Thinking post-digital

The edgy Kiwi experience drew digital innovator Adam Good to our shores
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Photograph by Alistair Guthrie

Rejoice, New Zealanders—while your offshore peers are desperately battling their way up the food chain, Kiwis get to do real work early in their careers. That edgy experience also attracts international talent to these shores, like Adam Good, Clemenger Communications’ executive director of digital innovation. Good was a founding member of Tribal DDB Worldwide. As president, based in Hong Kong, he oversaw offices in Hong Kong, Mumbai, Bangalore, Sydney, Melbourne and Seoul, and established Shanghai, Tokyo and Auckland. So what’s the appeal in Godzone?

Technology is obviously a big part of your background. Remind me what your title is?

I’m executive director here at Clems, but I’ve added ‘digital innovation’ to the title. I added ‘innovation’ because sometimes you can be automatically tainted, like, here’s the digital guy, he’s just going to be talking about banners, buttons, micro-sites, some email campaigns.

And I really wanted to just come at the business saying my heritage is in digital, I understand that medium, but I’m going to look at your brief a little bit differently. Innovation implies a little bit of risk, too, and it implies learning.

What would you say is the difference between innovation and creativity?

I suppose ‘creativity’ conjures up the artistry behind ideas. ‘Innovation’ conjures up the mechanics or the dynamics around those ideas, or the potential of things. Maybe innovation applies to structure and back-of-office thought, rather than what the consumer is going to face. In the technology sphere you’re actually creating the form in which the content will be delivered.

So it’s another dimension. Previously the brief would say you’re going on TV, so you don’t have to imagine too much about that other than coming up with a cracking script …

That’s right, you know the specs at the beginning—we’ve got this space in a newspaper, or this time on television. The best thing about our industry at the moment is that all the rules are gone. It’s about creating compelling content, using the platform to create something that produces some sort of change in behaviour and action.

Is it easier to try new things in this marketplace?

People flick on their computers, search Google and use email. They go to particular news sites they want. Occasionally they break out of that kind of behaviour, but in a market like New Zealand I think there are going to be businesses over the next 12 months that use this channel in a really game-breaking way: suddenly moving a large group of people over to a new experience and potentially to new brands, new products.

In New Zealand I think you can get these ideas through senior management a lot easier than in Asian markets, which are very, very layered in their approach.

Do you have cross-pollination between the creative department and the techies?

Someone like [Clemenger executive creative director] Nick Worthington is totally embracing compelling content ideas. His creative department is sprinkled with digital professionals. They really are great storytellers. They’re not dismissing television as a channel, they’re asking: how can we tell this story? And could the story be told even better in a digital way than in a traditional medium?

Is that a struggle with clients?

Any client that thinks they’ve got complete control over their brand—or wants complete control over their brand—I don’t think should be in the job. It’s just not possible now. As soon as you release anything, the audience takes hold of it.

The best marketing you can do is make a great product and people will talk about it. So it’s really just a case of enabling the conversation, and being responsive.

Do you address those things?

We’ve got a few clients that are realising they’re in a slightly different business. Ten years ago Air New Zealand probably focused on the inflight experience. Now it has realised it’s all about pre-flight and post-flight experience.

Any client that thinks they’ve got complete control over their brand—or wants complete control over their brand—I don’t think should be in the job. It’s just not possible now. As soon as you release anything, the audience takes hold of it

When Vodafone first started it was a bricks and mortar business to sell a handset. As the network got bigger it worked out that its revenue model is really, ‘What are we going to put on that network?’ Suddenly it’s an Internet company, or a content company.

Everyone is starting to compete, especially media houses. We now work with TVNZ, which has been very interesting. It realises it’s not a television company anymore; it’s a content company. People are pitching new and different ideas of what content is to such a brand as TVNZ. So I think its output over the next couple of years won’t be traditional television shows. It’ll start developing TVNZ content products that are probably not video products. They could be a lot different.

Content may be the future, but where does it all end? I wonder whether marketing companies will have large internal communication setups dedicated to creating content.

They will. That’s the biggest change an advertising agency will face. I think the advertising agency will become a content house in its own right. We’ll go to work in the morning and say, how is Fonterra doing today? Where are the sales? Let’s have a look at our matrix … maybe we should take this character out, or move this spot in—almost like creating a live show. The cycles we have in advertising now will get a lot shorter.

I can imagine a comms room where the data is aggregated …

That’s exactly right. We’re already building a number of dashboards for certain clients. V Republic—the strategy we’ve had for the last eight months with V energy drink—we went where the fish were, which was on Bebo. We wanted to facilitate a relationship with that group. We couldn’t dictate what they want, we just started a dialogue—we asked, do you like this? What if we did that? They’d tell us what they wanted the V Republic to be and we responded accordingly. It was a completely different way of marketing for Frucor. Frucor was very traditional, known for doing a nice television spots. Everyone was looking for the new V ad. But the audience is telling us what they want V to do this weekend and what they thought of V last weekend, and where they associated with the brand: what car races, what music events and the rest of it. So the evangelist group who love V are talking to their friends who might not love V. They’ve become the brand’s acquaintances, friends or lovers. They suddenly become the media apertures.

New Zealand is a small country, with a small talent pool.

The talent we’ve got is absolutely fantastic. We obviously need a few more of them. I’ve found the younger talent will only stay with you for a period of time before they leave and do their OEs. The more senior talent are the ones that have done their overseas experience, and are coming back. They’re fantastic, because they’re really ready to make a commitment with you.

The work ethic is really strong in New Zealand. But being an Aussie, I think Australians probably have more of a can-do attitude. New Zealanders tend to find reasons why they shouldn’t do something—maybe a little bit of risk aversion. There’s huge creative talent, willingness and smarts, but then something just stops. Something just comes to this wall between the next level of total agreement or commitment … a hesitation. I think maybe Australians are just full of shit sometimes, that they roll the dice and say, “Right, everything here is to a level of risk that I’m happy with.” New Zealanders don’t like risking things.

We fancy ourselves the edgiest, riskiest people on the planet!

It’s just what I have seen. In New Zealand culture, failure is just failure, rather than maybe something to learn from—then the next level of success that comes from that, our success is because we had this failure. New Zealanders just tend to talk about the success all the way along, as though there was never any failure.

Do clients see digital strategy as less risky than investing as they traditionally would in mass media?

New Zealand businesses have to work out some strategy. At the moment digital strategy is divided into silos inside organisations. There will be a digital strategy for sales, a digital strategy for marketing and a digital strategy for some other group. What they really clearly need is a business strategy that is heavily digitised.

Some businesses in New Zealand are structured so the IT department is driving digital strategy and the marketing department is driving marketing. The two need to be together.

It would be a really wonderful place when we don’t have to say ‘digital’ anymore. I’m going to have digital in my title for a while. But it would be great if in three years I don’t have it any more and we don’t talk about digital strategies, just communication strategies or business strategies.

I was reading an interview with Jakob Nielsen, the usability guy, and he said these days we use a search engine, find the information we want, go to that page and then head off somewhere else. We don’t spend hours drifting through sites anymore. But there are things that one does connect with …

I saw a fantastic Volkswagen digital piece where they were selling their new Routan minivan targeted to people who are moving into the phase of their life where they’re going to have kids. You upload a picture of your face and your partner’s face. The site morphed the data and then they create your baby. It was fun. Just providing that little bit of functionality and application meant Volkswagen is part of a conversation with people. It’s a cute but interesting idea.

Conception—what better topic to end a conversation about creativity?

Yeah. Well, don’t be too hard on me talking about Kiwis and risk. [Too late. —Ed.]

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