Schooled in the art of polite advertising
When such an observation comes from one of the advertising world’s big hitters it is worth taking note, especially when made with an unflinching look of conviction.
Mr Jean-Marie Dru, the chief executive (CEO) of advertising giant TBWA Worldwide, is sitting in the offices of Tequila Singapore, one of the agencies in his firm’s global network, with a lot on his mind – specifically, the new age of advertising beckoning the industry and the challenges it poses.
TBWA holds a large stake in that future, given the way Mr Dru has expanded the firm since he took over the helm in 2001 into a global giant with 9,000 staff in 75 countries.
In heavily-accented, but fluent, English, the 59-year old Frenchman explains that the advertising world is at the cusp of a new era.
For the past 50 years, he explains, the message from advertiser to consumer was one-way, neatly wrapped in a 30-second ad, perhaps.
‘We’re at a very important moment of change. Until now, the advertiser was in charge. The viewer only listened. Now the rules have changed, the viewer is in charge,’ said Mr Dru.
And that is where politeness comes in. Ever since he entered advertising in the 1970s, Mr Dru has always believed in courtesy. And that is what it will take to rule the world of advertising in future, he says.
Not the obvious recipe for global domination, but he explained: ‘I used to say, when people are watching your commercial at home, they are usually having dinner with their kids at 8pm. You are intruding into their lives. It is very impolite.
‘You come into their home and say, ‘Hey! Buy this product!’
‘So please, because it is so intrusive and impolite, you should use some tact, some respect. Make it beautiful, interesting, entertaining.’
With consumers inundated with a variety of media channels, it is more important now than ever to ‘be polite’, said Mr Dru.
He asserts that only those who respect the audience enough will get their attention.
‘Without creativity these days, you are dead.’
This is a veteran ad man who got away with telling a telco to advertise with the slogan, ‘Talk less, do more’.
His group, known for out-of-the-box creativity, is also behind the renowned ads for Sweden’s Absolut vodka. Instead of focusing on heritage and origin – the usual option for those selling hard liquor – his firm made an icon out of its bottle shape, instead.
His formula for creativity is his trademark ‘Disruption’ philosophy, with a capital D. In short, it means determining market conventions and rules, then breaking them.
‘We always try to do something different from the old ways. Big or small. It could be a new kind of packaging. It could be a new product line,’ he said.
It is an ethos his company take very seriously, with annual ‘Disruption Days’ with clients.
Mr Dru uses the example of his firm’s work on Nextel‘s ads, which features a workman on his phone and the seemingly disastrous ‘Talk less’ slogan for a business that sells airtime.
‘We were targeting real ‘doers’. Think about it. It is a telephone company. They make money when you talk. And we say to their customers, you should talk less!’
But the ads worked. ‘The positioning was very strong. It was narrow – targeted at doers – but broad, because at the end of the day, everybody wants to be a doer.’
Mr Dru is here as part of his plan to aggressively grow TBWA’s business in the Asia-Pacific.
‘My goal is to double the business in this region in five years. We hope to grow 15 per cent a year. If we keep at this pace, by 2010 we will be reaching US$500 million revenue a year.’ The amount is about S$783 million.
TBWA started in the region 10 years ago and now has 35 offices in 13 countries, counting Standard Chartered Bank, Shangri-La Hotel, Apple Computer and adidas among its clients.
Mr Dru, now in his 35th year of advertising, said he fell in love with the industry because it gave him a chance to deal with opposites.
‘You deal with short-term sales and long-term branding. Creativity and business. Heart and commerce. You work with very talented movie directors and very tough CEOs – you are between them.
‘And that is what I love.’