Toby Talbot has returned to the UK as the newly appointed executive creative director of RKCR/Y&R after 15 years in New Zealand. He talks to us about trends in advertising from the perspective of two different hemispheres.
Image: Toby Talbot
For you, what were some of the biggest trends for TV commercials last year? The biggest trends were those that weren't just television commercials. That's the great thing about something like the Old Spice ad from Wieden+Kennedy - that's something that started life in a television space but that campaign was shown through various other situations. A commercial that breaks down that barrier from just being there on a television channel so much as integrated into your life somehow. Live Twitter feeds and so on.
In terms of trends commercials need to question their relevance in people's lives - that's the real challenge now. How many times do you watch an ad and think: 'You just robbed my life of 30 seconds?' There's a real danger of resentment so I think it's about the need to entertain people like you've never done before. The long format trend, where an ad is three-minutes rather than a 30-second spot, worked well.
Do you think you can hold an audience's attention for that long? As long as it's engaging. For me storytelling is a key ingredient. One of the best ads last year was the Lotto 'Lucky Dog' from my last agency DDB, New Zealand, which was a lovely piece of storytelling. It all comes down to the idea and how to you tell the idea.
How significant are events like the Super Bowl ads in setting the advertising trends for the rest of the year? For DDB, the significance of the Super Bowl was so massive for them and about doing huge spots. For me it's about who has the deepest pockets? Everyone knows the airtime is crazy expensive and by comparison the production cost for the ad isn't as much. There is enormous hype. If someone told me the VW ad would lead the way... I suppose it was the best of a bad lot. It's about mass popularity. You have to do something for the mums, dads - an ad that everyone loves. It's good old fashioned popular TV advertising.
For a commercial to be successful in 2012, how important is it for the ad to be backed up by an online viral campaign? I think there's a difference between 'matching luggage' and just replicating the ad.
'Matching luggage'? It's a term I quite like: somebody created an idea and they pass it over to a matching digital equivalent and they do a banner ad - that's real old school integration. It's really exciting to take an idea and explode it through different channels rather than replicating. The future is to make an idea build and proliferate through different channels. I would argue that that's what happened with Old Spice. They actually fully interact with people.
Where do you think social media fits into these growing trends? There is a lot of hype around all the Facebook and Twitter channels, but unless you have an idea it won't work. Facebook is for a lot of people the easiest way for the world because it's cost effective and intimate.
The real danger is that some people don't want to be advertised to on these platforms. I love Bill Bernbach's quote from long before the internet took off: 'Word of mouth is the most powerful medium of all'. Old Spice would never have been successful if it hadn't had the buzz. So with Twitter, I can really see how you can personalise it and make it work for you.
You've been between hemispheres in the past few months? How do trends differ depending on which part of the world you're in? Wherever you are in the world, people attach brands to personalities. Products like cars all look the same, so brands reach out to borrow some personality icon. It should be about finding truth about a product that goes deeper.
In terms of how people work, there's a size and scale that there isn't in Australia and New Zealand. People are very obsessed with doing the corporate thing. Over there, there's a real bullshit-free mentality that we can learn from. They have an uncluttered way of looking at business issues. I'm really looking forward to applying that business thinking to creativity. It's quite exciting.
Is it still possible to create a TV commercial that will 'wow' without the use of CGI? Absolutely! Unequivocally yes. I reckon we're on the verge of a major backlash with things like this. It's becoming so samey. The clichés within CGI are immense right now. The real danger is the laziness where somebody's vision is reliant on it. I know for a fact from talking to directors I respect that they love to do as much with the camera as they can. There's a real power in a performance that doesn't rely on reels of techniques and green screening.
You mentioned the need to entertain like never before - what ad has done that for you? I love the Harvey Nichols 'Walk of Shame'. It's funny and beautifully observed without using loads of beautiful models. That bravery and confidence in a brand that doesn't have to have their logo up for half the ad is exciting! That is entertainment.