As part of the WARC x Braze “The invisible enabler” report, Victor Murthy, Brand Planning Manager at Pernod Ricard, discussed the role of data and technology in creativity, along with the rising importance of the omnichannel experience.

Headshot of Victor Murthy

Victor Murthy, Brand Planning Manager, Pernod Ricard

Efficiency is what comes up first while discussing marketing transformation. How have you ensured that creativity is that transformation’s centrepiece?

We have a full programme around creativity that’s a key driver for our brands’ businesses. We know it's the number one factor which determines the ROI on our marketing activities.

We have a common language for discussing creativity within the company. For instance, we publish content pieces regularly which encourage our marketing teams to put that language into practice. We have worked on an agency briefing template to get the best work out of our agencies. We also have ‘Better Managing Creative Agencies’ – training that's mandatory for marketers.

And we have also launched a training programme about making creativity a stronger part of our marketing activities. We also have internal awards centred on creative effectiveness at our annual conference. This way, we push creativity as a key value for our brands to strive for.

Is tech now driving creativity? What's changed to facilitate it?

We are clearly in the midst of a technological revolution. It's an exciting time with change happening at breakneck speed and in waves. First, we had the internet, followed by social media. Now we have the virtual worlds encapsulated by web 3.0.

When it comes to its impact on creativity, it's clear that tech has created so many opportunities to connect brands with their customers. It helps them to understand their consumers’ needs more acutely and to offer relevant products, services and experiences. Brands can now build personalised relationships with people and offer experiences which distinguish them from the competition.

With Gen Z and digital natives gaining importance as a consumer base for brands, it's no longer enough just to leverage the latest tech – blockchain, AR and VR, for instance – but to understand what value it is truly bringing to consumers.

What enabled that to happen a couple of years ago, rather than five years ago?

It's based on one insight which is growing stronger with the rise of tech and the overuse of social media. We have constant social media interactions which make us feel connected, no matter how long it's been since we've seen our loved ones or how far apart we are.

When it comes to creativity driving tech or tech driving creativity, it goes both ways. Having said that, people are increasingly growing weary of tech as it encroaches into their lives. Think of the multiple backlashes against tech giants; people are growing weary of overexposure, the addiction to social media and influencer culture. There are also growing privacy concerns.

How do you think tech-driven creativity is refreshing well-established TV campaigns? What advice would you give to these brands to execute successfully?

We say that our brands manage to build their activities on a solid big idea which stays consistent and evolves over several years. A couple of external examples would be Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ or Snickers’ ‘You're Not You When You're Hungry’.

However, as successful as well-established campaigns are, it's important not to rest on one's laurels. We have to be forward-thinking in changing times, especially when one’s success is built on TV and other traditional touchpoints. Tech helps brands stay ahead in this game.

Skittles, the candy brand, has evolved its platform leveraged by technology. Through its ‘Taste the Rainbow’ platform, the brand has done so much good work.

A few years ago they replaced their lime-flavoured sweets with a green apple flavour. But a few months ago, and years after this move, the brand noticed half-joking complaints about this flavour change on social media. Skittles listened to its consumers and decided to bring back the popular lime flavour and to mark that day it created an ‘Apologise the Rainbow’ campaign. They live streamed a parody press conference on Twitch, too. They even individually apologised to every Twitter user who had left an unhappy comment about the flavour change.

This is a great example of leveraging technology to fuel creativity. Further, it also contributes to the bravery and the authenticity of the work, something that consumers look forward to, today.

So, it's not just about using technology. It’s about using it to provide a more seamless consumer journey and also providing that authenticity and transparency.

How has the role of data in creativity changed over the last few years? What role does it play in your creative process?

For a while, many in the industry wondered if data would eventually upend creativity as the main driver in brand activities. Today, however, we can acknowledge that they both are necessary or even complementary. Compelling storytelling and building strong narratives that resonate on a human level with consumers are still fundamental to brand building.

The difference is now we have a growing arsenal of data to make that connectivity stronger. As we push creativity at Pernod Ricard, we can use data at the starting stage to sell particularly bold, creative ideas, by showing the data that backs them. It goes from a hypothesis to something that's backed by something provable. We can also optimise creative work using data to make it as effective as possible and afterwards, we can measure the success of work, and extract learnings for future campaigns and how it's changed over the last few years.

With the rise of new tech and platforms, mostly from a consumer perspective, the most obvious change would be privacy concerns. It's a fine line between exploiting consumer data in a way that provides value and where they feel like their privacy is being encroached upon.

I'll name two angles: The first one is the consumer’s perspective. Personally, I appreciate Instagram ads being tailored to my interests. But it’s a bit unsettling that minutes after casually mentioning a brand to a friend, one of its ads will appear in my stories. Either that algorithm is almost too powerful or our phones are listening to us; I'm still not sure which one it is. But from a brand perspective, it can also be too easy to fall into that privacy trap and face potential consumer and media backlash.

