Ronnie Thomas
May 28, 2015

Pre-creative planning: What it means for Asia

With more brands setting up global or regional hubs In Singapore it might be time for the country to lead the way with new media approaches.

Pre-creative planning: What it means for Asia

With more brands setting up global or regional hubs In Singapore it might be time for the country to lead the way with new media approaches. 

Working in a media agency, the biggest clichéd statement you will hear this week (or month, or year) will be “We’re not spending enough on digital / mobile”. That’s true for Singapore but it is likely true in every market. At the same time, you will also invariably hear that this is the "Year of Digital", or the "Year of Search", or the "Year of Mobile". If there is one truth in media agencies, it is the fact that everyone who works in one has heard this, and with a shrug and a long sip of bubble tea, they have said "Again?"

Don't get me wrong - there have been all sorts of moves in the right direction - Singapore's digital ad spending grew from 7 per cent to 10 per cent in two years, and eMarketer calls for that to grow by 10 per cent year on year in its latest projections. South East Asia in general looks like it's moving in the same direction. These are all great, and marketers have done extremely well in mobilizing resources and managing internal expectations to make this happen.

With these changes happening, the challenge for brands is now going to move from thinking about how to keep up with where their consumers are, to thinking about how to better communicate with them. We need to move from only thinking about driving buying efficiency to thinking about driving overall effectiveness.

With this in mind, and continuing with the industry clichés theme, here’s one that should hopefully be used a bit more - "You can't fit a square peg in a round hole". We’ve been creating beautiful square pegs for many years and entire processes from creation to testing have been formed to ensure that the shiniest, most perfect square peg is created. However, with digital spending increasing, we’ve suddenly found ourselves with really big round holes. And the majority of us are trying to fill them with square pegs, albeit in the most cost efficient manner.

These square pegs are creative assets or ideas that haven't been conceptualized for digital channels (or for other relevant channels) and while we might think that our highly efficient buys are accomplishing something, there will always be a gap, or just a bad fit.

This leads me to yet another cliché that should be used more - "You can drag a horse to the water, but you can't make it drink".  The more we try and use assets that aren't built for the channel, the more we will have people not really engaging as much as they could with brands. In fact, you will have a situation where consumers look at your communication and respond to it with tremendous excitement, but only at the appearance of a "Skip" button.

I wrote about this in my analysis from last year, where I mentioned that more than just increasing digital spending percentage across markets, we also need to change the creation process and involve media agencies earlier. This has been happening a lot more in the past year and a great example of where this was done, is the work on Kaan Khajura Teshan (KKT). In this initiative, PHD worked with Lowe & Partners to create specifically for the lead medium (mobile), rather than use generic creative assets that would be adapted for it. This type of planning process, with media coming in at a pre-creative stage is the link to turn things around.

So what is 'pre-creative planning' and why is it important? Essentially, with a fragmented media and attention landscape, communications can no longer have a "one TVC fits all" way of thinking. We now need to create assets specifically for the channels that are most important to the consumer, and for the specific brand objective. Once identified, these can lead to specific briefs to creative agencies, who have more space to be creative and innovative. In the case of KKT, the need to build brands amongst consumers in media dark areas led to thinking about how Unilever could use the mobile phone to create an ongoing communication channel. This led to an innovative and creative idea that has been extremely successful in driving disproportionate ROI for its brands.

With KKT and other similarly planned campaigns being so successful, it is not surprising that Unilever is now leading the way in reorganizing their global marketing process to put media thinking at the forefront of communications planning. Keith Weed, the brand’s global CMO, recently mentioned exactly this when he said "The first thing one needs to do is think about media choice. Don’t start with a piece of creative or television ad and adapt it to other media. Start with media choice”.

There’s also quantitative data showing the benefits of doing this. OMG recently conducted a high-level research study that looked at where ROI was being driven the most among all campaigns. It found that campaigns focusing on strategic optimization and driving innovation (more pre-creative planning) drove ROIs that were five times more than that of campaigns that were rooted in media optimization and buying efficiencies (post-creative planning).

Being based in Singapore, a big gripe for a lot of planners is that they often have to work with creative assets that were created at a global level for Asian markets - often with a 'one TVC fits all' approach. However, with Singapore growing in stature and brands setting up global or regional hubs here to better serve Asian/developing markets, there is a clear opportunity for change to happen, and for Singapore to lead the way in the region, or even globally.

This requires clients and agencies to work together to be more flexible and more welcoming to media agencies during the creative process. It could seem tough, but maybe it’s as simple as making new clichés like the one’s I’ve mentioned become part of industry lingo and thinking process. I’m sure that will change what we’re all sipping from bubble tea to champagne.

Ronnie Thomas is associate director at PHD in Singapore




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