Social media affects so much more than simply the way brands communicate.
Prior to taking a one-year sabbatical, London-based Daniele Fiandaca was CEO (Europe) of Profero, an independent, privately owned digital marketing agency founded in London in 1998. Specializing in advertising and marketing, Profero has over 500 employees in fifteen cities across the globe and boasts a highly diverse roster of clients, among them AstraZeneca, COI, Guinness, HBOS International, Johnson & Johnson, Lufthansa, and Western Union. Under Daniele’s creative leadership, the agency has won many awards, including a Gold Cannes Cyber Lion for its MINI “White Rabbit” campaign. For this maiden issue of Lürzer’s Archive Digital, Daniele kindly agreed to provide his current personal choice of the top 15 digital designs (websites, apps), which you can enjoy once Daniele has been grilled by Michael Weinzettl.
L.A.: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your career so far?
Daniele Fiandaca: I have a rather unorthodox advertising background, which is summed up by the fact that I am
probably the only qualified accountant to have sat on a D&AD jury. I made the leap from finance (I was at PwC for four and a half years, working in audit and corporate finance) to advertising over ten years ago when I joined a small fledgling agency called Profero, which had 20 employees, in London. Over the next ten years, working alongside the founders, Daryl and Wayne Arnold (as global COO and latterly as European CEO), we managed to grow the company into a global business with ten offices worldwide, a team of over 300, and clients such as Diageo, IKEA, Johnson & Johnson, MINI, Pepsi, and the UK government.
L.A.: How did you get started? When did you first get interested in digital?
Daniele Fiandaca: My interest in this industry was really at an advertising level rather than a digital one, and
began when I was 18 and working for a wine marketing firm in Italy during my day off. The business next door was a production company, and whenever I got the chance, I would sneak in and sit with my friend Enzo as he did the post-production on the commercials. He would tell me how lucky I was to be in London as it was the capital of global advertising, and when I returned to London I would record ads for him and send them back. Unfortunately, we have fallen out of touch, which is a
shame as I owe a lot to him. It was another friend (I went to university with Daryl) who then gave me an opportunity to join the advertising industry for real when he asked me to come and join him in bringing digital to the advertising industry. I leaped at the chance, even though it meant a significant pay cut and a high degree of uncertainty.
I have never looked back.
L.A.: What are some of the major changes taking place right now with regard to web-based communication? You said that websites no longer have the same importance they used to. What’s next then?
Daniele Fiandaca: Digital advertising for a long time has relied on driving people to a destination, which will either lead to direct sales or engagement (i.e. the brand website). It is this latter strategy of a brand-engagement site that is becoming less relevant as brands now have the opportunity to bring content into their audiences’ own spaces rather than driving them out to a separate destination. It does not mean that the brand-engagement site is dead, just that they need to really think carefully about what its purpose is and why people would want to go and then return. Hopefully, we will see less digital ghost towns built in the next few years.
L.A.: You have kindly selected for us the digital work you consider to be the most interesting at this moment. What were some of your criteria for inclusion?
Daniele Fiandaca: I was looking for work that was extremely innovative and provided an insight into the opportunities that are currently opening up in the world of digital. However, I tried to avoid innovation for innovation’s sake and rather wanted to focus on work that I thought was relevant and would actually engage with the target audience. For the reasons listed in the previous question, I also wanted to open the work up to digital design rather than just web design as opportunities for digital really open up (especially with the launch of the iPad).
L.A.: How are social media changing the way brands need to communicate?
Daniele Fiandaca: I think the first thing to say is that social media affects so much more than simply the way that they communicate. In the first instance, it has meant that brands cannot get away with marketing a substandard product. If I was a marketeer, my priorities would be product, customer services, and then advertising. It also means that brands need to get back to remembering that their customers are people and therefore they need to get far better at speaking with a far more human tone of voice. However, at the same time I think that social media has provided our industry with an amazing opportunity to build far more engaging and richer relationships between brands and their customers, and this is really exciting.
L.A.: What are good examples of really successful digital campaigns? And what has made them so successful?
Daniele Fiandaca: The one campaign that I always wax lyrical on is Uniqlock as it came from a true understanding of the blogging culture and how this could create media, and I have no doubt this campaign acted as a real inspiration
for much of Uniqlo’s ongoing digital work, which contin-ues to surprise and delight. I also loved Boondoggle’s “Banner Concerts” campaign as it really engaged with the target audience in a highly engaging and interesting way, and again creat-ed media by providing the winning brands with assets to use in their own MySpace sites. However, the most powerful campaign I have seen in recent years has been the Million project by Droga 5, which utilized mobile technology to instigate real improvements
in school education in New York and is now being rolled out nationwide. A few years back, Rory Sutherland, President of the IPA, said that every single digital agency is a failure because they had not delivered enough work that had truly made a difference, and I believe it is this kind of work that we would need to see more of going forward – work that has created something of lasting value online.