We saw that with Revolut, which ran a series of out-of-home ads in the UK. The ads humorously revealed unusual or entertaining spending behaviours by its customers. However, beyond being strikingly similar to a previous campaign by Spotify, the ads were also criticised for putting into question the brand's values of trust and content confidentiality. It raised questions about the brand's integrity as a financial services provider although the data was revealed to be fabricated.

In the report, we feature Pernod Ricard’s award winning “The Time We Have Left” from Ruavieja  a highly emotive piece of work involving an algorithm to calculate how much time we have left with our loved ones.  How did you combine data and creativity so successfully in this campaign?

The first out-of-the-box thing that the brand did was to work with the Spanish Institute for Statistics – a joint effort between the brand team in Spain and their agency at the time. They had a really good relationship, a key driver in pushing those bold ideas forward.

When you trust each other as a client and an agency, beyond just backing these bold ideas with data, you enable each other to go for strong work.

Our creative team  worked with a data analytics partner, conscious that a strong algorithm would bring this creative idea to life. And that algorithm would come from the power of big data. This made it easy to use for people who wanted to take the quiz.

They also worked with the Spanish government for demographic data around the time that people lived together. And that's why in the end, over a million people took the quiz and shared the results – it was heavily based on data and was a strong collaboration between the brand and the agency.

Is that the key to supporting the data-driven idea that comes through?

Yes – it's important to remain agile and flexible. One needs to see the data and tech-driven world in context to current events and the news cycle. It’s also about how quickly consumers can react to things.

It’s something that Ruavieja had done well. They pivoted their media plan and put together a PR strategy when they saw that this was starting to go viral. They also diverted media spending into something that contributed humanely – purchasing bus tickets for social media users to go see their families during the holidays. It was an agile and flexible multi-touchpoint approach that paid off.

COVID-19 upended the customer experience. Given these changes and the drive toward an omnichannel experience, how is creative deployment of technology helping?

COVID has certainly accelerated the omnichannel experience, but it’s been a hot topic for a long time now. What is the entry point where people saw your brand message? This is getting much more traceable than before with the rise of technology in the consumer journey.

Direct access to consumers has become a major strategic priority, sparking the rise of platforms – new digital economic models that put producers in direct contact with consumers, skipping intermediaries. This direct access is best secured by offering consumers a superior user experience. As part of its omnichannel strategy, Pernod Ricard has developed Drinks&Co, an omnichannel sales platform for consumers to buy alcoholic beverages. By offering a wide catalogue of wine and spirits for home delivery, including brands not owned by Pernod Ricard, Drinks&Co has the aim to become the go-to platform in its category. This model presents benefits for consumers, who can be sure of finding the precise bottle they want, for connected wholesalers or retailers gaining online access to more consumers, and for Pernod Ricard gains direct access to consumers and invaluable data insights – the company is now in direct contact with over 2 million online shoppers, enabling us to understand their online and in-store behaviours in real time through data, leading to the development of winning strategies for brands.

As part of an omnichannel approach, the Drinks&Co online marketplace is bolstered by concept stores which transform the promise and scope of the platform into the physical retail world, where consumers can try before they buy, order for delivery, or simply stop in for a drink. Together, the combination of online platforms and physical stores offers an exciting direct-to-consumer distribution model, reinforced by the potential to trial and launch new products on the basis of data gathered about consumer habits and desires.

In today’s world, consumer expectations are evolving fast, and they are less loyal to brands, with increasing market fragmentation in terms of brands and channels. That’s why it is critical that the way brands connect with consumers, boosted by data and digital, becomes a competitive advantage.

Another good example of the creative deployment of tech is by our Irish whiskey brand Jameson, which launched a couple years ago one and a half million connected bottles in Ireland, which allowed consumers to “tap the cap” with their NFC-enabled smartphones and get access to exclusive events, experiences, content and more – complimentary distillery tours, for example.

In the field of tech-driven creativity, what lessons can we learn through gaming?

Gaming or virtual worlds, like the metaverse, broadly have the potential to open up new horizons for brands. For us, gaming is a lifestyle market. Many gamers go out to bars in real life. So, how do brands tap into their at-home social life when they’re playing with their friends? It’s a great opportunity for us, since in gaming you can have data and insights through the user journey. You can also go further by engaging with gamers through live chat or streaming platforms like Twitch.

It’s best to base your activities on solid insights and creative ideas. And of course, use technology to leverage that. It’s always better than hopping onto the technology bandwagon and creating a campaign on a platform like the metaverse without offering any real value to consumers. The key is not to get lost in the technology but to think of the value first and then how it can be used to amplify that value.