We Have Failed to Inspire Creatives: Q&A with Caspar Schlickum, CEO, Xaxis EMEA

Ahead of the 2016 Cannes Festival of Creativity, ExchangeWire caught up with Caspar Schlickum (pictured below), CEO, Xaxis EMEA about the importance of creativity and its convergence with data and technology. 

ExchangeWire: With the annual Cannes Lions festival coming up, what are you predicting this year?

Caspar Schlickum: Ad tech, data, and technology have all been on the agenda for a few years now. Last year, the Innovation Lions really started to take more of a centre stage. It’s worth remembering though that, ultimately, Cannes is a celebration of creativity. This year, we are going to see a real shift, not just in the award entries, but discussions that are happening at and around the conference, about the convergence between data, technology and creativity.

Why is the convergence between data, technology and creativity so important?

Today, we are using the data and technology associated with ad tech in a relatively myopic way. By that I mean that it’s really very focussed on targeted media. As one of my clients said to me recently, after a lengthy discussion about programmatic and the extraordinary investment that has been flowing into this part of our industry, it’s clear that data and technology makes advertising more effective for the advertiser and relevant for consumers. What is far less clear is how it makes brands better marketers. And that matters. Of course marketers want to engage with their customers in ways that delight and encourage ongoing positive brand association. It’s not enough to just annoy them slightly less. But there is another side to the exact same coin: namely, ad blocking. Ad blocking is the customer response to our failure to delight, surprise, amuse, and engage.

Surely, with all the investment in tech, it’s time now to think about how we can leverage this also in the creative parts of our business, to do things that make marketers better at marketing and customers less inclined to turn the other way.

That makes sense. So then why has it taken so long to leverage the creative parts of the business?

The creative parts of our business have used data since day one. They are, in fact, experts at using research and driving creativity that is inspired and based off many forms of data. But I think we have failed, at least to date, to inspire creatives with what is now possible with real-time data, technology and, consequently, the advanced level of targeting possibilities.

I really do think it’s that simple – data has the potential to drive much greater levels of creativity. It’s not a threat. Certainly in my role at Xaxis, I have worked hard to try and demystify the possibilities of ad tech for the world-class creative agencies we have at WPP. It’s about engaging them and inspiring them to show that, with the combination of data and creativity, we create many more possibilities for our brands and clients. We make them better marketers.

Have you seen any great examples of ad tech-enabled creativity?

Caspar Schlickum | XaxisHonestly, few and far between, but it’s starting. There was a great campaign last year in Cannes by 3M for post-it notes, in which users could go to a microsite and write a post-it note reminder, which they would then be retargeted with. So, your own post-it note reminder about your nephew’s birthday or anniversary of whatever would follow you around the web.

The other one I saw recently was for Mark’s ‘Ready to Winter’ campaign in Canada, in which the company ran a programmatic strategy based on real time weather data. In their case, the insight was that people don’t shop when it gets too cold (something that happens a lot in Canada). They developed a campaign where the in-store discount was based on the weather: -15º meant a 15% discount, etc. So, not just an integration of real-time data with the advertising, but even the point of sale.

You can see, where creative teams understand the capabilities of real-time data, and the technology for real-time creative and media investment, truly clever and inspired creative ideas can happen. Neither of these would have been possible without ad tech.

Does all this then threaten the ‘Big Idea’? The big, set piece creative?

Not in the slightest. In fact, quite the opposite; but there is an opportunity to think differently about the role that these kinds of executions play. If we only run targeted media, we are, ultimately, just engaging with people we already know something about. Big creative ideas play a different role – they create moments of serendipity that introduce people to new ideas, categories, products, or services.

Every time someone starts to engage with this creative, and is drawn into a customer journey, they become data points. I know this is a very crass way of referring to people, but it’s important. Every action becomes a data point that somehow may inspire a creative team to develop an idea that makes the ongoing journey more fulfilling.

So, I like to think about different consumer touchpoints and, therefore, different creative executions and ideas can generate new data points or make use of the data points that we already have at our disposal: a flow of data that serves as a new currency between media, creative, and research.

That sounds like quite a big departure from the way things work now?

Actually, agencies have been responding to this new dynamic for a while. The linear way of working is well and truly a thing of the past. Today’s data-driven world needs a much more collaborative and integrated process, in which media, creative, research, PR, social, etc. all work together in nonlinear fashion.

At WPP, we have a key strategic focus on what we call ‘horizontality’, which is a way of delivering a non-linear, and much more integrated, approach to those clients who ask us to work with them in this way.

And is that the topic of your session in Cannes?

Yes. We decided that for the first time this year, Xaxis would organise a session at Cannes, specifically talking about the convergence between creativity and programmatic media technology. The session will include an overview of what is possible today, followed by a discussion between some of our agencies and clients about what we can do to leverage these technologies to become better marketers. Our CEO Sir Martin Sorrell will also provide his perspective on how technology and data are driving new levels of integration across our business.