L.A.: What, to you, is brilliant advertising? And can you give us some examples from the past two or three years?
Daniele Fiandaca: Brilliant advertising to me is something that really engages with people and provides them with either an emotional attachment to the brand or a clear reason to want to buy. For the last four years, I have used a framework called the 4 “E”s, which are Education, Engagement, Entertainment, and Exchanging Value (which incorporates utility). If a communications ideas does not fulfill one of these “E”s, or preferably a combination of them, then I think you really need to rethink your strategy. I also think that the
industry forgets sometimes what our ultimate role is – as Bill Bernbach said, “Properly practiced, creativity must result in greater sales more economically achieved.” For me, brilliant advertising is Boondoogle’s recent “Antwerp Zoo” campaign, which got Belgium personally involved in a little baby elephant’s birth with nearly 5% watching it live, VCCP’s “Comparethemeerkat,” which made a star of Aleksandr Orlov but only happened because someone from the search team pointed out that Meerkat costs 1% of the word market on Google, and any John Smith’s ad with Peter Kay, just because they make me laugh every time and always get talked about in the pub with non-advertising folk. However, brilliant advertising can also be something small like a clever poster, e.g. M&C Saatchi’s recent campaign for Dixons.co.uk or Heineken’s Champions League activa-tion campaign in Italy.
L.A.: What are some of the dangers of traditional ad agencies buying up digital shops in order to comply with clients’ demands for a stronger emphasis on digital? Integration?
Daniele Fiandaca: Obviously, every acquisition has its inherent challenges. However, when it comes to traditional agencies buying up digital shops, there are likely to be some major culture clashes. Firstly, digital agencies are likely to be set up very differently. As our world has constantly been evolving, we have had to ensure that we remained very nimble, constantly innovating and delivering to short deadlines, which is dissimilar to the traditional world, where change has been far slower. I know quite a few people who have found the change in pace a little difficult. The other big difference is ego. Digital agencies tend to have very flat structures and, with so many people needed to complete a project, there is a real culture of listening to other people and recognizing that ideas can come from anywhere. The creatives are happy to take someone else’s idea and just concentrate on making it better. Alas, this does not appear to be the case in traditional agencies, where, much of the time, creatives are more interested in working on their own idea. Digital creatives find it very hard to work in this kind of environment. However, I do feel sometimes that acquisition is perhaps not the right answer as digital is no longer a bolt-on. As everything in our world becomes digital, the core of the agency really needs to “think digital,” and I wonder if agencies would be better off focusing on bringing strong digital thinkers into senior management and reskilling the existing team with the addition of key digital people. There most certainly will be some casualties but, as the saying goes, “You can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.”
L.A.: What will the ad agency of the future look like?
Daniele Fiandaca: If I knew for certain what the agency of the future looked like, I would be creating it. However, I do have an idea and certainly believe that it will be significantly different from many of the agencies today. I believe that there is going to be a new set of agencies who will have digital at their core, full of collaborative and egoless people who are extremely dynamic and not scared to take risks themselves. Like Anomaly, who have become a record label, and BBH New York, who have created Zag, a business which invents new brands and takes them to market with joint venture partners.
L.A.: What is some of the work you have been involved with at Profero that you’re happiest with/most proud of?
Daniele Fiandaca: I am obviously very proud of much of the work we did while I was at Profero, in particular most of the work we did for the UK government (especially the Smart online, safe offline work, which was probably our most iconic) as it made a real difference to people’s lives as well as the MINI White Rabbit campaign, which simply brought to life the whole idea of a MINI adventure in a way you could never do offline. However, the piece that I am probably most proud of is the campaign we did for Channel 4 to promote a week of programming around the literacy problem in the UK (one in five children leave school without being able to read or write properly). Rather than simply take a media budget and run a bog-standard media campaign, we delivered an online tool (hosted on AOL) which allowed parents to produce a totally customized story for their children which they could read to them in bed – thus not only informing parents of the season of programming but providing something useful that could actually combat the issue (as parents reading to their children will lead to improvements in literacy).
L.A.: You’ve said that, for many new consumers, digital is not a channel; it’s not even media; it is a part of life. Can you elaborate on this point?
