As part of the WARC x Ogilvy Image to Impact report, Jose Gorbea, Global Head of Brands, Agencies and Sustainability Innovation at HP, spoke about why co-creation is the key to cut-through, driving impact through social reinvention, and ‘phygital’ innovation.

Jose Gorbea

Jose Gorbea, Global Head of Brands, Agencies and Sustainability Innovation, HP

If we look at how marketing has changed over the past 10 years, what are the biggest shifts that you have seen personally in that time?

The voice of the brand has changed. It doesn't mean that the voice of the brand is irrelevant, but it means that brands, especially in this day and age, need to realise that they need to empower people to do better. So, for me, the bigger shift is how you transition the voice of the brand to the voice of the consumers and guide them to what you want to achieve.

And if there's a word that defines me I would say it's co-creation and I have spoken numerous times about co-creation as a better way to do marketing. We've done research where we've proven that when you celebrate and co-create user-generated content with consumers, you get a better bang for your buck. And it allows you to strengthen your brand equity because you get ambassadors that are genuine to your brand because your brand is trying to do better with whatever it might be. It might be saving a species from extinction, it might be doing better for the environment, or having a social impact on any given topic like diversity, inclusivity or gender equality. From many different angles, I think that the common thread among all of them is this thing called co-creation.

Can you give me a recent example of co-creation that's gone really well and started to shift the dial?

One of the campaigns that I really liked was one we did with Nescafé in Mexico, where Nescafé went to social media and asked consumers: How are you going to become a better version of yourself next year? It launched a campaign called New Year's Resolutions using Facebook and Instagram through a hashtag, and people responded with anything you could think of. The responses that were the most liked, the most shared, the ones driving the most engagement were the ones celebrated on each Nescafé jar.

The important thing is that it was not about just personalising the jar but personalising the joys of adding purpose to people and because coffee, from a strategic point of view, plays such a role in our lives. Every morning you have a cup of coffee in your hand. So, you open up that jar and you look at it and if you have a resolution there that is individually relevant to you – let's say stop smoking, doing exercise, call your grandmother, whatever the case might be – it's a visual reminder every morning that you have to be that better version of yourself.

And not only was it a great idea on its own – which was all about co-creating that content between users on social media and celebrating it on the pack – it allowed the coffee brand to compete against wine, flowers, chocolates, the usual gifts. If I go to your house for Christmas dinner and you want to stop smoking, and I turn up on your doorstep with a jar of coffee, you would look at me like I'm crazy, right? But because I know that you want to stop smoking and you have a commitment to do that, it's a reinforcement that you will see visually every day in the morning to achieve that task. So that's one example that I think captures the essence of co-creating content between brands and consumers with purpose behind it.

In these interviews, we've been using the words impact and purpose slightly interchangeably. When you're thinking of HP's approach, its philosophy towards creating this impact, how would you summarise it from a broader point of view?

In the work that we want to do, we want to be influencers of better marketing and marketing innovation services to brands. We've launched a playbook called Reinventing Creativity for Brands and Agencies and what we want to do is get those brands and those agencies to rethink the way they tell stories with co-creation as a creative technique at one end. And at the other end, put the physical experience back where it belongs. It also has a lot to do with Covid-19 and the fact that we have been in front of a screen for so long. So, when you go back to the physical world, I think there's an opportunity there to put more value into the physical experience.

In the end, what we want is to inspire better marketing that drives social impact through the reinvention of creativity and co-creation is at the heart of that. We've worked with numerous brands in numerous industries and I could tell you an example in almost every industry where they are beginning to slowly wake up to this sense that it's much better to prioritise what people have to say on any given topic than what the brand wants to say.

Most creative agencies to that extent still are working on let's have one slogan for a product, one slogan for a brand, send it out there and everybody has to chew on the same content. But now you're giving more of the power to the people and it's paying off. So, that's where we are today. And I'm trying to target my former self, as I used to be at Nestlé and through this journey, we've been working a lot on influencing people to do better, because there's a better way to do so through digitally printed packaging.

Could you break down that journey about how you arrived at that over time, the number of steps to get there?

It has been a four-year journey for me at HP and when you come from FMCG marketing and you land in a technology company, you are surrounded by a culture of engineers. And because it was an engineer-led culture, it was mostly about what any digital press can do in terms of colours, productivity and applications that you can print. So, what I started doing was ask what we know about personalisation, which is one of the core benefits that you get out of printing anything digitally. Nobody knew anything, so we briefed a social media listening agency and I told them that I wanted my team to become subject matter experts on the personalisation trend.

We ended up analysing 50 million conversations on social media and we discovered that not only is the personalisation trend big, the younger the generation, the more they want it. And 70% of people were saying that they would happily pay at least a 10% price premium for a product that offers a physical personalised experience.

The most important thing we discovered is that there are six emotional drivers behind it so I ended up creating a consumer-centric need state model on personalisation that we use in marketing innovation workshops with our clients to show a brand like Nescafé how you can connect a big idea, customise the big idea by co-creating content on it and then launch it at scale.

