On a sunny day, preceding the Diversity Event organized by several members of the industry, I sit down with Kyra Roest and Nathalie Lam at a terrace on the Waterlooplein. Lam, head of global sponsoring and responsible for the partnership portfolio at Philips Global, is one of the keynote speakers. Both also play a role during the Epica Awards, with Roest as the organizer and Lam attending the round table sessions as a participating advertiser. These round table sessions will be the highlight of the event at the Royal Tropical Institute on November 15th.
The Epica Awards have returned to Amsterdam, following a brief interlude in Berlin. As Ambassador of the Embassy Dutch Creativity, Roest intends to put the Dutch creative industry on the international map and the Epica Awards are well suited to this endeavor. The Epica is the only creative prize awarded by journalists working for over 200 marketing and communications magazines around the world.
Round table sessions
The round tables are a new thing, says Roest. And this set-up is there for a reason. “First of all, Epica always hosts a conference prior to the award show, featuring several keynote speakers who hold court on a stage all day. The audience, however, is mostly looking at their phone instead of listening to the speakers, and it’s not until lunch or drinks later on in the day that they wake up. I think that’s a shame. Secondly, Epica will be awarding the Responsibility Award for the first time ever in close collaboration with ACT Responsible. This organization was founded after 9/11 to demonstrate that everyone in the industry has a voice and a responsibility. There’s also a connection with the United Nations. This resulted in this year’s theme: ‘Will responsibility (eventually) kill creativity?’.”
What was the general response to this theme? Roest: “I just got a message from the EASA, the Brussels’ branch for self-regulation, who want to participate because they feel this is a good initiative. While I was doing the rounds with the advertisers, many of them often asked if I’d happened to read their annual plans, because everyone has to put this on the agenda. Meaning everyone is working on it.”
The Epica’s program is set up so there’s an introduction in the morning with three keynote speakers. Roest: “This is meant to wake up the brain a bit and to give the audience several examples. This will be followed by round table sessions, before and after the lunch break, and I expect people will really sink their teeth into it. There’s a nicely varied group of people at the tables, from CMOs and creatives to journalists and scientists. In the early evening, all findings are shared with all attendees. Based on these highlights and findings, the industry will create a manifesto, which the Epica Press Club will pass on to more than 200 journalists within our field.”
Nathalie Lam at the Diversity Event in Amsterdam, at the beginning of October.
Diversity and inclusion
What is Lam’s role here? She explains it’s important to her to think about this theme as Philips, as the organization. “At Philips we’re very focused on the theme inclusiveness and diversity, in every area. We’ve been a Pride sponsor for three years now. It’s quite a unique partnership because it can also be a very sensitive one. The LGBT community is treated very differently in the Netherlands, compared to other countries. The challenge here is to activate the sponsorship from a global perspective without insulting people.”
At the same time, Lam feels that, as a brand, you have to take a stand. “In our first and second year as Pride sponsor we were very focused on this community. Our theme was ‘Life is better when #you are you’. It’s very important to remember that selling the product is not the goal here. For us it’s a matter of social importance, and an internal matter – to show that we think inclusiveness and diversity are extremely important. It’s rewarding to see the difference we’ve made within our own organization. For example, one of our employees recently came out because we were sponsoring the Pride as an organization. He told us he wouldn’t have had the nerve to do this if it weren’t for our Pride sponsorship. So, Pride is one matter, but we also consider other themes that suit our organization. At the same time, I really hope the diversity discussion will be irrelevant in ten years.”
Good and not-as-good purpose campaigns
Regarding this theme; is there a surplus of ‘good’ advertising? A lot of brands are trying to distinguish themselves through purpose marketing, but it’s necessary to see just how authentic this is, says Lam. “Does it suit your own brand experience? It can quickly look like you’re linking your brand to something for the sake of a logo instead of for intrinsic reasons.” Roest adds: “Just do a quick Google search to see how many organizations are partnered with the Ocean Clean-up. Is that still a strong statement? Can you maintain that? According to scientists you can clean the ocean just by tackling that one dirty river in India that is responsible for 90% of all pollution. However, scientist aren’t marketeers like we are.” She smiles, “I’m seeing a great cross-over here.”
Lam: “I definitely believe in cross-overs like that, because it also provides you with other insights. If you were to put such a scientist at the table, like we’re doing at the Epica round tables, you’ll get information we wouldn’t necessarily think of because we don’t have that knowledge.” There are also examples of purpose campaigns that are completely overshooting the mark. Roest mentions the banking industry. “Rabobank and ABN Amro talk about the future in their campaigns and about how we should treat the earth better. Rabobank states they’re going to tackle the worldwide food problem and ABN Amro speaks of the ‘Finance the Future’. The feedback from people in our industry shows that this message isn’t necessarily accepted well. The chatter on social media is also along the lines of ‘have they completely lost their minds?’”
Kyra Roest, Adbusiness. Amsterdam
Lam: “If you’d discussed this communication strategy at the round tables, with all that knowledge around one table, you might have reached a different conclusion. At the same time, you could also say: It’s great that this subject is being discussed at all and that people are acting on it. There are still plenty of people out there who don’t realize its importance. Roest: “That’s tricky one. Sometimes I watch ‘the voice of the people’ on Hart van Nederland and just recently the topic was Unox’ vegetarian sausage. The question, ‘Would people consider becoming a vegetarian for the sake of the environment and the bio-industry?’ It showed that 50% of the viewers would consider eating less meat. Perhaps we should assess this more often.”
Lam: “But everyone has a positive connotation with the Unox smoked sausage. I think you’re more likely to try their veggie sausage because it incites that positive feeling. People might be more hesitant when it’s a less well-known brand.” Roest again: “But Unox doesn’t literally say, “buy this sausage because it’s better for the bio-industry (or against it)” in their campaign. Shouldn’t you look closer at the marketing and your product development, instead of presenting it on such a wide scale? The ‘Marietje’ commercial by KPN shows a man on stage talking about ‘sustainability’. It has nothing to do with the actual message of the commercial, it’s a subtle add-on. They’re not claiming they want to become the greenest provider.”
Finally, Lam would like to appeal to other brands to join the discussion. “As a brand you often get stuck in your own bubble. Epica will provide you with insights you wouldn’t necessarily get otherwise. That’s why I don’t see this event as a ‘one off’, but as the ‘start of’.
Photo credit Epica: Bibian Bingen