value.

If we had to treat ideas as if they were currency, which it absolutely is for idea workers, that would mean that, like a currency, you should be investing your ideas wisely to ensure the best return on idea investment. This translates into effectively putting brain work into the projects that matter, effort that will see the biggest return. Considering also, the institution in which you invest your ideas, the company or brand you invest your ideas into by providing you with enough growth on your returns. Is your creativity getting better over time? Are you being challenged with interesting work? Are you encouraged with a growth-driven environment?

I oftentimes struggle with the marketing and advertising industry as the work does not drive as much impact as I would like and agencies are not working smartly or effectively with their staff’s idea investments. The cause really sits within education institutions that continue to teach outdated curricula where value either sits too heavily within the artistic but not economic (with the likes of Vega), or too heavily within traditional marketing practices that are no longer relevant (like your traditional BComm courses). Experienced staff at agencies should be focusing much more on the development of junior staff and providing them with holistic work experience rather than executing grunt work.

As I continue to work on my economic model, I would love industry input as to how we can really start making more effective agencies and communicate the value of our ideas better to clients.

Innovation with Intent

Ten Faces of InnovationInnovation has become a buzzword in business of late and as someone who has “Innovation” in their title, it is a task of mine to grasp what exactly innovation means to us at LIVE+. To us, being innovative means being creative problem solvers, always placing human connection at its centre.

During a recent move, I came across one of my university set-work books (that admittedly, I skim-read at the time) called The Ten Faces of Innovation written by Tom Kelley. It gave me a whole new context to what innovation meant and the differing roles team members can play. Within the book, Kelley identifies 10 personas that play a role in establishing innovation in an organisation or for a campaign.  The book is highly regarded by the likes of Seth Godin and Tom Peters.

 I was surprised to find that my role as Innovation Architect at LIVE+ had been described perfectly in Kelley’s Experience Architect persona. “[Experience Architects] are people who focus relentlessly on creating remarkable customer experiences, [they] set the stage for positive encounters with your organisation through products, services, digital interactions, spaces or even events.”

There is however, an understanding needed for organisations that innovation is something that needs to be embedded into a culture of an organisation to be successful. Innovation is not a flick of a switch, it is a process and requires an implementation plan much like any business function, it needs to be woven into the business’ modus operandi. It is crucial that organisations understand their business in its current state, identify weak points that require action and fix them before bringing new pieces onto the game board. As Adrian Gonzalez, a supply chain and logistics analyst, put in an article recently, “If you can’t execute the small stuff, you can’t expect to innovate.” Organisations require a comfortable level of operation that pushes them into the need to take that step into innovation.

Innovation requires intent to be successful. As Kelley puts it, “It is not good enough to just have a good idea. Only when you act, when you implement, do you truly innovate.” In a combination of learning, organising and building, any organisation, regardless of size and industry, is capable of being innovative and ahead of their competitors. As any business function, innovation needs to have a positive impact on the bottom line to reflect success.

REFERENCES:

KELLEY, Tom. (2006). The Ten Faces of Innovation. London: Profile Books.

GOZALEZ, Adrian. (2014). Forget Innovation If You Can’t Execute the Small Stuff. [Online]. 23 March 2014. Available from: http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140323130651-1306443-forget-innovation-if-you-can-t-execute-the-small-stuff?trk=mp-reader-card [Accessed: 30 April 2014].

The Changing Face of Productivity

This really isn’t a new concept but many companies, in industries across the board, are realising that under the influence of advancing technology the concept of what it means to be productive at work is changing. It is no longer required for someone to sit at a desk under the watchful eye of their manager to be productive, if anything it causes the opposite effect on staff. People can now connect to coworkers and servers quicker than ever and sit in the comfort of their most productive space, whether that is at home or at a coffee shop or in a park.

This flexibility in workspace also sees the elimination, or restructuring, of the biggest productivity killers: meetings and managers. Many hours are wasted sitting in meetings, even just “quick 30 minutes” for a team of five people is actually in-effect two and a half hours of time lost in the business. Add two or three of those meetings into the day and you have lost almost a full day of productivity in the team. Effective use of status reports within teams and purpose-driven once a week catch-up sessions can be used as an alternative.

The key to productivity is uninterrupted time. If you or management aren’t comfortable with staff being off-premise, consider productive workspace design within your office. Have quiet booths or spaces where staff can sit away from the distraction of a buzzing open plan. Consider a “no meeting Wednesday” where staff are encouraged to use the day to actually produce the work that has been in-discussion.

I came across this fascinating company called The Barbarian Group that places a huge emphasis on productive workspace. Their office is incredible and the level of work that comes out of it as a result is testament to the importance of workspace design.

My train of thought on this topic was kicked off by THIS TED talk by Jason Fried. Also, this forms part of my monthly trend briefing, have a read on the LIVE+ slide share.

LIVE+ Connected Activation Agency

I work for LIVE+, a company that believes in being forward-thinking and innovative, not only in how we operate as a business but in how we approach our clients’ businesses. As we see ourselves surrounded by digital interaction, many companies ranging in size and function have realized the importance of integrating digital activities into their processes. We pride ourselves in having new and clear visions into how that can be executed within the marketing function for our clients.

 The digital landscape in recent times has certainly seen a move from a rapidly growing revolution into a more stabilized evolutionary state. Not to say though that the industry is slowing down in any way whatsoever, but we are seeing changes in how elements are being interacted with as opposed to drastic new inventions entirely (simpler, faster, stronger vs. entirely new). As LIVE+ we make it our mission to understand the latest developments and trends within the digital and consumer space so as to provide our clients with the most up-to-date and relevant communication platforms for their consumers.

 Insights are gained through being observers and explorers in the landscapes in which we operate. To be true innovators and pioneers in anything we do, we have to step into unknown, and sometimes uncomfortable territories to discover the beauty of the untouched. This doesn’t only take courage on the behalf of the LIVE+ team but also on behalf of the client that is willing to take the risk of being different. Trends guide us much like a map, if we continue to build on the metaphor of new world discovery. We believe that the combination of market insight and a clear grasp of trends only make for informed and strategic moves.

For our client base, these moves mean staying ahead of the curve. If strategies are executed without the right context, it can only mean loss and confusion. We don’t believe in looking at marketing or consumer challenges in isolation, we believe in looking at them holistically as business challenges. We have to ask ourselves as strategists, how we can begin an innovative domino effect throughout brands and companies that have long-term sustainability within a market place.

In a digitally pervasive world, true competitive advantage can only be gained through finding the best way in which digital and physical activities can function harmoniously. This is where LIVE+ provides the best solutions in our CONNECTIVATION ™ approach. We believe that we need to combine the “connected” digital world with on-the-ground “activation” to see the best measurable results for brands. We are driven to see contagious consumer advocacy in everything we execute for our clients.

You can read more about us on our website or follow us on Twitter

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