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5 minutes with...

5 Minutes with… Toygar Bazarkaya

LBB Editorial, 1 week, 3 days ago

CCO of Omnicom’s McDonald’s agency We Are Unlimited on the future of agencies, going unbranded for the world’s biggest brand… and *that* Michael Keaton movie

5 Minutes with… Toygar Bazarkaya

So. Imagine the situation. You’re working on the biggest brand on the planet. And you decide to launch a campaign that goes out of its way to pixelate, bleep out and otherwise censor that very brand. And it’s so plugged into its audience that it totally works. That’s the kind of surprising work that’s coming out of We Are Unlimited, the brand new agency built from Omnicom Group’s star talent. Drawing from DDB, BBDO, OMD, Sparks & Honey, Critical Mass and more, it’s a new approach to working with clients – and one that raised quizzical eyebrows across the industry when it was launched in November 2016.

In April, Toygar Bazarkaya joined We Are Unlimited as Chief Creative Officer and, well, he’s lovin’ it. Acutely aware of the challenges that traditional agencies face, and the struggle of clients trying to juggle multiple specialist agencies, Toygar reckons We Are Unlimited solves a lot of problems. As a top creative mind, you can also tell that he’s energised by the sparks and fizz that come from bringing together wildly different disciplines. Following major roles at BBDO (where he was CCO for BBDO Germany and ECD at BBDO NY) and Havas Worldwide (CCO for the Americas), We Are Unlimited is a very different prospect, with more varied challenges and more equitable client relationship.

LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Togyar to learn more…


LBB> What was it about the prospect of We Are Unlimited that so appealed to you?

TG> When you’re in the business for a certain time, you start studying creativity and you start to get better at it. Then, after that, you become a student of agencies too. The agencies you are in are either enabling or hindering the creative product. Over the last decade, things have become more complex. 

In 2007 I was made CCO for the first time, running BBDO in Germany. At that time I started to put the ‘perfect agency’ together in my mind. And when I started to understand what We Are Unlimited was all about, it mapped exactly against what I think an agency needs to be. I thought, ‘oh my God, this isn’t a dream’. It is hard and complex but it is, in my mind, the way an agency should be built.


LBB> And how does it compare to the traditional agency set up? 

TG> To understand, I have to step back a little bit. The world was simpler back in the Bernbach days. Creative and media was together and to take care of a client holistically you just had print, radio and TV. At some point they split the creative from the media. Then the digital revolution came and traditional agencies couldn’t keep up, so digital agencies spring up. So now I’ve got three agencies looking after my campaign. And now we have data and social and VR… The client can coordinate up to eight agencies. In the year 2017, as a client, you can have nine best in class agencies and you’ve got to be in the position of coordinating that. The agencies have a different view, they are trying to steal business from each other, so there’s that dynamic to deal with too.

And then there are agencies in 2017 that are saying they can deliver everything out of one hand. That’s the perfect scenario, but when you look under the hood of most of them, it’s almost impossible. The best creatives want to go to the best creative agency, the best media people want to go to the best media agency, the best data people want to go to the best data agency. There is not one agency that is best in class for creative, media, data, and digital. Yes, you find a lot of agencies that have a lot to offer, and they can do it all in an ‘ok’ way. 

The client thinks, ‘I can get everything from one place and it’s just ok, or I can get best in class across the board, but it’s complicated’. The genius of this agency, what Omnicom have done, is that they have taken those eight or nine agencies that are best in class and which our clients would normally like and we’re going to get an all-star team together to create a new agency. We Are Unlimited is the best people from those agencies who are coming together for one cause, one ambition – to make McDonald’s exciting and relevant and efficient and all of that. 

The genius of it is, for example, you can have a media person who has been working at Unlimited for two years, they’ve enjoyed it but they want to move on… they can continue their career path at the media agency. Talent itself is the most important asset that we have. The best people want to have a career path that enables them to be great at what they do – and therefore you want to work in an environment that is best in its class, which in this case is OMD. And you can work for Unlimited, be part of the team but you know, in the back of your head, you can continue your career path with OMD. That allows us to tap into the best talent.


LBB> I guess bringing all those different skills together allows you to approach clients’ problems in a more flexible way?

TG> Absolutely. Within the short period of time I’ve been there, I can tell you that it’s enabling us to be more insightful, in the right way. For example, someone can have a thought or a direction and we can kill it in an instant. Someone can raise their hand and say, ‘this sounds great, it makes a lot of sense, but it’s just not true’. Oftentimes, where marketing fails, is when it’s based on false estimates or it’s true just for a small portion of our audience. That makes life so much easier. It doesn’t make the work easier though! Doing great work means hiring great people and working hard.

