Brands and agencies urged to lift their game to exploit a ‘new era of marketing and creativity’

The boss of UK creative agency Karmarama has heralded a new age for creatives and marketers, but also warned that advertising needs to lift its game in an era of ad blocking, poor customer experiences and growing consumer apathy towards brands.

Speaking at Mumbrella360, Ben Bilboul claimed marketers – in the UK at least – are increasingly being elevated to boardroom level as they take responsibility for hard, as well as soft metrics.

It is a move that should be welcomed by marketing departments and agencies, he said.

But Bilboul said it was critical that marketers, brands and agencies become more creative – particularly in the digital arena where he argued creativity has not been up to scratch – and address customer experiences which he described as “disconnected”.

Bilboul, whose agency was acquired by Accenture Interactive at the end of last year, also acknowledged that the agency model is under threat and has allowed itself to become too commoditised.

He listed the rise of in-house trading desks and in-house creative teams and “trust issues” between agencies and clients as threats to the agency model, while advertising has suffered from a lack of creativity. Bilboul cited a study which showed 73% of consumers would not care if brands vanished.

“We believe the early stage of digital marketing has not been creative enough,” he told delegates. “It has not been empathetic enough or innovative enough and it’s leading to some of these reactions.

“The worrying thing is the younger the audience, the more likely they are to ad block, and it’s particularly an issue on mobile because they don’t like that experience being interrupted.”

He continued: “More and more people feel alienated from businesses and brands they buy from. Their experience is disconnected. The promise of the ad is not being delivered by the customer experience or the product.”

One poor experience surrounds the hounding of consumers online once they show interest in a product, the conference heard.

People are being “retargeted, retargeted and retargeted”, Bilboul said.

“Just because you have someone’s information online doesn’t mean you should bombard them with that pair of shoes every time they open the website or open an email. The quality of the comms is just not where it needs to be.”

“More and more people feel alienated from the businesses and brands that they buy. The experience is disconnected”

Bilboul also took issue with the term “customer experience”, explaining Karmarama uses the term “human experience”.

“When you say customer you stop thinking of people as people, you start thinking of them as people in your market about to buy your product. You forget empathy and get disconnected,” he said. “This is what is pissing people off more than anything. It’s the promise of the advertising not being delivered by the service experience.”

But he predicted there would be a “new wave” of customer experiences, with virtual reality to play a key role.

While the “first wave” was designed to lift barriers to “reaching the shopping basket” the new approach will be geared towards “emotional, aesthetic and delightful” experiences.

Addressing the exodus of creative talent to Google and Facebook, Bilboul said agencies have simply priced themselves too low which has impacted wages.

“We haven’t charged enough for our services, we have let ourselves become too commoditised and are too far down the food chain,” he said, adding that agencies have become “production partners not strategic partners”.

“As a result we have not been able to pay our people properly. Starting salaries in the UK agency are around GBP£20,000 yet if you go and work for a consultancy its £40,000 to £50,000.

“Whether you want to be a creative or not, it’s quite hard to say ‘I am not going to take that extra £30,000’.”

Earlier in his address, Bilboul flagged a remuneration model with one of his clients – a car manufacturer – where Karmarama receives payment partly based on the number of vehicles sold.

Moderator Jules Hall, chief executive of The Hallway, said it a model Australia needs to adopt.

“We need to get to a remuneration model that is linked to outcomes that we are driving, because that is the evidence of the value we are delivering,” he said.

Asked about Karmarama’s relationship with the car firm, Bilboul said it has “completely changed the way the organisation views us”.

Basing remuneration on outcomes also leads to longer term contracts, he explained.

“One of the issues I talk about is the hamster wheel of pitching,” Bilboul said. “You win something and you are pitching for it again two years later just because that is what the industry does. And really, value is created over time and by long term relationships.”

Bilboul predicted the industry will become increasingly split between two kinds of agencies: those who chase short term client relationships and become “production-led” partners, and those who seek long term, strategic-led contracts.

“That is where we have always wanted to play,” he said.

Turning to Karmarama’s acquisition by Accenture Interactive last year, Bilboul said the structure will allow the agency to maintain its creative flair while Accenture will be able to deliver that creativity “at scale”.

He said it was a combination of the “left and right brain” and rejected claims that a clash of cultures between “suits and creatives” would emerge.

Karmarama will exist separately from Accenture, he explained – as would Accenture’s design agency Fjord – and that senior members from each team would sit above the divisions and collaborate on campaigns.



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