Daniele Fiandaca: For many years, we were fighting as an industry about the fact that digital should not be treated as a separate channel but, rather, integrated across the whole piece. However, I do think social media has led
to a big change in the way digital is treated by clients, and the issue of treating digital as a separate channel is not as prevalent. Yet advertising is still only a small part of the digital opportunity, and advertising agencies are often not going to the best people to respond to this challenge.
L.A.: So how would you rate the ability of ad agencies to respond to this?
Daniele Fiandaca: Social media has meant that most have had to respond but, due to some of the issues covered with process and culture (the ego issue), they have found it tough. In addition, when looking at the whole digital integration piece, it is going to be very hard to replicate what the digital specialists are able to do across the piece (incorporating web development, performance, and conversational marketing). However, there are definitely some that are getting it right, and many will undoubtedly follow.
L.A.: How do you see the role of print media in the future?
Daniele Fiandaca: Although I have very much lived and breathed the world of digital advertising over the last ten years, I have always been a big fan of the physical printed word. There is something that has always been good about having a book in your hand or
a glossy magazine.
L.A.: There are voices in publishing that are hailing the iPad as a kind of savior. Do you think it will halt the demise of magazines, newspapers?
Daniele Fiandaca: I really don’t know but what is definite is that it has certainly breathed some life back into the publishing world. It is going to be interesting to see what else is developed.
L.A.: You are also the founder of “Creative Social.” What’s that?
Daniele Fiandaca: Creative Social is a collective of some of the world’s most talented digital people who want to work together to make the industry better. I founded it in 2004 with Mark Chalmers (now at Perfect Fools) with the intention of inspiring, educating and promoting the industry. We now have over 140 “Socials” and we hold two global get-togethers a year for about 40 people at a time. These gatherings are all about inspiration and, as such, we try and avoid getting any speakers from the industry but rather bring in speakers from all walks of life. Our last event in San Francisco featured two Academy Award winners, four TED speakers, a coffee maker and a distiller. In addition, there are “local” Socials organized in London, Milan, New York, and Sydney. We are also in the process of publishing a book called “Digital Advertising: Past, Present and Future.” Although Creative Social was founded with a digital focus, we are currently widening our membership to anyone in the creative business provided they adhere to the first rule of Creative Social, which is “No egos allowed.” If you are interested to know more, go to
www.creativesocialblog.com or feel free to contact me directly.
L.A.: Where do you get inspiration for your work?
Daniele Fiandaca: The communications business for me is all about understand-ing and engaging with people, and it
is therefore fitting that I get much of my inspiration from other people. I am lucky in that I worked with some absolutely brilliant people at Profero who continue to be good friends and an ongoing inspiration. Also, through Creative Social, I have been able to amass a large network of extremely talented creative people and our biannual gatherings are as much about learning and being inspired from each other as being inspired by the speakers. Saying that, we get some absolutely amazing speakers at Creative Social who always inspire. In San Francisco, we were spoilt as we not only got to hear from two Oscar Winners (Brad Bird and Michael Giacchino) but also got to visit Pixar which, for me as a film aficionado, was unbeliev-able. Other highlights have included the Lanza brothers (their video of the World Cup Final is one of the best representations of the passion of football I have ever seen; Muriel Scherre, who talked about her lingerie business and why she was shooting a porno video; and Lijia Zhang, who told us about the challenges of growing up in China working in a munitions factory, especially when you have curly hair. Conferences are, in fact, a really important source of inspiration for me in general, and getting time away from the day-to-day is where I find I get most of my ideas. I also like to visit other businesses, both competitors as well as other companies. At the end of last year, for example, I spent an afternoon with Triston Eaton at Thunderdog Studios, a real treat given I collect vinyl toys (Triston invented the Munny).
L.A.: You have taken some time off from agency life after ten years as European CEO of Profero, the digital creative agency. What are your plans for 2011?
Daniele Fiandaca: After ten intense years at Profero, I thought it would make sense to take a break and just catch up on life (if you ever get a chance, I highly recommend it – it’s amazing how you get to see the industry in a completely new light). I am now back and looking for my next adventure. However, I’ve realized that to find something as challenging and as rewarding as Profero is going to take time, and the last thing I want to do is rush into something. I have therefore set up a consultancy in the meantime, taking my ten-plus years of experience to help brands and agencies get a far better understanding of digital, not only on a strategic level but on a really practical level, helping them implement change as well as in terms of creative enablement. I obviously continue to run Creative Social, and am also working on a couple of extremely interesting initiatives with some friends.
(If you want to see any of the work detailed in this interview, go to