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Speed is crucial for digital brand creativity and relevance in the age of social media

Without organisational agility you won’t keep up with the cultural pulse, writes Michelle Spillane, marketing and brand director at Paddy Power UK and Ireland

I’m sitting between takes on an ad shoot when our agency account director causally flips open his laptop and starts typing.

Being the ever-curious client that I am, I take a cheeky peek. Maybe he’s Googling places to eat this evening – it’s been another long day, after all. After I get over the shock that he’s working on another client during “our” ad shoot, I can’t believe the vision I see before my eyes.

There sits a spreadsheet so complex that decoding The Da Vinci Code would have been easier.

The account director – let’s call him Mark, mainly because that what everyone calls him – has rumbled me.

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Seeing I’m in shock, he spills the tea and offers up that he’s working on the approvals document for another client. I have honestly never seen something with so many layers of sign-off complexity and so much time needed for creative sign off. Each level needed 10 working days to go around all their global teams and back again! I was dumbstruck. And because the “client” in question had been so public about wanting to achieve cultural relevancy.

Speed is a necessity for marketing teams in a world where the office reign of a British prime minister can be less time than it takes a head of iceberg lettuce to decompose. How can a brand hope to be timely and in tune with the cultural zeitgeist if its sign-off process is like a scene from Around the World in 80 Days? Organisational agility is essential for any brand wanting to be part of the real-time cultural pulse.

Cultural relevance

After everything consumers have experienced over the past two years, cultural relevance has never been more important. While traditional advertising has always played a part in influencing how we see the world around us, social media has been the lightning bolt that has allowed for the expansion of popular culture, communities, and brands to come together in ways we’ve never seen before.

Take TikTok, for example. It became the most downloaded app in the world in 2021. Today it boasts more than one billion users and has said that it will reach 1.8 billion before the end of next month.

One of the key parts of our success has been our ability to evolve and know when to step out of our lane

With mind-boggling speed, it has transformed itself from lockdown dance sensation to a global video entertainment encyclopedia. But it’s not all cute animal videos and Zara fashion hauls. Some brands quickly understood that platform relevance and integration can supercharge their campaign creativity.

For me, a great example of this is how Penguin Random House pounced on this opportunity with the phenomenal rise of BookTok. In September of this year, it partnered with TikTok to launch a new product feature making it easier than ever to discover your next great read and connect with a community of book lovers.

However, achieving relevance has its challenges. Martin Weigel, head of strategy at Amsterdam-based Wieden and Kennedy, said it best with his warning: “The fact is, you can be relevant as hell but still as boring as ****.”

Creativity is still the key to gaining attention and to what we call talkability – the ultimate brand goal and something Paddy Power is known for. We take inspiration from many other giants in the market, Nike, for example, which gets this right time and time again. Its Colin Kaepernick campaign was a triumph of cultural relevance, meaning and timing all blended.

Chatter led to a sales spike, of a reported 36 per cent in the first week of the campaign as the globe was swept up in it.

BrewDog’s very recent “anti-World Cup” campaign (with billboard slogans such as: “First Russia, then Qatar. Can’t wait for North Korea”) is another attracting a lot of debate and challenge from consumers calling the company out what they perceive to be double standards, ranging from its CEO, its organisational culture, selling beer in Qatar, and screening football in its bars. Although a brilliantly creative campaign, it has received a lot of backlash.

First, fast and funny

What we do know is that if your brand isn’t being authentic, consumers will call you out on that, and in a very public way.

The Paddy Power brand has been built by being first, fast and funny. In 2018, to prepare Ireland for the visit of Pope Francis, it installed a drive-through Confession box on Conyngham Road in Dublin 8, on the edge of the Phoenix Park, days before the pope’s visit to the park.

Other memorable campaigns include The Irish are Coming, designed for Cheltenham and featuring actor Colm Meaney and boxer Floyd Mayweather’s infamous Paddy Power Pants.

Within the time it would take for a Downing Street party to start and finish, we had mobile billboards or digivans doing laps of Westminster where the world’s media were assembled

In the UK, our most recent hit was last month with the aforementioned British prime minister.

On Thursday, October 20th, at 1.30pm the famous plinth went up outside No10 and the world’s media fizzed while Liz Truss made her resignation speech.

Within the time it would take for a Downing Street party to start and finish, we had mobile billboards or digivans doing laps of Westminster where the world’s media were assembled.

And by the time prime-time news rolled around, Paddy Power’s digivans were part of the Westminster news backdrop for every media outlet reporting that night and through the next day.

So how do you go from plinth to press in less than five hours? Not easily, but we have been practising this for 34 years now, and not having too many adults in the room or a sign-off process that takes 80 days or more certainly helps.

Mischief-maker

Key to our success has been our ability to evolve and know when to step out of our lane. As the original mischief-maker, our marketing was primarily known for its stunts, but as the landscape for reaching customers became more fragmented and complex, we moved from offbeat stunts and novelty bets to creating some of the most engaging and shared original entertainment content out there.

We create hours of original content every week for our consumers. This includes our notorious social videos, our own blog, our podcast, our new TV shows and even our books, magazines and quizzes. We are always looking to reach and appeal to new and existing audiences by engaging with them in the most entertaining and surprising ways.

Ultimately at Paddy Power, we are always looking to be number one. That challenger brand mindset remains.

On that note, keep your ear to the ground this Christmas. We’ve a few crackers up our sleeve.

And we’ll be doing it without an Excel spreadsheet in sight.

To hear more check out the Inside Marketing podcast by clicking the link here.

Michelle Spillane has held many senior positions across multiple industries, including media, technology and banking. She joined Paddy Power from the national broadcaster RTÉ, where she served as director of global marketing for over four years.

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