In the latest installment of our 'Looking Back to Progress' feature, we spoke with Marco Mäkinen at TBWA\Helsinki about importance of bold ideas and how we must keep learning in order to keep growing.
Tell us about your role and how long you been working in the world of advertising.
I work as the CSO at TBWA\Helsinki. I’ve worked for 32 years in different marketing, advertising and digital agencies.
Are there some common staples or tropes that have developed in recent years within the industry? How do these compare to the ones of 10 or even 20 years ago?
Data, AI and personalization are the buzzwords of today. In 1989 when I started all the hype was about the coming age of 1to1 marketing. The age of mass-media, storytelling, bold ideas and courage was supposed to be over.
What were some aspects or qualities about ads from the past that you feel modern advertising could benefit from adopting?
The best advertising has always been bold, provocative, and scary as hell to sell, buy, produce and run. As research has shown, over and over again, the best, most distinctive campaigns work 5 times better than the average stuff. We should still, in fact it is our responsibility, to aim for this level of greatness. Despite all the obstacles: fear, bureaucracy, lack of courage.
Was the work approached differently or have the methods remained the same?
The method for coming up with great ideas remains the same. Work with a group of talented people, and don’t hold back. A flat, non-hierarchical creative group works best. The biggest difference is in distributing the ideas. This is due to channel fragmentation. Campaigns used to be relatively simple to distribute. Now the media and channel planning parts are much more complex. Yet, the need for simplicity and boldness of the ideas remain.
How have ads evolved to keep up with technological and cultural advancements such as smartphones and the internet?
We are moving from advertising and paid media to brand behavior that generates earned media. This calls for even bolder, more provocative ideas that get talked about, that get spread, and that become part of the culture.
Do you feel as though ageism is a problem in the advertising industry?
Age is only a number. Curiosity, boldness and insight don’t depend the year you were born. As long as you keep on learning about new channels, new technologies and new ways of working, you keep growing. A bigger challenge is how to continue to attract the best young talents.
What advertisements do you remember seeing when you were younger that left an impression on you and why do you think they stayed with you?
When I was starting out the US West Coast Agencies, Wieden+Kennedy, Goodby Silverstein & Partners & Chiat Day were making an impact with their authentic approach to brand building. I idolized Jon Steele and wanted to create the Got Milk! Campaign of my own. I also read everything published by Howard Gossage, George Lois and Bill Bernbach. I loved their work, and I worshipped their thinking behind the work. That’s how I became a strategist.
Looking to the future, where do you think the advertisement industry is heading?
Contrary to the doomsayers, I’m confident that agencies have a bright future. The importance of brands will keep growing, they will continue to need bold ideas to grow, and agencies will be a strong, independent force, encouraging them to be bolder.