Right now, you can walk through the agency and see what the retail team are designing in the retail. If I’ve got a question about retail or in-store, I can get an answer from someone who is responsible. If I do it in any other set up, I don’t know those people because they work for a different organisation and report straight to the client. It opens a lot of doors, there’s a lot of inspiration and it allows you to get to know the client much, much better. 


LBB> Are you finding the kind of relationship you can have with the client and the kind of conversations you’re able to have are fundamentally different? 

TG> Not fundamentally… but it is different. When you are in an agency, it makes the client’s business your business. When you care and you want to understand and succeed together, that’s always a partnership. But this allows us to understand the business of our client much, much better. Therefore, you are enabled to be a better partner. That is a dramatic change in your relationship because suddenly you have much more knowledge and it evolves into an equal relationship between partners. That’s always the best relationship to have. That is not fundamentally different because we’re still in the business we’re in… but it is dramatically different.

Unlimited was designed by Omnicom to answer ‘asks’; McDonald’s appreciated that and chose it… and that makes for a relationship that really feels like you are in it together. 


LBB> Moving onto the work, I found the unbranded Mindy Kaling video funny – it’s quite ballsy and subversive to play with the concept of ‘unbranded’ content in such a way for one of the biggest brands on the planet. What was the strategic thinking behind it?

TG> To be honest, those things happen organically. To suggest an unbranded campaign to a client is kind of counter-intuitive, but this was not just about us hoping that it would work. We had enough proof there that it would work, so it was a very calculated risk. In fact, it was actually not really a risk. 

Our team found that when you Google ‘where does Coke taste so good?’, Google spits out, organically, McDonald’s. Pages and pages of McDonald’s, McDonald’s, McDonald’s. That is striking. You know that there is a truth here which is based on consumer insights. People love the Coke at McDonald’s. There is a myth around this that it tastes different. Knowing that and knowing our consumer behaviour around second screens, we knew that there was no other way that it was going to work.  

LBB> And why was Mindy Kaling the person that you landed on? I thought she was an interesting choice because she’s smart and funny and authentic but maybe unexpected?

TG> When you Google her, you’ll find an interview from a few years ago which is all about her eating at McDonald’s. That was nothing to do with McDonald’s, she wasn’t on the payroll, but it was authentic. Even the choice of the person we use becomes important because people know that she said that without getting money because she just loves McDonald’s. It all just makes the case stronger.

LBB> The other piece of work is the Big Mac for That. It had a very youthful vibe – is that approach something you’re hoping to develop further?

TG> I think in general, that is not only about the marketing but new leadership on every side of the table. There’s confidence. When McDonald’s was at its best, it had a confidence in itself and almost a swagger. That might have gotten lost over the years. It’s an iconic brand and people love it and you want the brand to be at its best. 

We are finding that sweet spot in the personality of the brand; there’s a confidence and an attitude, but I always think of McDonald’s as something that’s not trying to be something it’s not. And looking at the unbranded campaign, that’s confident. 

I’ve just started and I’ve been looking at the historical reel too and that is an amazing archive of best in class work. Every time you see it, it makes you feel something and it is so McDonald’s.


LBB> Talking of the history, I’ve got to ask: did you watch the Michael Keaton movie The Founder? And what did you make of it? 

TG> It’s funny that the movie just came out as I joined. The timing was amazing. With movies, you know it’s based on a real story but we know it might have been a little different in terms of the nuances and personality and relationships he had. 

Just watching it was amazing. You’re working on a brand that is so much part of the American culture that there was a movie made about it. That’s amazing! What brands can say that? 

The first thing I did after watching it was have a McDonald’s!


LBB> They probably ramped things up for the cinematic narrative and it was certainly not a sugar-coated whitewash of the brand, but because it had that kernel of truth, it doesn’t seem to have had a negative impact on the brand! And anecdotally, I heard a lot of people did what you did and went straight for a Big Mac after watching the movie!

TG> It’s interesting. This is my personal perspective: I don’t think it was negative or positive. There are parts that make you really impressed, there are parts that make you question whether he was a kind, good person. But you can say the same about Steve Jobs. How was he as a person? That stuff is still fiction for me because you’ll never know unless you met the guy, but it’s amazing to have a personality like that as part of your brand heritage.


LBB> Moving back to the agency side of things. I’m curious about how you work with the creative teams to keep them motivated and inspired? 

TG> The whole set up for us right now is that we are exclusive to McDonald’s for the first year, but in the future it’s part of the whole set up that this agency will open up to other clients.

From my experience – and I was running P&G for BBDO – I don’t think we’re going to have trouble being engaged, focused at all. It is such a diverse and awesome business that gives you different briefs, different challenges. It has the biggest stages to perform on. I’m not worried at all! 

