17. Eric Holden, Executive Creative Director for TBWA

Executive Creative Director for TBWA and co-author of 30 ans de publicité Volkswagon, Eric Holden has +30 years experience motivating and guiding creative teams through every stage in the campaign creation process from the brief to the campaign.

How does your job fit into the marketing process? My job consists of guiding the creative process and making the important decisions through every stage in the campaign creation process.

Guiding the creative process. I motivate and guide the ideas of our +40 creatives in our agency throughout the advertising campaign creative process from start to finish.

Every advertising campaign begins with a question – the problem that the advertising campaign has to solve. It’s the responsibility of the account manager to come back from the brief with the exact problem and question of the client. Having the right question saves a lot of time in the creative process. Once you have the right question, coming up with the right answer is very simple, it’s communication. All work begins in a spark. Whether you want to burn down an entire city or the whole world – it all begins with a spark.

I’m with the creative team when they receive the question to kickstart the campaign brainstorming. I might offer ideas as to what I think the client is looking for as well as a particular way to solve the problem. Sometimes I let the creatives come up with several answers to the question and then I choose the best. It all depends on the experience of the creatives. If they’re senior and experienced, I can give them more freedom than if they’re juniors. Younger and inexperienced creatives tend to need more instruction and guidance.

It’s always risky to give creatives too many examples and too much instruction because, the younger they are, the more persuadable they can be. It’s more interesting as a creative director to give the brief to a senior team because they’ll come up with extremely unusual and improbable answers. That’s how we operated to when I was a creative with Rémi Noel.

The client’s goal is almost always the same:

  • How to show my  product/service is the most technologically-advanced?
  • How to show my  product/service is the best quality?
  • How to show my product/service has the best return-on-investment?
  • Etc.

The client’s goal is almost always the same, that’s why their question needs to be so sharp. Advertising shows the answer to the same question, but the answer is different for each client. However it is possible to have a marvelous question but there isn’t a creative answer for it – it is possible that the question is so sharp that you’ll have a small answer.

TBWA is a disruption agency.There is the conventional way of thinking and there is disruption. Jean Marie Dru created disruption marketing. He gave a tool to clients to understand why we need to be creative. If were doing the same ads as other client, it doesn’t work. You need to be different.

Because a successful advertising campaign always begins with the right question from the onset, my job is to always be at the limit of the misconception and push it in the right direction. “You’re feeling one part of the brief, but not the complete idea.” I sometimes have to tell the juniors to keep their idea longer because it’s not ready yet.

With each question you can have +1,000 answers. With experienced senior creatives I can ask for 1-3 answers. With inexperienced juniors I might ask for 10 answers.

Making the important decisions. I’m involved in every stage of the advertising campaign. I help choose the photographer and model(s), I even act as a director during the editing of the film, photos, and/or music, etc. I’m just like the bear in the Canal+ commercial:

What’s a campaign you’ve worked on?

What’s a misconception clients commonly have about the industry? It depends on the people. Sometimes you have someone who isn’t used to working in communication – A person educated and with a strong background in engineering or banking, for example, but for a reason I don’t know they move into advertising. Of course the person is not at ease. What makes the difference is “Does this person have enough sensibility, and is this person able enough to think like a consumer?”

For an advertising campaign to be successful, you have to be able to think like the consumer in front of the TV (or wherever it is your advertising appears). The problem is that the person client-side in charge of the big brand may have too much stuff in their head to be able think clearly and dispassionately – it’s next to impossible to think like the consumer in front of the TV with all that in your head.

It is for this reason why advertising agencies tend not to send their creatives directly to the client – because the creatives would lose their purity. The creatives job isn’t to find the answer for the client, but for the client’s consumer. You must keep the creatives and the client separate in order to find the right answers for the consumer, not for the client.

A client might say ‘I don’t like your idea.’ I understand you don’t like our idea and I respect that, but that’s not part of the answer.

What’s an important lesson you’ve learned from experience? You’re never creative enough.

Another lesson I’ve learned is that the consumer is more clever and open-minded than you would believe. When I was young I always thought, this idea is perfect for the problem but the client will never accept it, even if it solves the problem for the consumer. As a creative, I’m more interested in the consumer than the client because my job is to increase my client’s sales. Often times I’ll hear the client say “I was looking for another campaigan idea, but your’s increased sales, so I’m happy.”

Where to you go for ideas/inspiration? Everywhere. Keep your eyes open and be curious. Being an executive creative director is different from being a creative because director’s are farther away from the creative process and have more administrative responsibilities. When you’re further away from the campaign you manage many briefs at same time with many questions, and you must have the client in mind. But as a creative you’re only concerned with your one brief.

Watch feature films, read comic books, visit expositions – eat everything up! You have to train your eye and your brain. You might see something that means nothing to a problem directly, but it opens something in your brain. The brain is a muscle. The more you give it, the more back it gives you. You have to feed it with everything! Everything is interesting. Eat less advertising than other stuff.

Advice for someone who wants to do your job : Work, work, work. If you work 8 hours on a brief, you’ll have 8 hours of ideas. If there’s another team working on same brief for 24 hours, they’ll have improbable ideas. It’s the difference between a lamb cooked for only 3 hours versus a lamb cooked for 9 hours.

But you have to keep simplicity and never lose the scope of the question. If you work 24 hours you could lose the question you’re trying to answer.

What’s your favorite ad campaign? I love the hundreds of old Bill Bernbach print ads done for Volkeswagen such as:

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With this campaign there was always humor, and when your funny, consumers love you.

I have a small advertising budget, any advice? I think you have to get the best idea/product in your industry that can replace communication. If your product/service is unbelievable, consumers will talk about it. Marketing done is important, but marketing done by real clients is the best form of marketing.

Come up with creative ideas for marketing, not communication. First make best product. Second make best idea on the product. You have to be connected with the people (your consumers) by asking a lot of questions. Communication is totally natural. You ask a question and you receive good or bad answers – but it’s all free!

Take, for example, the creation of orange juice in 1908. Albert Lascar said the answer was marketing. Lascar once had a guy in his office who was responsible for oranges in California. ”I’ve got a problem. Everyone in California is eating 1-2 oranges/day and I’ve many oranges to sell.” Lascar told the man to sell oranges as orange juice. He only created juice and it sold!

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