VMLY&R’s Andrew Dimitriou explains how, today, content is at the intersection of technology, creativity, and culture.
Content is changing, and so is the way agencies are approaching its creation. Andrew Dimitriou, CEO of VMLY&R for Europe, Middle East & Africa (EMEA), sat with Communicate to discuss how modern content is reshaping expectations, outputs and agencies’ way to come up with ideas that people will be interested in.
How do you define content today?
We see content in three layers, working up to building what the brand promise is. A brand may have a message they want to get throughout the year: that’s the consistent, long-term content. Then, there are moments – content that we see as supporting that overarching message. And there is the ‘here & now’ – things like what has happened in culture today, that we can build content off tomorrow and help that overarching brand messages. We believe that brands build over time and moments matter. That’s the duality now.
Building connected brands is how we create differentiation for our client partners. Businesses now have to be able to operate within this Venn diagram of technology, creativity and culture, and that’s our wheelhouse and the prism that VMLY&R looks at all of our work through.
How important is content to brands today?
I believe we will see an ever-increasing need for high-quality content and experiences. And creative agencies will be at the heart of the upgrade that businesses need and people demand.
Importantly, no matter what the ask is, we always take the time to step back and assess the business problem that we’re trying to solve, and how we can tackle it in a customer-centric way.
Content that works creates emotional connections with people and between people. It always has an underlying human truth, serves a purpose in people’s lives, and, in an ideal world, connects with society broadly.
For example, in Poland, two of our client partners wanted to raise awareness of key cultural issues such as gender portrayal, equal rights, and sexism. The human truth is that in Poland, people were learning about women the wrong way. So, our Poland team developed a content-driven campaign in which they bought a porn magazine and turned its last issue into a magazine promoting progressive narratives of femininity before shutting it down. We also turned the magazine’s online channels into an ongoing education platform. The reaction has been amazing. The media were talking about it; people were talking about it; we won a Titanium Lion and the Grand Prix for Glass at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. This work connected on an emotional level and has had an impact on society at large.
When you get technology, creativity and culture together, magic happens. Look at the work we’ve done for Wendy’s in the US; we entered the fight on Fortnite to eliminate all burger freezers from the game instead of buying a sponsorship.
How would you say content is different today from what it was 20-30 years ago?
20-30 years ago, we were publishing, and that’s it. Now, content is about conversations and connections. This is a fundamental shift.
And this is why, when an exercise bike brand runs an ad with underlining gender stereotypes – the man isn’t exercising, the woman is – social media exploded. In one day, the market value of that company plunged, due to the social media outrage.
We live in this world of instant feedback, where cultural moments matter. People have a voice, and they know how to use it.
Should all brands be present on all platforms and produce all types of content?
Discoverability is critical for brands, and it is a content concept. How people discover your brand will vary. It could be on TikTok, it could be through whitepapers, and it increasingly could be through search – Amazon search is probably the fastest-growing search at the moment. Discoverability changes by category, by brand – if you’re a B2B business, chances are TikTok will not be the most important platform for you – but all brands have to be in a position to be discovered. This is another significant mindset change that brands and businesses need to think about. Brands need to be where your audience is with the relevant content.
With the wealth of content produced daily, how to stand out and differentiate yourself?
What you naturally connect with is things that are important to you. Content that you like is content that is meaningful to you. Our job as a brand and customer experience agency is to find connection points with consumers and to create content that is meaningful for them. And we try to define that upfront because content that is meaningful to me might not be to someone else. This is the part where we have to do more digging and leverage all the data and tools at our disposal to create more relevant content.
How much of that work relies on data?
We go back to our human and connections planning process. Every time we get a brief, we try to probe in – which hasn’t changed in years. Our data sources have changed, and half the challenge is making sure that we pick the correct data sources to answer the brief. We usually look at behaviors online and offline, key interests, cultural reference and in-person qualitative research and more to get deep human insight and truths. And from there, we ideate. What has changed is how much faster we do that. The world operates in real-time, and so do we.
How much of a structural change does this new pace of work require from the agency?
We increasingly work according to the ‘sprints’ methodology. We start with a small team of the right people; we get into the strategy and quickly move into the creative phase. At VMLY&R, we’ve also developed an original concept for ideation; it’s called Creative Hive. Creative Hives are creative off-sites in which cross-functional creative teams answer our clients’ biggest problem. We go through rounds of ideations that we evaluate and build on at the end of every day. At the end of the week, client partners come in to review ideas together. We think great and distinct ideas come from bringing the right diverse and cross-functional talent to the table and having a continuous circle of creating, making, upgrading and starting again.
What about different skill sets?
Increasingly, we try to reflect where the industry is going and, beyond that, to lead where we think it should go. We now have creative technologists, for example. They study new and emerging technologies and the impact they have on culture and creativity, and vice versa. We are in the process of getting someone in this role for the region. We also have people that come from a product innovation or engineering background because, increasingly, clients are asking us for new product innovation. And we have consultants, journalists, and even have a scientist in residence in our London office. Thirty years ago, we only had art and copy. Now, creativity has a much broader sense, and can truly come from everywhere.
How do you see the future of content?
The future is connected commerce. So how do brands and businesses connect all the content they create to their commerce, whether it’s offline or online? There’s still a lot of work to be done there, and a lot of opportunities, especially in this region where it’s still nascent. The businesses that do well have a cohesive approach in which their content is purposeful so that where, when people are searching, it’s all connected and drives sales. How to make that whole ecosystem work is the challenge.