What consumers want: Ogilvy’s John Bell on branding and creative content

July 29, 2010

John Bell is the global managing director at Ogilvy, leading the agency’s 360 Degree Digital Influence Practice.

As he notes, his job is to take the latest digital innovations and apply them to Ogilvy’s business and its clients’ business. He shared his thoughts on spotting trends and recognizing innovation with Tactics.

In our increasingly social media-driven world, are consumers expecting too much from brands?

No doubt that consumers are expecting more from brands — and we’re not talking coupons. We want our brands to deliver some sort of additional utility or even entertainment beyond core products. People want Nike+, they want the Kraft iFood Assistant.  This is the price for loyalty today and consumers are sensitive to brands that seem like they care about their customers. 

What are the challenges of creating content for today’s on-the-go consumers?
We all want short, direct content delivered perfectly formatted to one of four devices — PC, mobile phone, tablet and that new thing that will be on the market next week but we don’t even know about yet. Brands have a great new opportunity as content companies or even media companies.  They don’t have to just rely on traditional media companies to carry a message or experience.  They can maintain an audience and deliver directly to them.  They simply need to make sure it provides true utility, information or entertainment, and it must be sympathetic to the different devices we all use.

What trends do you see on the horizon for the PR profession? And will 2010 be the year for mobile?
An ongoing trend for PR professionals is the embrace of traditional marketing skills — from understanding how to use paid media to more disciplined metrics. (Can you say,  “lead generation?”) Add to that the absolute clarity that SEO is a PR person’s top responsibility and that they need to expand their capabilities around content creation, and you have a new, more valuable PR pro going forward.

Every year has been the year of mobile.  The funny thing is that mobile is very developed and being used by marketers around the world, except it remains underdeveloped in the United States.  We need to distinguish between SMS and smartphones.  The world has gotten pretty sharp around using SMS phones.  The United States lags there. Some have argued that carrier pricing and consumers’ cravings for new devices have stunted growth.  This year, the pervasiveness of smartphones in the United States will finally make it our year.

How do you nurture talent?
[Ogilvy] developed the entire discipline of  “digital influence” — it literally didn’t exist.  To nurture talent, we have developed a rigorous training program based upon a belt system.  We have developed many black belts around the world and we never stop training.

How do you know innovation when you see it?
Our job [at Ogilvy] is to distinguish between all the emerging technologies and those that can truly have an impact on our and our client’s business.  We track over a hundred listening technology companies to know which is good at what, and in what market.  Add to that innovations in social CRM, engagement advertising [and] Facebook CMS systems and there is a lot going on.  We look for innovations that are solving a problem and that appear focused. 

Historically, recessions have spurred innovation. Have you found that to be the case with the current recession?

We saw a lot of  innovation over the past few years coincide with the recession. [Ogilvy] delivered Influencer Mapping, Insiders Circle and Conversation Management to name a few.  We did it spurred by expediency — all of it bootstrapped, which I think is a common approach this time around. So the answer is “yes” — a ton of innovation, even in a recession.


Why Old Spice was nice

In a July 19 post on the Digital Influence Mapping Project blog,  John Bell assesses the Old Spice video phenomena and explains what other brand marketers should take note of if they want to create a similar campaign.

Weiden — the brains behind the recent campaign where actor Isaiah Mustafa, dressed only in a towel, responded to fan inquiries from a bathroom set — worked for 11 hours to make 87 short videos during this time period and responded personally to tweets and comments, developing the videos nearly in real time.

Bell deemed the campaign successful and noted that it generated a huge amount of awareness and engagement over a short period of time, referring to it as “another benchmark of social media achievement.”

Its success can also be measured by the fact that at least four of the most popular video spots on YouTube on July 16 were Old Spice videos.  Also,  Viral Measures ranked the Old Spice spots as the most popular viral videos on YouTube, beating out Susan Boyle’s performance and President Obama’s victory speech. Old Spice also saw large amounts of traffic on its  YouTube and Facebook pages.

As far as what made the campaign successful, Bell sites the following:

  • It was creative, entertaining and just plain funny
  • The real-time rapid response to users made a video program “conversational” which built trust
  • The custom intros personalized the content for everyone, not just the recipient
  • Weiden worked hard for its followers
  • The TV spots and high production value videos built an instant audience prior to the two-day stunt
  • Weider drove both YouTube and Facebook subscribers/connection acquisition, making this a strategic play
Amy Jacques

Amy Jacques is the managing editor of publications for PRSA. A native of Greenville, S.C., she holds a master’s degree in arts journalism from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in advertising from the University of Georgia’s Grady College and a certificate in magazine and website publishing from New York University.


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