Out of those six drivers, there's one that we call mindful materialism, which is all about people who want to do better for the planet, for society, for the environment. That intersection is where we saw that personalisation has become our secret weapon in more effectively driving sustainable behaviour change with brands. So, if people want to save a species from extinction, if they want to plant a tree, if they want to drive gender equality, if you personalise the experience and you celebrate the stories of people individually trying to do better, it drives behaviour change more effectively.

That's a summary of a four-year journey but it took doing the personalisation research to discover that this intersection with sustainability existed. And because it exists now after the pandemic, most brands that we're working with want to do work in that intersection, they want to do better for the planet but they understand that it's not about the brand, it's about the community. So, discovering how HP digitally printed packaging enables your brand to activate each community is much better than just doing marketing as usual.

Are you seeing any evidence that Covid-19 or political unrest and protests have changed customer perceptions and sensitivities around advertising?

We had all of these hypotheses through my first three years of HP but in the third year, I started doing a bit more work with them and that's when we wanted to prove quantitatively that there's a better payback to your marketing if you co-create and enable user generated content in the physical world, specifically in the brands’ owned media, like packaging, books or e-commerce boxes and bags. That's where we analysed the last five years of marketing campaigns and we started creating benchmarks between campaigns that are using packaging as the lead media, and more specifically digital packaging as the lead media and to co-create content between consumers and the brand.

When we started benchmarking the performance of these campaigns versus the rest of the database of work, we clearly saw that sales growth and ROI growth, especially, was almost twice as likely to happen when you do this. So, we say that we are here to help you almost double your marketing ROI, if you embrace the fact that there's a better way to drive effective storytelling at scale.

On top of that, there is work from the Cannes Creative Effectiveness Lions where in one of the sections they talk about packaging as one of the best-kept creative secrets in the industry. There's clear evidence that in the last 10 years, packaging is outperforming social media on marketing effectiveness. It's the second-most important media channel right after online video. You have online video, digital packaging and then social media. And that to me, is a very clear manual for any marketer to say I need to put packaging at the core of my strategy. And if I do that, then I need to start learning how to best co-create content that I can celebrate on the packaging with the consumers that I'm trying to reach. All of these things have been a four-year journey because we deeply believe that our mission is to change the way marketing is done in the 2020s.

How do you think it's going to change over the next 10 years?

I think brands will slowly wake up to this better way of doing marketing and, eventually, they will adopt it organically and they will not need a third party to tell them how to do it. I think just by the sheer level of case studies and examples that are already coming out in the market, brands copy what works and they will see that this is working.

One of the best examples we have from the last two years is US chocolate brand Hershey's. We helped it launch a campaign where we co-created content with dozens of female influencers in Brazil and they split their brand name into 'her' and 'she', two female pronouns. Because of that, its creative agency in Brazil, came up with this idea of 'her' and 'she' to build stories of women empowerment from artists and influencers at first and now we're transitioning those stories to any women in Brazil. The brand has done it three years in a row, won two Cannes Lions and created 1.3bn social media impressions with this campaign.

Every bar told the story of her, her poems, her illustrations, her paintings, whatever she draws, she sings, she writes, she dances, and then you build a story behind that. Each pack is unique to tell the story of that person. You could scan it with a QR code to access more information about that woman and gain inspiration to drive gender equality and positive change in Brazil. And we are expanding these to five other markets next year on International Women's Day.

When you think from the boardroom down to the customer journey, how much work is there for brands to do to be more authentic?

A lot. I think the other aspect is the ability for a brand to drive supply chain transparency in their storytelling. What we are doing with a few brands out there is that you can give visibility to the people behind your product. We've done it with Melinda, a brand of apples in Italy, with Nescafé and with SPC Ardmona, a fruit and veggies brand in Australia, where they have moved to printing digitally because every time they print a new pack, they can put a new face of a coffee farmer on it, or an apple farmer and how they grow their apples and how they take care of the tree and how they avoid using pesticides, etc. So, every time you buy those products, you get full visibility of where it comes from and which human beings are behind what you eat more than which company is producing them.

In the case of Melinda apples, we ended up printing 4,000 farmer stories, across 3m boxes of apples. And what ended up happening on social media is that consumers wanted to meet a specific family from Melinda, because they believed that that family had the best story and the best way of growing the apples and they only wanted to buy the apples from them. So, that level of connection between the end-user and the producer with that initiative creates a lot of authenticity and transparency through the value chain and through the use of packaging.

What are the trends in culture and society that have brought about this shift from a cleaner, more traditional one big media marketing moment, to this sort of multimedia?

I think the increasing complementarity of physical and digital experiences – many people call these 'phygital' experiences – the increased conversion of physical and digital and blurring the lines between the two is driving this because more than 90% of global brands in the CPG space have at least one QR code in their packaging, which is opening that door to connecting your phone to the physical experience.

That is not going to change, it's going to increase and it's not necessarily only going to be for the sexy things like AR experiences, video gaming and stuff like that. I think people will grow so much more naturally accustomed to having a phygital experience that you don't even need to talk about it any longer. It's part of the same canvas so to speak, to look at your pack, look at it through your phone, touch it, engage with it and then just go to social media to do things or to the internet to do things.

