Innovation is hard because ‘solving problems people didn’t know they had’ and ‘building something no one needs’ look identical at first,” said Aaron Levie, co-founder and CEO of enterprise cloud company, Box. While advertising may be able to do the latter, we’re not sure how good it is at the former. That’s probably why we’ve heard the term “innovation” being thrown around a lot – even more than “creativity” – in the regional and global advertising industry. As technology evolves, new platforms sprout up and old platforms reinvent, what does “innovation” really mean for advertisers? We find out from the experts: chief innovation officer at Leo Burnett/Publicis Group MENA, Yousef Tuqan Tuqan; head of digital at OMD MENA, Waseem Afzal; innovation director at M&C Saatchi, Jimmy Ghazal.
Innovation in the context of advertising
The best advertising has always been one that solves a problem. The opportunity for innovation is to use communication to build or create something new that solves a problem – Tuqan
Throughout the years, media has changed, but the essence remains the same: at the heart of any communication lies the idea. By default, we, as communicators, always need to be innovative in anything we do in order to evolve and improve. Innovation is not entirely limited to the few of us who are tech-savvy, but today’s platforms are all digital and connected, thus making technology a major factor in determining the innovativeness of a product – Ghazal
In its simplest form, innovation is when brands and marketers leverage insights and data to disrupt the traditional way of connecting with consumers, and succeed in creating value from their relationships. Innovation is all about taking a fresh approach, either from a strategic point of view or through the use of an emerging technology in a smarter, better and more effective way – Afzal
Why innovation is wrongly associated with technology
It’s a misconception that we require technology to be innovative. Any change – to a process, a product or a service – can be innovation – Tuqan
People often directly link innovation to technology. It’s not wrong; technology is one piece of the puzzle, a big one. But we should not forget that we are in the business of communication and that cannot be confined to one particular platform. Having an app on a mobile device was innovative in 2008, just like having a website was innovative in the ’90s. Today, the whole world is our platform, and almost every item around us is connected. This is actually liberating and gives us a reason to think beyond the tool and go back to the basics: thinking should lead to technology and not the other way around – Ghazal
There are several misconceptions among industry executives: innovation is expensive and risky; it takes time and resources; it can be complicated; and it is only about technology – Afzal
How innovative is the Middle East’s advertising industry?
I’m sorry to say that the regional advertising industry is not really innovative. By and large, we have yet to go beyond our traditional roles as advertisers and move further toward product development – Tuqan
It is fairly innovative, in patches rather than as a whole, particularly if this is measured by global awards results. However, the industry still needs to cover a lot of ground. The challenge is that we stand at the crossroads of tradition and innovation. The approach to innovation is still very campaign-centric rather than transformative in the long run, thanks to breakthrough methods that push the boundaries of advertising – Afzal
Many agencies embraced the digital revolution; but, unfortunately, this has happened at a very slow pace and the region is running many laps behind the global industry. Today, many regional agencies are still caught up in the platform trap and are failing to see beyond the device. Innovation is thinking beyond the platform and crafting that ultimate experience to best serve the idea. This is something that the industry is still not doing properly – Ghazal
What is the most innovative piece of work you’ve come across in the Middle East?
I loved Publicis’ recent campaign “The Performer”, which created a polyphonic musical instrument from the sounds of a Chrysler 300C. What I loved most is that, beyond the use of conductive ink to bring the ad to life, the idea served as the core of a strong campaign that went across all media – Tuqan
There are a number of brands that come to mind, but only two stand out. The first is the innovative use of mobile by McDonald’s. In order to support its drive-through sales at lunchtime, following the launch of its delivery service, McDonald’s started a mobile-driven initiative spearheaded by geo-fencing and day-part targeting that connected people to their local McDonald’s restaurants via Google Maps. The brand was able to push rules-based messaging at the right time in the right context, which helped boost traffic to their drive-through restaurants. To me, innovation is being channel and screen agnostic and one such campaign came from HP, which promoted its Hero product on radio and social media with a twist. HP used its product USP of a fluid switch from tablet to notebook to tent mode in its “Bend the Rules” campaign. The activity kicked off on the radio network, Channel 4, where the radio presenters “bent the rules” and switched roles within the three studios, taking the listeners by surprise. The campaign was linked to a social ambush, with listeners invited to tweet their stories of “bending the rules” for a chance to win with HP, using with hashtag #BendTheRulesME. This sparked a lot of conversations on social media and allowed HP to dominate the social chatter during GITEX – a time when all other IT manufacturers push out promotional messaging – Afzal
It’s not a regional work, but I’d like to reference Honda’s “The Other Side” campaign to launch the Civic Type R. It is a great example that showcases the mix of platforms and technologies put at the service of a good idea. It combines all the elements of a successful product: idea, concept, story, art direction, filming and technology – all beautifully crafted using high-end technologies without overwhelming the user. All the user needs to do on the keyboard is type the letter R – Ghazal
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