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'Be a doer not a make believer': Benny Thomas at Goafest 2016 Day 2

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MUMBAI: ‘Actions speaks louder than words’ is perhaps a phrase that has been quoted to death and applied to all sorts of scenarios. The phrase is both a boon and a curse to use a famous quote as it makes people expect a lot or it is put in a ‘generic tropes’ box. Therefore when Crispin Porter + Bogusky‘s strategy head Benny Thomas started his speech with the phrase, not many ears perked up  and nor were eyes raised. They did however, when the man played a few AVs of his company’s recent campaigns. Some of these were extremely popular and familiar international campaigns such as the ‘Pizza crust’ campaign the agency did for Dominos that saw their sales soar. Thomas clearly practiced what he preached-- ‘Be a doer not a make believer.”

Addressing the fairly successful new creative agencies that aren’t the Leo Burnetts or O&Ms of the world, Thomas said, “Being a micro network amidst big layers, at some point when the start-up feel wears off and you start seeing a bit of success, it is easy to start wondering where you stand and lose direction. This is where ‘action’ will play a huge role in having to wonder in a world full of biggies on where we stand and not lose direction.”

Action to Thomas isn’t simply verbifying a message. “A compelling message is actually not that hard to create when you have a powerful copywriter or writer and an amazing man behind the cameras. But that is again a ‘message’ and not action,” Thomas clarified. “It’s the way the brand behaves is what will take the brand forward or make it stand out. Moreover, action also causes or asks for a reaction that can be the fodder for a whole new campaign. Some of the successful campaigns have come from people who could predict the reaction from consumers in advance and prepare ahead.”

A good example was how CPB advised a well distributed FMCG brand when it approached the agency to put it on the shelf, not announce it. “Put it on the shelf, let's do a shelf test with millions of packets. We could see that the change didn't affect the sales at all, and that became our campaign. We had a series of TVCs where we see a guy from the brand revealing what ingredients were changed, and no one could tell the difference!”

Which also brought Thomas to advise fellow creatives – “Don’t be afraid of the elephant in the room.”

“We often don't face the embarrassing truths about brands. Confronting the elephant in the room, or being honest about shortcomings can bring brands way more closer to the people. It’s true for both humans as well as brands.  Coming out honestly can help brands build a stronger relationship with consumers. If you avoid the elephant in the room, you will alienate yourself from the people you are catering to.”

In his ending note, Thomas emphasised the need for agencies to take brands as partners and not as clients, and that often depends a lot on how the creatives are positioned in the market. “Creatives often criticise and complain about brand managers or business owners not understanding a good creative idea or the concept and opting for something that looks less ‘quirky’ or smart. Agencies need to put themselves in their client’s shoes and that won’t happen unless creatives understand the business, and that won’t come from PPT projects.”

“Unless you run businesses yourself you can’t understand what challenges your clients have,” Thomas frankly stated. To bring in a perspective he went to share how CPB had built its own business by using their strength in design and creative solutions, such as a bicycle hiring service in the United States or producing and designing a bourbon bottle that they created, branded and then sold.

One take away from the session that added to the novelties that Goafest is often known to introduce was the phrase, ROC or return on creativity’. The phrase definitely got the auditorium full of budding creatives as well as old players thinking of their own ‘return on creativity.  What do they really take away in the end? Was it clients, pay checks, awards, or more stories to tell?

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