SINGAPORE - As head of APAC for Facebook Creative Shop, Fergus O’Hare is pretty vocal about the team’s mission to reinvent advertising and one day, hopes to put himself out of a job.
“I’m genuinely surprised I haven’t put myself out of a job yet,” he quips doing an interview with Campaign Asia-Pacific at Facebook’s office in Singapore.
Though given that he intends to manoeuvre himself into irrelevance by ensuring the advertising industry wields the mobile platform (and Facebook) with finesse and reverence to craft, it might just be a while more.
O’Hare believes that the state of mobile advertising currently mirrors TV when it first began, when radio still dominated.
“We’re at that point with radio commercials just before TV happened, where they just took a radio presenter and put him in front of a camera,” he says. “That’s how far away we are with mobile at the moment, we’re taking TVCs and putting it on mobile the way we used to put radio ads on TV.”
“We saw how far TV has come from someone delivering a monologue to the wonderful beautiful commercials that capture people’s attention when they’re in front of the TV,” he adds. “But they’re not in front of the TV anymore, they’re scrolling on their mobile, so how do we build for that? That’s what we’re trying to do now.”
Since taking on the role in September last year inheriting a team of seven, O’Hare has expanded it to 18, poaching some of the best known chief creative officers in region along the way.
Valerie Cheng from JWT now leads the Singapore and SEA team while Juhi Kalia, JWT’s former global ECD for Lux, heads up India and Indonesia. Ex-Clemenger BBDO creative director Rebecca Carrasco heads up Australia and New Zealand, while Kitty Lun, former boss of Lowe China, leads China, and Jun Fukawa, previously a creative director at JWT London, leads Japan.
O’Hare is adamant about Creative Shop not being another advertising agency, but given all the high-ranking ex-creative agency talent, the industry could be forgiven for initially thinking that there’s now yet another competitor in the room.
“The agencies were scared of us at first but they’re more receptive now,” he says. “I don’t blame them for being intimidated, I look at our talent list and I get intimidated. But that’s not why we’re here, we’re here to pass on knowledge and work with them, to scale what we can do on the mobile platform.”
The rationale behind having ex-agency talent as the points of contact with the industry is to bridge the gap between creative pursuit and what is a data-driven, people-populated technology platform—with a suite of ad products.
“I hired great ad agency people because they understand the pain points,” he added. “We have a great leadership team in place now to bring vision alive of changing the advertising industry. They’re trained in the ways of Facebook, and hugely connected with the industry.”
The social network already rakes in a hefty amount of ad revenue thanks to brands putting their money on the platform.
The company generated US$5.64 billion in ad revenue in the fourth quarter of 2015, up 57 percent year-over-year. Its mobile ad business grew 82 percent year-over-year to account for 80 percent of its total ad revenue. Overall revenue grew 52% year-over-year to hit US$5.84 billion.
There’s certainly consensus that money must be spent on the platform, where millions of consumers spend a good chunk of their time. And the role of Creative Shop role is simply, to help make the ads better.
“I think we have the best creative canvas in the world, but without creativity, it’s nothing,” says O’Hare. “Even with all the tools, if the work is not great it’s not going to work.”
Cultivating mobile-first creativity
During the most recent Facebook Awards, the company's annual competition to showcase the best work being executed on its platform, 21 winners hailed from Asia Pacific – a strong sign that the region is adapting to a mobile-centric approach to creative campaigns.
Some trends to emerge from the submissions, according to O’Hare, include the fact that 80 percent of winning submissions had a video element while humour was a key factor in driving attention to a campaign. In addition, more then 50 percent of the winners came from Australia and New Zealand [see the winners gallery here].
“What was most important is that all the winning submissions contained the big brand idea,” he adds. “Just because it’s mobile and tech doesn’t mean you don’t still need that big idea to pin it all under.”
Facebook has been busy launching new ad formats and tools to enable the creatives to execute those big ideas on its platform, falling under an umbrella term that O’Hare has dubbed “ADD-vertising”.
In addition to products such as Messenger, Facebook 360, Facebook Live, which is also available to users, the suite of brand-side products includes Canvas, dynamic ads for Instagram, Carousel, Slideshow and a new offering called PockeTVC.
“What we’ve done is take TVCs and re-cut them for mobile,” says O’Hare. “We always say build for mobile-first but if you haven’t we can take those existing assets and make it ready for the mobile feed.”
Creative Shop is in the process of establishing a creative council in the region, where agency representatives can participate in pushing creative boundaries on the platform.
“We’ll showcase the latest technology and let them build on that,” says O’Hare. “Use their brain power to innovate, collaborate and then scale what we do.”
The team is already working closely with TBWA in the APAC region, with people embedded with the creative agency to conduct training programmes to teach mobile-first creativity.
“The goal is to get them building and is the first time we’ve worked with an entire network,” he adds.
Outreach efforts with the creative agency community in Asia recently went up another notch, with the launch of the Creative Ambassador programme, in partnership with WPP.
The first phase of the programme was a two-day education session hosted at Facebook Singapore, and saw attendance from representatives from multiple WPP agencies across five markets: Japan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand.
Agency brands involved included Geometry, Grey, J.Walter Thompson, Mirum, Ogilvy & Mather, Possible, VML, Wunderman and Y&R [see photos from the programme here].
The next phase will see the “ambassadors” sharing their training with their teams in their home countries. WPP will also have access to the Creative Shop team to help them strategise creative ideas and activate them on Instagram and Facebook.
O’Hare says the training initiatives are intended to address the knowledge gap in the industry.
“Most don’t know all the products we have and the potential is has. Agencies are at that point now where they need to understand the technology better,” he adds. “A lot of agencies felt guarded because they felt that they couldn’t do it and what I do is go in and say ‘you already have the skills’ and we have a better canvas than traditional media for your ideas.”
The team also takes in feedback from the industry; to further refine it’s offerings.
“We ask them what would make it better for them, what do they find restrictive and then we go and start changing products,” he added.
A road show under the Mobile Moves People banner is already underway, with Creative Shop team travelling across the region to teach and bring together best industry practices on how to build 'mobile ready' content that captures hearts and minds.
A Video Lab is also in the works, which will eventually see the company offering research and insights into video viewing habits, what makes content engaging and what needs to be done to secure attention after the first two seconds.
O’Hare is firm in his belief that as long as agencies and brands “don’t skimp on the craft” and to start seeing the work that can be done on mobile as “pieces of art” the way they would a TVC, there's real impact to be had.
“But what you need now is ‘thumb-stopping’ art,” he says. “People will always be bombarded by information, whatever the technology. It will always be about having that great idea or story that connects.”
“That’s really our mission and APAC is a good region to change the world of marketing from as there’s talent and momentum,” he adds. “And we have the will to do it. I tell my team, it’s about going beyond winning awards, I want to be making headlines about how we’re changing marketing.”