I might be worried if it was set up for just McDonald’s for ever and ever, because then you might see burnout rate and see a complete turnover in three years. But the briefs we’re getting, what we’re producing, the challenges and platforms we’re working on are amazing. If you ask creatives around the world, they talk about having a great brand, a great client and then actually producing work? A lot of brands aren’t really producing very much. At the end of the day, it’s quite practical. They want a great portfolio and they want to progress in their career. Everything is in place here to succeed.


LBB> I’d love to chat to you about your own career and one question I love to ask is whether there was any advice you received at the beginning of your career, or insight you picked up along the way that really helped you? Or a piece of advice that you never got at the start and you wish you had?

TG> When you think you’re done, pretend that you’re starting over. At my very first job, when we would show our work to the Head of Design or Creative Director, we would show six ideas. At the second agency I went to, I did the same thing on my first job. I went in with six ideas and everyone else had 12! We didn’t have much more time at the second agency! I was like, ‘holy crap, what’s going on here? We’re like a couple of amateurs!’ 

Some creatives are lucky to be in an environment where they learn in the right way. The more ideas we have, the better. A lot of people don’t understand that, but the quality actually gets better with the amount of work you put in. If I’m at any agency and I’m leading a team and looking at the pool of ideas, the first thing I ask myself is, ‘what if we can beat it?’ It’s about that sense of not being satisfied and working your heart out. That’s my advice. Ideas are unlimited! 

It's funny, I know our agency is called ‘Unlimited’, but it’s true! It’s not like there’s a bucket of ideas and you can completely empty it. It’s like going to the gym. The more you do, the better you get at it.


LBB> So you started your career in Germany but you’ve also worked in Sao Paolo and, of course, New York – and most recently in global roles. Has that global experience, working across various creative cultures, informed your approach? 

TG> At times yes. But one thing that I love is the collaboration. If I was running global business, I’d be working with creative teams around the world and different creative directors. 

I went to the Academy of Fine Arts and started my career in Germany but one thing I’ve learnt is that there’s awesome talent no matter what country you’re in. That has given me a certain sense of respect for how people go about things – there isn’t one way to do great work and be awesome. There are different ways and that realisation is good as well. 

The award shows are the short hand for that; when you see the work that wins at Cannes, it’s from all sorts of countries, big agencies, small agencies. There is not one way. I think that’s cool. 


LBB> Do you go back to Germany often? You were born in Turkey but grew up there – is that the place that feels like home?

TG> I grew up in Germany, I learned my craft there, I went to the Academy of Fine Arts there. I had my first job there. I try to go back to Germany to judge the German ADC awards every year. 

I have a lot of friends there and extremely talented people I respect. To be honest when I’m judging the One Show or other shows, when I see the German work, even if I don’t know the agency or people, I get a little smile on my face. The talent in Germany is amazing. And what I do like is that compared with France and Paris or the UK and London is that the industry is spread out over the whole country. Berlin, Dusseldorf, Hamburg – you can find great agencies all over the country. It’s a little bit like the US though – you’ve got New York and LA, but then there’s Chicago and Boston and Boulder and Minneapolis and all these other cities. 


LBB> Outside of advertising what are you into? What recharges your creative batteries?

TG> I have seven-year-old twin girls, so on the weekend I saw Captain Underpants! They take me outside of my work. It’s the most beautiful distraction. 

I was always into the arts; although it’s close to my work it’s also very different. When you think of photography, the arts in general, when I was young I went to every museum imaginable around Europe. It was always my passion. But right now, my kids are great fun.


LBB> What’s the most exciting thing about the industry right now? And the most frustrating?

TG> In terms of frustrations, there’s nothing because I feel like now I’m in a home that eliminates all the frustrations that I felt. We should be building the agency and finding a new way of working and creating a blueprint for how agencies can be in the future. 

What excites me, to be honest, is artificial intelligence. I was fortunate to be able to work very closely for a year-and-a-half with a very great talent in the field. It’s a tool that I feel that we will soon use in the industry just as we use other tools. Once we’ve made it our own and applied it to express our creative ideas I think there will be a renaissance.

There are also some people – not a lot – who are making data useful for the creative process. Data itself is useful for your business, it feeds into strategy and insight, but the next step is data that can inform and give insight to the creative process. That’s what we’re getting to. Everything we do through our creative process will, in the end, be more relevant, though not necessarily better. You can’t underappreciate it, you can’t over-appreciate it. You have to understand what value it has, and what value it doesn’t have. 

We are lucky to be working in an industry where you learn something new everyday.


LBB> And we’re coming up to Cannes – is there anything in particular you’re looking forward to? What do you think will be the big talking points of the week?

TG> I think Cannes is a level-setting moment. It’s humbling to see great work there and it gives you perspective. You come out of it inspired and energised and full of ambition. You want to do well, of course, but however well you do, you come out of it knowing that this industry can do outstanding work with your client.