We had the opportunity to sit down with Dipti Bramhandkar, Executive Strategy Director at Iris, to discuss how our dynamically-shifting culture has reshaped the relationship between brands and their audiences, and how learning to balance the importance of lived experience with the potential of new technologies can help us evolve in new ways.
Tell us about your role and how long you been working in the world of advertising.
I’m an Executive Strategy Director at Iris Worldwide and have the great pleasure of leading the Integrated Strategy team in North America. I’ve spent 21 exciting years as a strategy leader in New York and London at agencies such as BBDO, McCann Erickson, and Saatchi & Saatchi, as well as running my own strategy consultancy.
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?
The relationship between brands and their intended audiences is more dynamic than ever and the industry continues to reshape itself around new behaviors. Before social media, feedback on campaigns was picked up in conversations at the office or brand trackers three months later. Real time feedback from audiences on what brands are doing allows the opportunity to pivot quickly. The good thing about this is that brands are more sensitive to culture, but also exposed to negative commentary which may not always be directional. There’s more focus on getting people to take an immediate action – a click, share, etc. – versus leaving a lasting impression. Twenty years ago, ad agencies liked and felt comfortable with being (and being called) ad agencies. Now, they’d like to be known as something else – consultancies, digital transformers, and more – to allow for their true specialisms and expertise to get out from under the baggage of the past.
What were some aspects or qualities about ads from the past that you feel modern advertising could benefit from adopting?
Originality. Great writing. Specificity. Fearlessness. Although there are always exceptions to the rule, a lot of advertising these days feels and looks like…advertising. As the lines between entertainment and branded content blur, agencies’ creative ideas need to do more to break out of the vast and ever-changing content soup! One let down is in copywriting: from simple headlines to longer copy, writing in advertising often lacks the insight, wit and visceral punch of work from the past.
Was the work approached differently or have the methods remained the same?
Both! We do tend to work a lot faster these days, asking creative teams to come up with ideas on short timelines. We spend more time thinking about how to test and learn in market versus investing time in long development processes. Looking at brands as living organisms that move and respond to real time market conditions means that we have many more touchpoints to consider when developing work. The data we have available to us allows us to monitor effectiveness better. However, getting to a great concept is still as difficult as ever and requires a strong creative strategy and a great partnership between a strategist and a creative team. Finally, I’m very happy that diversity, equity and inclusion is no longer a ‘nice to have’ but a vital part of the work; this applies to how and who creates the work and what the work represents when it’s in the world.
Do you feel as though ageism is a problem in the advertising industry?
Ageism is a problem in many industries. In our industry, it comes down to mistakenly associating the next “shiny new thing” only with younger generations. We always want to be at the edge of what’s coming next. However, inspirational ideas, experiences, technologies and philosophies aren’t just the territory of Gen Z and younger. The assumption that young people are always plugged into what’s happening around them is simply not true. In addition, the idea that older people are stuck in the past and are unwilling to change is also a stereotype. I’m a big believer in diversity of thought including people of many different generations and experience levels. The alchemy between deep experience and no experience can be highly creative when cultivated.
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?
I started my career at a time when character driven campaigns were a big thing. The golden age of broadcast advertising had ended, but the early days of the internet allowed for a really interesting period of time that helped serve up Burger King’s Subservient Chicken, the PC vs. Mac ads, the iPods illustrated dancing campaign, and more. The rise of purpose driven work like Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty demonstrated the potential of CSR to make a real impact on behavior.
Looking to the future, where do you think the advertisement industry is heading?
Let’s take the glass half full answer for this question! In the future, I’d like to think that the advertising industry will be a radically inclusive place that has moved beyond the caricatures and outdated traditions of the early days. Agencies will reshape to accommodate the expectations and movements of new generations while retaining agility and creativity. Brands will find more symbiotic ways to live amongst and for their audiences, offering more utility and transparency than ever before. Sustainability will be a core value for agencies and companies; this will be activated through employee value propositions and their work. Finally, we will learn to balance the importance of lived experience with the potential of new technologies without putting either at risk of being ignored.