8 November saw thought leaders from brands and agencies alike sit down to discuss the current state of creativity in our industry at The Cutting Edge of Creative—a Hong Kong and Singapore roundtable series in partnership with Shutterstock.
Right out of the gate it was clear that, regardless of industry sector or product, the impact of powerful visuals is still a cornerstone for successful brand marketing. Jeanette Wang, senior manager of digital content at Fidelity International pointed to the fact that “a simple, moving element and image attracts so much more engagement.”
Dhvani Bhatt, global head of digital strategy and operations, group insurance, offered perspective from HSBC. While insurance, for one, isn’t necessarily a sexy product, “if you have a visual that resonates, that reminds people ‘if you need us, come talk to us’, I think it’s very helpful.”
Time to get authentic
Just how you go about hitting that sweet spot in your creative campaigns is another matter entirely. Is it completely up to chance, or are there trends that can pave the way?
Michael McComb, VP of communications and sustainability at SAP Greater China voiced a reliance on “natural and more authentic imagery” to connect with consumers in the software sector, “impactful visuals from a stylistic perspective is one thing, but then you also have the nature of the image itself, which could be a singular item—very minimalist—a ‘high punch’ or ‘high contrast’ item.”
Mark Webster, CEO of JWT brought in the agency perspective on the matter, “I think there’s a real movement for authenticity. I think people are a little tired of the wonderful, beautifully air-brushed pictures and perfection. There’s a kind of urge to have a little dirt under the fingernails, to connect with people. That’s something we’re finding, and to keep in mind when working with strict brand guidelines.”
Webster referred to a recent project featuring a stark image of a black panther in its natural environment, “you could feel the sweat and the heat, the photographer had spent hours sitting in the river waiting for this moment.”
Make no mistake, seeking out this authenticity is no easy task. Despite the ease with which we now parse through images on stock websites, it can be a scavenger hunt to find the vibe that fits with a brand, a campaign, or a consumer set.
Yvonne Januschka, director, APAC at Shutterstock explained, “when you’re looking at every different country and the kinds of content that they want, it’s important to be authentically different. We’re constantly challenged by ensuring that our contributor content is trying to adhere to that.”
The brand side has taken this reliance on user-generated content to heart as well. Tim Hung, senior brand manager, media, Hong Kong and Taiwan at Procter & Gamble spoke of his experience marketing laundry products, “in the past we put them nicely on one table and had a photographer shoot it. But it didn’t make sense, now we have users that snap a photo of their laundry machine or in their laundry room with their iPhone, and it works much better.”
The building blocks of creativity
Make no mistake, the inception of fresh creative angles still starts with the team behind a campaign. Authenticity isn’t dredged up by doing things the same way they’ve always been done. Building the right team to keep campaigns cutting-edge means opening up to a diversity of thought and opinion.
One option—as Matthew Chan, assistant general manager, digital strategy at New World Development pointed out—is putting more credence in regional teams, “to stay relevant, we look to our teams in local markets for support. We can see a huge shift from market to market.”
That creative spark might also come from the more junior tiers of an organisation. Anita Ko, senior manager, branding and marketing at Hong Kong Jockey Club, banks on younger team members and those from different backgrounds to put their flourishes on new projects, “people in the corporate office always say ‘creative is not our job, we have the agency and creative team to do it’. But in fact, everyone is creative. We need that creativity in visuals and in problem solving. A lot of times I’ll mix different people up and let the junior team lead the project, and let them know they can make a difference.”
Digging through data, uncovering gems
Regardless of one’s creative tact, the necessary creative tools and market knowledge is needed to move campaigns forward. Sitting at the apex of these developments is Shutterstock. Now home to more than 225 million images and over 12 million videos, the platform is constantly improving its search function to better cater to personal preference and ever-changing creative trends. Kate Fung, strategic solutions manager at Shutterstock, positions the company’s overarching goal as “using technology to discover the best and most relevant creative content for you”.
Products like Shutterstock Showcase and Reveal make good on that promise, and run parallel with the push for AI-powered creative in campaigns (also a hot topic on the day). Meanwhile, their annual creative trends report—issued in January every year—lends brand marketers a hand in mapping the industry’s overall creative direction. It’s worth a read for those looking to find common ground with consumers.
Keep on the lookout for our second The Cutting Edge of Creative roundtable in Singapore in Q1 2019. For those interested in lending their voice to the conversation, please contact [email protected].