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5 Minutes with... Ben Clare



The We Are Social ECD speaks with LBB's Delmar Terblanche about the new frontier of online advertising, and how he's been making sense of it

5 Minutes with... Ben Clare

Ben Clare has a classic Aussie smile. It’s broad, relaxed, joyful, and suits the surfing lifestyle he leads. It also belies just what a hard worker he is. 

Over the course of his 15-year career, Ben has done time as a copywriter at J Walter Thompson, a senior creative at Johannes Leonardo New York, and taught at Miami Ad School. Now, he works as an ECD at We Are Social Sydney, where his years of lessons come to bear in a decidedly online framework.

“I got into advertising more or less by accident,” Ben tells me, with uncharacteristic sheepishness.

“I was originally enrolled, or at least I had thought I enrolled, in a commerce degree. It was more or less about appeasing my parents, but I was up for it. But I stuffed up my preferences, and put down advertising at Charles Sturt University. And that's the course I got into, and I never looked back.”

He’s never had much reason to. Ben’s work has won him multiple Gold Lions and Grand Prix, and he’s had the opportunity to apply himself across mediums and continents - but more than that, he loves his job.

“I've always been interested in advertising. I was surrounded by people in the industry, growing up, and now… the fact that you’re engaged in this strategic psychological exercise is fascinating. I mean - who actually knows much is truly intentional, but the whole effort is really something.”

Ben now applies that effort to a daring new context - the online social space.

We caught up to chat about what skills he’s gleaned across his storied career, and how they’re carrying him forward in this brave new world, that has such algorithms in it.

LBB> You’ve mentioned to me that you find We Are Social’s focus on the online world invigorating. What about it excites you?

Ben> Being a socially-focused agency, We Are Social (WAS) has always sat at that intersection of culture and commerce. And I think that convergence has never been more important.

Social media is no longer just a source of inspiration or entertainment, it’s a supercharged culture engine dictating fashion trends, music charts and even markets.

I think nowadays we live our lives in 9:16, and it felt like an amazing opportunity to help shape the next chapter of the Internet. Given its focus on the future, WAS is in a position to be writing the rules of brand marketing for years to come and who wouldn’t want to be onboard for that ride.  

LBB> How does WAS remain so on top of online cultural trends? And how do those trends affect your creative work?

Ben> We have a 1,600-strong global team that’s passionate about all things social. It’s at the core of everything we do - even how we collaborate.

We have an incredibly strong social network between the offices that serves as a place to share everything from emerging trends to inspirational work to how the Sydney office’s Futsal team is still undefeated in its 2022 season. It might seem obvious, but we believe a creative workplace should also be a sociable one.

If you want to truly keep up with the pace of culture however, adhering to journalistic principles can take you a long way. Every single day, our editorial team runs a newsroom to examine the trending stories across gaming, music, sport, entertainment and tech. They know that when it comes to content creation and publishing, the work needs to be audience-centric and agile and the daily editorial check-ins certainly help drive that across the agency.

LBB> You’ve been a copywriter in agencies both big and small for many years. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned along the way, and how do you apply it at WAS?

Ben> My old partner and I used to joke that 99% of all ads go straight to DVD. It might seem like a depressing thought, but it’s a relatively healthy way to keep you in check.

I think as an industry we’re very good at overcomplicating things. Like, it’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of a multi-layered, hyper-local, retargeted ad campaign that’s clearly branded in the first 3 seconds. But not everyone is nearly as interested in what we do as we think they are. Hell, sometimes the only thing people watch is the skip button. Ouch. As platform’s emerge and evolve and technology ushers in new and interesting things, I feel that the work that continues to resonate is the stuff that’s insightful, naturally entertaining, and brutally simple.

A large part of my focus at WAS is ensuring that no matter how or where people digest stuff, it’s just got to be constantly moving and emotive and powerful to break through the clutter that fills our feeds.

LBB> How has your experience in different non-digital mediums influenced your approach to WAS’s online work?

Ben> I try and resist labels, but I’ve always danced between what others label as traditional and digital.

I think online or offline – it doesn't matter – the end goal is still the same, to create ideas worth talking about. That’s got to be the starting point; figure out how to make something relevant, timely and reactive to culture and go from there. And importantly, keep it single-minded.

When you consider the creative process, crafting something for OOH requires you to distil a message down to a single, succinct, powerful expression. The best social campaigns do the same. People forget that Nike’s ‘Dream Crazy’ campaign starring Colin Kaepernick began as a tweet.

LBB> What’s your process and methodology for approaching a client brief and in campaign development?

Ben> I’d love to say there is a uniform approach, but it tends to be different for every brief. Some ideas come to you in 5 minutes. Others in 5 days.

Most often, the process starts with a bit of a hunch, and a little real-world experience. Fortunately, I’ve had some incredible creative partners over my career. At Johannes Leonardo and at BBDO, I worked in a writer-writer team. It was pretty unusual back then. Probably still is.

