Creators have extraordinary capabilities enabling them to show the world new ideas, says Tham Khai Meng, Ogilvy & Mather’s worldwide creative chief. With these unfamiliar powers, it’s important to get execution right, he writes in the Gunn 100 report.
Looking at some of the ads in this year’s Gunn 100, I can't help feeling that creatives have acquired a new fairy godmother. She’s called Digital Technology, and now if Cinderella wants to go to the ball, tech can now take her there in style. Even if the event is being held on a different planet.
Thanks to digital we can see things human beings have never seen before. Ostriches take flight. Children step aboard a school bus that takes them to Mars. We can see a painting done by Rembrandt after he died. Or see how evolution might design a human being to survive a car crash.
It seems nowadays if you can think it, you can do it. Most of the time, at least. But this raises a question. Just because we can do anything we want, does that mean we should?
There is no doubting the creative brilliance on display. The work dazzles. But once the dazzle fades, a lingering question resides. Many of these ads leave me feeling uplifted. But others leave me slightly hollow or puzzled.
This made me wonder. What was the difference between the ads that inspired me and the ones that didn’t?
There's an old saying that tennis is better played with a net. It’s a lot harder of course, but that is what brings out the skill.
I raise the question because, clearly, we are at a crossroads. The new powers we have been given are unfamiliar. This is Virgin Territory. It is the part on the map the mapmakers used to inscribe with the words, Here be dragons. We are still experimenting, and we won’t always get it right. Neither should we expect to.
It’s important that we have the debate about which road we take. It’s all very well turning pumpkins into digital coaches but we need to make sure Cinderella gets to the right ball. We don’t want her ending up at a rave.
To guide us we should look at the ads that definitely get it right.
A great example is the Audi sandbox commercial. It's the ultimate test drive, and connects beautifully with our inner child, a childhood dream come true. It’s pure ‘Wow!’ And I grin every time I see it.
The same goes for the Nike Unlimited Stadium. The idea of improving your performance by racing a digital avatar of yourself is genius. It’s the perfect example of the tech being used to do something we previously could only have dreamed of doing.
The idea draws its power from a genuine human insight. It's a universal human truth that we want to race and best ourselves each time. This is what drives us to jump higher and run faster.
I also liked the Virtual Crash Billboard. This really impressed me when I saw it. The expressions on the faces of the people on the crossing are what make it. It's just wonderful street theatre.
But it does more than that. It never forgets that it is an ad and not just entertainment. It does what it set out to do: Save lives. I have no doubt it is highly effective.
It seems to me the best ads do two things. They embed a powerful sales message inside a wonderful experience, often provided by VR goggles.
Driving a car around a kid’s sandbox is a great experience, the sort you lay awake at night as a kid dreaming of.
What emerges from this is something we have always known. It all comes down to great ideas. Those wonderful, elusive pieces of magic called ideas lie at the heart of all great advertising. In the digital age it still holds true. Special effect will never compensate for the lack of an idea, but when combined with a great idea the result can be breath-taking.
And this is just the start. Facebook and Google and other big tech firms are working on Brain Computer Interfaces that will both read your mind and put experiences directly into it. The power of that could be extraordinary if used wisely. As advertisers we will become purveyors of alternative realities and experiences. But they have to be experiences people genuinely want.
If you saw the amazing footage of Elon Musk’s giant SpaceX rocket recently, played to Bowie singing Starman, you might have thought, that would make a great ad. And you would be right. The next generation of ads could give you this experience, they could take you there.
Wouldn’t that be wonderful? You probably never lay awake at night dreaming of being a flying ostrich. But didn’t we all once dream of being starmen and women? How cool would it be if we all have this experience one Virtual Crash Billboard. day. Just by looking at an ad.
This essay appeared originally in the Gunn 100: Lessons from the world’s best creative campaigns