Co-creation is definitely one of the trends that will gain a lot of relevance in the next 10 years, because brands lack authenticity at times. People are not dumb and they can see through brands and the intention of growing a business without being authentic or without being purposeful. And the more you put the voice onto the consumer to tell the stories, the more authentic it's going to automatically become.

How much do you agree that brands should no longer state that they are the best at something and, instead, need to illustrate how they can fit into an individual's life?

I agree absolutely and I think that also has an implication on their sustainability storytelling because the other aspect is greenwashing. That's something that is linked exactly to what you're saying from a sustainability point of view. Just saying we're not using this, we're not using that, we are the best at this because we eliminated so many things from our supply chain, I think people expect that to be the rule. If you start telling stories behind it, which might always have this element of 'do you believe them or not', it's much better to drive transparency in your actions and that transparency should be celebrated as part of your strategy.

Many different industries and brands might need to celebrate the transparency of their processes to create a product or a service in different ways. That is what they will need to do going forward to avoid greenwashing. Otherwise, it would have been working much better by now. For example, I saw a water bottle printed on a Tetra pack the other day with certifications a bit like the 10 Commandments of Sustainability printed on the back. Consumers don't care. They want to be engaged with their community. Those for me are rules that you need to play by if you're anyone, small or big these days. And I think in the next 10 years, brands will slowly realise that it's more about what's happening now to drive a regeneration mindset with marketers, instead of a sustainability mindset.

One more example from Melinda, the brand of apples in Italy is that they have this regeneration mindset, they thought so much about putting itself in the shoes of their consumer in the early days of the pandemic that it created close to 300 different boxes with games on them. On the underside of each box of apples, there was a memory match, or a maze to negotiate, or questions and answers for children to learn new stories and be entertained and educated in the physical world because every box was different. Every time you bought a new box of apples, you had new content to play and learn from as a child.

The only reason that campaign existed is because the brand understood how to be relevant in context and leveraged the immediacy of printing which you can only do with digital print and as we were going into lockdown, there will be nothing to do other than sit in front of the computer and at the same time, take care of your children if you're a parent. Why don't we give parents the gift of entertainment for their kids so they can focus on having Zoom calls, work calls, and do other household chores while the child is also getting educated?

The campaign allowed Melinda to grow sales 24% because it launched four weeks after we went into lockdown. You can imagine how valuable that was as an experience. So, I think that element of speed to market and being contextual to what's happening in the moment is where brands need to focus. And it's not about the certifications. That's a given. You need to play by the rules. It's more about how to be in the moment and give back to people when they need it the most. Covid is a very good example because we all went into lockdown, we all understand what that is. So, it was a very simple story to tell by a brand that understood that there's a better way to do marketing.

Does differentiation matter anymore? Are you raising sales for your competitors at the same time and is there a category job being done? How important have you found distinctiveness versus differentiation when creating this type of impact?

This type of marketing is making brands distinctive as a starting point, but I think eventually if everybody starts doing something similar, you will lose that distinctiveness because of the style of communication. Imagine you're in the fruit and veggies aisle in a supermarket. You couldn't care less about the brand. You only care about how shiny the apple is and how good and fresh it looks. The distinctiveness that Melinda has been driving because of its boxes is extremely evident as a consumer. People are now gravitating to these apples because everybody knows them. Everybody shares them on social media. Everybody knows they're trying to do better for the planet. So, there's a preference in that.

And I think it will sustain at least for this decade, but there will come a point where many brands will have realised, we need to do something similar otherwise we're going to start lagging behind. So, I think distinctiveness will start driving this right now and, eventually, you will need to be smarter about your own individual story as a brand to further differentiate it from the rest. But distinctiveness, to me, is the name of the game at the moment and I think that's where everyone wants to play – a game that is genuine, authentic and with purpose.

There is this idea of brands being companion brands and being sensitive to all lifestyle choices, rather than this benchmark for just one lifestyle that you must aspire to. To what extent do you think brands should be sensitive to all lifestyle choices and how is it working from your perspective?

I think that it's an imperative for doing marketing in the 2020s, especially when you go young. The younger you go, the more it is an imperative because millennials and Gen Z, they don't even know what they want, until they know what they want. And I don't know how to explain this but once they are in the moment of shopping, or once they are in the moment of sharing a story with some friends or travelling, I think brands have to have the ability to be like a chameleon. They have to have the ability to change their colours contextually and do those shifts more rapidly than ever because that's the way the consumer is working these days. People jump from Snapchat to Instagram to their computer to going in a car and seeing some friends and coming back to those things indistinctly.

Gen Z specifically, is a target group that doesn't want to be put in a box. They don't want the box, they want to float above the boxes and maybe in the morning, I'm here, during the evening, I'm there, at the weekend, I'm over here. I think that fluidity has to be reflected by brands and it's not going to be simple because you need to have a digital transformation journey, whereby not only the mindset, but the infrastructure in your company allows you to achieve things like this. I think the Melinda example is remarkable because as a company, Melinda is family owned. That helps a lot as it allows it to be very nimble and very agile. For other brands, the pressure is going to be how fast can they adapt their infrastructure to capture these opportunities and become chameleon-like.