Q5: Darren Sandras on creative sector & digi-tech challenges [interview]
by Carey Finn (@carey_finn) Darren Sandras, director and partner at specialist entertainment marketing agency, One-eyed Jack, talks to the future of the creative sector and the challenges faced as digital technology plays an ever-bigger role, especially now.
Note: This interview was conducted prior to the coronavirus/covid-19 pandemic being declared as such. Additional comment has been supplied, as requested.
Darren Sandras: Now, more than ever, the human connection is important. And this is where technology can keep us connected, keep us working, keep us sane. As a business, like so many others, we have to adapt to this new normal, for however long it will take. They say innovation often comes [out of] times of crisis; I believe that businesses, brands and people will come out of this situation with a new appreciation for just how connected we are and develop new ways of doing things we took for granted. It’s scary, it’s incredibly humbling and it’s going to change the way we do things.
Q5: There’s much talk about the potential and pitfalls associated with increased reliance on digital technologies in advertising and marketing. What’s your take on it, and what’s One-eyed Jack doing to strike a balance for brands and consumers in 2020?
DS: Technology and digital marketing are revolutionising the industry — and the way brands and agencies find and engage with consumers. As with most things, it’s about balance. Too much reliance on technology to do the work and thinking of a human means you could lose the, well, human touch. Not enough technology could mean that you can’t analyse and optimise effectively if you aren’t using powerful digital tools.
I love that a lot of the work we [have done] for our clients — whether PR, brand marketing or events — [has allowed] us to actually see the end-result of our campaigns; to see what the consumers experience. This is so important: to be at the end of the funnel and gain insight into how consumers touch/feel/see what you’ve done in the real world, not only via stats on a spreadsheet.
Q5: What, in your experience, is the biggest concern for brands, when it comes to the use of digital technology in adland?
DS: Digital technology has given us incredible ways to learn more about how consumers behave and how they consume. But something we see quite often is the overreliance on digital technology to do the work of a human. “If the numbers say it, it must be true.” When we view consumers as numbers, statistics, data, research, you can easily forget that you’re actually dealing with a human being at the end of it all. Get up, get out there, do some fieldwork. Play with the technology you’re putting forward as part of your marketing strategy. How can you propose using SnapChat or TikTok in a campaign if you’ve never used it yourself?
Q5: You work closely with influencers — a hot topic in today’s media landscape. What, in your opinion, makes someone an influencer, and what makes them someone a brand — and consumers — can trust?
DS: Ah yes, The Influencer. Just about every brief we [have received] includes an influencer component. It’s a great tool, if used properly and authentically. Influencer marketing is not new. Brands have been using well-known people to sell their products and services for decades. Famous/successful/controversial people are interesting and appealing.
Humans want to connect with and relate to other humans. In the 1980s, there were a lot fewer ways for me to know who these famous people were, beyond TV, radio and print. And, even then, it was limited to my geography. Because I can follow just about anyone on Instagram from anywhere in the world, [it] means that people who were never before accessible or known to me can now influence how I see the world through their view of it, via the “privacy” of my smartphone. And they’re called influencers because that’s what they do: they influence the way I think/behave/experience/consume (often overtly, sometimes subtly).
Digital technology and social media has meant that the sphere of influence is now more varied (reach is substantially greater), more niche (consumers — and brands — are able to drill down to very specific interests or habits or subcultures) and more measurable (although this is where a lot of influencer campaigns fall short). These are all great things for brands, but someone can only influence me if I trust them. And this is the rub: trust is earned. And trust is earned through honesty and sincerity and authenticity. More and more, this is where the influencer model is shifting: humans are by nature pretty good at sensing when someone isn’t being “real”. So, to be of true influence, you need to do and say what’s real. Yes, you’re getting paid for it; you’re selling us something. We get that. But you still need to believe in what you’re selling if you want me to believe in it, too.
Q5: How do you see the influencer landscape shifting over the next 2–3 years?
DS: To my earlier point, when the influencer model started, we thought that, just because Influencer A has 100 000 followers, they would by default exert influence and therefore help sell a product/brand/service. But how many of those 100 000 followers actually trust Influencer A? How many believe him/her? Today you’re driving car brand A; tomorrow it’s car brand B. You wash your way with shampoo X this month; next month it’s shampoo Y. And each time you’re telling me it’s the best you’ve ever used. No, thanks.
Now, influencers must work hard — and consistently — to earn and keep their followers’ trust. Having influence because you’re an influencer doesn’t make sense anymore. You can only influence me if what you do and say is real, authentic. This is a shift we’re already seeing: influencers must be sincere and sell what they believe in themselves. People can smell when things are off.
The other shift I believe will be reporting. We still see so many gaps in how influencers report back to the people paying them — and how to demonstrate ROI. For the influencer model to survive, everyone needs to get better at setting KPIs and reporting back on them using both qualitative tools and hard data. At One-eyed Jack, we have developed our own reporting structure for our influencer campaigns, which has enabled us to track activity, optimise and show the value of what we do.
Q5: Tell us a little more about the agency itself: where (and when) did it start, what are some highlights you’ve had over the years, and where are you heading this year?
DS: One-eyed Jack is an award-winning, specialist entertainment marketing agency. We focus on brand marketing, PR, launches and activations; event creation, marketing and promotion; and sponsorship rights management. The agency started in 2012. Our revenue was the highest it’s ever been at the end of 2019, thanks to hard work from our team of seven, and we won more new business in the last 12 months than any other time in our agency’s history. Highlights are many and varied, but in September 2019 we were thrilled to launch the new Volkswagen T-Cross at the city we built especially for it, T-Cross City. We are proud to call TRACE TV, TRACE Mobile, Howler and the City of Cape Town new clients.
This year [we’ve been] focusing on what we’re great at and what we love: creating and marketing incredible events and brand experiences, delivering solid and engaging PR and building our client base across corporate and lifestyle brands.
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Carey Finn (@carey_finn) is a writer and editor with over decade and a half of industry experience, having covered everything from ethical sushi in Japan to the technicalities of roofing, agriculture, medical stuff and more. She’s also taught English and journalism, and dabbled in various other communications ventures along the way, including risk reporting. As a contributing writer to MarkLives.com, her regular column “Q5” hones in on strategic insights, analysis and data through punchy interviews with inspiring professionals in diversive fields.