But I always find that collaborating, or at least teasing your approach to the brief with a kick-off session, yields a stronger work dynamic, and a bit of a north star to aim for. Often I’ll talk to people who don’t work in the industry and try to understand the barriers you might need to overcome from their perspective. My wife - a former Paramedic – has zero tolerance for bullshit, and is surprisingly brilliant (as she is brutal) at assessing ideas. It can be a helpful place to start.

LBB> What are the trends you have noticed in client briefs and in expectations for campaigns?

Ben> Over the last few years, platforms like YouTube, Instagram and TikTok have given rise to the creator economy; talented, trustworthy people whose content focuses on everything from parenting to world affairs, and cooking to sport and just about everything in between. 

And as the creator economy continues to mature and expand, it’s pushing brands to rethink how it can play into their overall marketing strategy. I’d say more and more, we’re being asked to advise on how to manage a more collaborative creative process between brands and creators, as well as helping find the right creators that fit the brand, the audience or objectives.

LBB> What are the most common misconceptions about advertising in online spaces? What would you like to change?

Ben> One thing that’s hard to get your head around is that the landscape changes every day. What worked yesterday mightn’t work next week. You can’t just stick with what you know, you’ve got to be prepared to adjust quickly.

One of the other misconceptions I find a lot of brands have is that when it’s made for mobile, production values don’t matter as much. I get it. The desire to be always on and to populate various owned channels has resulted in a tonne of branded content being published. But the sheer volume of it stretches even the healthiest of brand budgets. And in the online space, there’s a fine line between amateur and awesome.

It’s not to say that high production values are the be-all and end-all. (Good) lo-fi content reflects the native content people come to social channels to watch, and it lets you to jump on trends and topics fast. But less focus on production and editing means your story, writing and creativity needs to do the heavy lifting. You can’t skimp on both.

LBB> In WAS’s campaigns for and in online spaces like TikTok or Rocket League, you seem to place a lot of emphasis on understanding the culture of the space you’re operating in. How do you get to know those cultures, and what type of knowledge proves the most useful?

Ben> Keeping up with the speed of culture is never the job of one person. It’s impossible. For the most part, our editorial and creative teams draw from our global network of offices to find insights to help inspire our work.

For instance we have dedicated gaming squads around the network whose expertise in the gaming and esports space allow us to understand the intricacies of their communities: where they play, how they engage with one another and where brands can add value to their lives. WAS is full of so many diverse perspectives and skillsets, it’s incredibly valuable just having a conversation with someone 

LBB> What is the most significant campaign for you and why?

Ben> I’ve worked on so many rewarding campaigns over the years, but the one that always holds most significance is Project Re:Brief for Google, in which we reimagined history’s best advertising for the digital age.

Despite years of innovation, display ads at the time were still perceived as a second-tier of creative work. Our brief from Google was to inspire a new generation of creative people that they could be used to entertain and make exceptionally engaging work. Getting the industry’s attention was one challenge, but getting them to reassess the potential of the medium was another entirely.

We thought, could advertising’s biggest ideas fit into the smallest of ad spaces?

To put that theory to the test, we partnered with Paula Green, Harvey Gabor, Howie Cohen, Bob Pasqualina, and Amil Gargano, the creative minds behind Avis’ ‘We try harder’, Coca-Cola’s ‘I’d like to buy the world a coke,’ Alka-Seltzer’s ‘I can’t believe I ate the whole thing’ and Volvo’s ‘Drive it like you hate it’ to re-imagine their iconic advertising campaigns for a medium they knew almost nothing about: the web.

It felt like an approach straight out of a heist film, persuading this team of veteran safe crackers to come out of retirement for one last job. Emmy-award winning filmmaker Doug Pray stepped in to capture the creative experiment on film. Not only did we get to work with five of the original Mad Men (and women - Paula Green was the inspiration for Peggy), we got to star in a documentary. But the best moment of all was winning the inaugural Mobile Grand Prix at Cannes and seeing Harvey Gabor take the stage to receive the accolades. At 78 years of age, I’d say he’s still the oldest creative to ever win a Lion.

LBB> What is the most successful campaign for you and why?

Ben> Perhaps one of the most successful campaigns I’ve ever worked on was Google’s Demo Slam - for its transformative effect on the business.  

At the time, when people thought Google, they thought ‘search’. However, Google was constantly innovating and bringing exciting new technologies to the world. The problem was people didn't know about these advances, and even if they did, they didn't understand the role this technology could play in their lives.

Instead of making standard tech demos to show off Google’s products, we created "Demo Slam" and got creatives, celebrities, athletes, and ordinary people to explain them in extraordinary ways. Tech demos were pitted against another until the world was informed and entertained. Throughout the campaign, we got the world to watch the equivalent of 17 years’ worth of tech demos. It was seismic.

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We Are Social Australia, Wed, 05 Oct 2022 08:26:03 GMT