The following is an interview by Little Black Book Online, with Michael. Ironically, he left Havas shortly after this interview for the very same reasons described here.
LBBO: Do you think your varied career as a DJ, punk singer and creative strategist has helped you gain the necessary insight needed to become a director of experience in adland?
Michael: "Creative strategist" sounds a bit douchey, right? Anyway, to indirectly answer the question, it’s been a winding path, I actually started out as a psych major prepping for medical school. Imagine me as your psychiatrist? What a laugh.
At the time, I was drawing comic books to pay the bills so I dropped med school to pursue art. That led to some really fun, hazy years of madness, until I discovered the Internet rage.
I started my first company in ’92. We were an “interactive advertising agency,” designing banners, microsites, websites—the usual. I’d always been interested in human behaviour, so the whole advertising thing was interesting, but realised soon enough that marketing nonsense always gets in the way. So while my team was doing the day-to-day ad stuff, I directed my attention to the more interesting “why” and “how” questions.
I asked questions like, “How do you help a single mom, with two kids, who works 80 hours a week to make sure there are gifts under the tree on Christmas morning?”
I developed an ad tracking system to understand why people do things, by looking at the what they’re doing data, then exploring how to reach them.
I didn't realise there were other people around the world thinking the same way.
In the early 90s there was no "User Experience" practice. So I just kind of made it up as I went along, referencing sources from the past (e.g., Don Norman's "Psychology of Everyday Things"), and over time the practice was developed. I remember the first time I picked up Morville's "Information Architecture for the World Wide Web," in ’98 and realized that other people around the world had been doing all the things I was doing. It was formalized and a practice was created.
LBBO: The launch of the Havas Drive team in Bangkok is set up to provide leadership and skills to evolve digital capabilities in the region. How does the team aim to drive this in the months ahead?
Michael: Through understanding, insights and opportunity.
The threat to the ad business is lack of relevance. The industry is cannibalizing itself from the inside out, the cracks are showing and the world recognizes they don't need us anymore. Not as we were.
"Every agency gives the same pep-talk about change and disruption to clients, but as an industry we need to look inwards and ask how do we disrupt ourselves?"
This presents an enormous opportunity for Havas Drive.
We're not a digital department or an ad agency. We are a unique team of five people with different, complimentary backgrounds, formed to create a single force for Havas regional offices to tap into. We're not locked into retainers, which gives us the freedom to push the boundaries. We're not occupiers. We're invaders.
LBBO: What are the benefits of having an “agency within our agency” set-up that works with clients to innovate, build and prototype solutions to solve clients’ brand challenges?
Michael: Nobody else is doing it! So many “digital” agencies are acquired then put in the “digital” team box, soon forgotten and left to producing Facebook posts and banners.
We all joined Havas Drive because we saw a chance to really drive change in the business of advertising. To get away from the status quo and really challenge the medium to produce great work that feels good. Work we can be proud of.
LBBO: What have been some of your favourite (more recent) campaigns to work on and why?
Michael: This is a tough one, I haven’t been thrilled with much while I was in Singapore. The lack of creative thought, and fear of “different” coming out of this business is crippling.
Just confirms the lack of relevance. Spending money to push nonsense that doesn’t matter to people. It’s shameful.
For example, look at a brand like Singapore Airlines. How boring and out of touch are they? Then look at Virgin, they know how to have fun. They launched a ridiculous 6 hour YouTube pre-roll, and people love them for it.
I would love to see more like Honda R, “The Other Side”. So simple, but tells an amazing story of duality that people can relate to subconsciously. Plus, it's fun to play with—how many times did you watch it?
Funny story, Honda is a Dentsu client, but Dentsu didn’t do it. Sign o’ the times? Cheers to Stink Digital and agencies like them. Those are the guys the ad networks need to be afraid of because they aren't ad agencies. The revolution will NOT be televised. It’ll be on your tablet, phone, watch, or even the chip in your head.
LBBO: What kinds of experiences should brands be aiming to have with today’s consumer?
Michael: We need to stop thinking about TA's and consumers. That’s building a marketing wall between us and them. We are people. Real human beings with real lives. Sometimes we're tired, sometimes we want chocolate, sometimes we’re planning a holiday, sometimes we just want to be left alone. Just like you and me.
"If we continue to be a demographics and media led industry, we’re just the status quo. A setup for failure."
We need to be creating brand experiences that address the real motivations of humans, not targets.
LBBO: What sort of experiences are consumers expecting to get from brands nowadays?
Michael: Very little. Which a shame, because we want more.
People are literally scouring the world looking for cool stuff. Funny stuff. Sad stuff. Stuff that’s worth talking about. We should be loving it, because we are a creative industry, right? Let’s give people something—anything—worth talking about.
This should be the easiest job in the world because we, as an industry, have so many talented people with great stories to tell.
LBBO: Do you think there is good industry understanding of what it means to be a director of experience? How would you write a job description for this role?
Michael: I think not. Buzzwords, jargon and pre-judgment confuse the expectations of the role.
I can talk about methodologies, research and testing, which are all key requirements. But really, I believe empathy is the greatest skill anybody going into experiential design should have. The ability to put yourself into other people's shoes. This really is a creative role.
What about that single mom? What does she need? If we can discover, understand and solve her problems, she will love your brand for it!
It's a tall order, but aside from the methods and process, I think a key role requirement is understanding people's challenges and needs and solving that at the right time, in the right context. The ability to get out of your role as advertiser or marketer and into the needs and wants of people.
LBBO: What advice would you give adland up-starters interested in a job title similar to yours? Go and experience a bit of life first? ;)
Michael: Travel. Meet people. Communicate, learn and share ideas. Go to Burning Man. Love art. Love music. Take a stand, and always stand for it. Doodle. Read a lot of books, love people. Admit that the foundation of civilization isn’t an Excel doc, but the things that humans make (including Excel). Know when to speak with conviction. And no matter what you do, absolutely stay away from advertising.
But, if your heart is really set on this business...grow a very thick skin.
The original article can be found here: LBBO: Forget Occupiers, We Need Invaders