Chris Garbutt
Chris Garbutt

Advertising generated in SA will continue to increase its global footprint, says Chris Garbutt, global chief creative officer at TBWA\Worldwide. And he should know, having spent his formative years in the business at TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris as an art director before taking on the bigger job, succeeding another South African, John Hunt.

Garbutt was in SA for a fleeting visit and, speaking to the FM, said that as brand building became more difficult and more competitive in a continually fragmenting world, ethics would become the new currency.

"Brands that understand human needs [and] societal tensions and have real empathy will inevitably set themselves apart."

To that end, he said, SA’s deeply divided past and challenging present give ad agencies something real and visceral to work with, suggesting that South Africans understand "humanity" better than anyone else, and that often shines through in the advertising work the country produces.

Garbutt believes that in a world of US President Donald Trump people are longing for an uplifting message. "Brands need to consider their role in pulling the world forward in a good way.

"That has become the bigger purpose of advertising in this time."

He also shares the view that "advertising" and "agency" are outdated concepts.

"It’s true that in many respects advertising has got a bad name and that we’re now in competition with the big business consultancies.

"We are learning to act more like that, where we can partner with in-house agencies."

TBWA\Worldwide, he said, has built its reputation on the concept of disruption — overturning market and cultural conventions. He conceded that this thinking has become more challenging in a real-time social media environment in which audiences have become more fragmented.

To that end the group now relies on a tool called Disruption Live, which entails listening to what consumers are saying through sharp data analysis. That leads to a practice called trigger briefings, where conversation is linked to a brand’s purpose.

Garbutt talked about brands "connecting with audiences at the speed of culture", which this work practice is designed to do, often with a turnaround time of less than 24 hours.

Unlike industry naysayers, he is upbeat about using traditional media delivery platforms like TV and outdoor. The challenge for brands is to understand "the power of convergence" and how one idea can work across multiple mediums. The new dictum is to enable consumers to experience the brand in their everyday lives across multiple touch points.

Apple, for example, holds workshops and brings speakers into stores to give customers an immersive experience.

Garbutt believes brands now compete with the likes of Netflix for eyeballs and it has become harder to target prime-time audiences.

So brands have to create content that is relevant and engaging.