Serviceplan’s Till Hohmann: No longer good enough to present a “nice campaign based on a clever insight”

Serviceplan Group is the largest and most diversified owner-managed and partner-managed agency group in Europe.

We spoke to their ‎Managing Creative Director, Till Hohmann, who gave us an insight into the agency’s future plans, his thoughts on the future of the Industry and his experience in judging the Direct Marketing category at Cannes in 2017:

Q) What was your experience like judging at Cannes this year? Any projects that particularly resonated with you?

A) I truly enjoyed judging this year. It was my third time as a Cannes Lions judge, but my first in the Direct competition. And a lot of the work I saw actually inspired and also pushed me. Especially all those cases that managed to “marry creative excellence with creative intelligence” (this is a mantra we have started to use in our team as the benchmark for concepts that hit the marks today).

Take a case like the Snickers Hungerithm: An awesome feat to base a promotional concept on realtime data and smart consumer/media/channel insight (both creative intelligence) and execute a brave concept with broad reach and the brand- typical witty humour (creative excellence). This to me is a case that shows how “real work that wins” should be made today. And the results of course prove its relevance. It also shows how data-driven-direct leading to one-to-one communication works best. No, it’s not cold, analytical and a poor copy of Minority Report. Ideally, we creatively use all these fantastic new levels of intelligence, data and channels to create awesome branded experiences which have wit, charm, intelligence.

I like the fact that this case is not for an NGO – as worthy and brilliant as many of the winning non-commercial pieces are (I love projects like “Refugee Nation”, “The Last Call”, “Mr. Bear Driver”) but to me, doing the best work on client and brief still rule.

It’s just: we see too little of that in Cannes.

A few of those few commercial projects I really enjoyed were: “Payphone Bank” (although there is a strong social good element), “Fearless Girl” is awesome (yet I still do wonder whether most “normal people” ever made the connection to the actual company behind it all), “Nike on Demand” (awesome data strategy and great execution), “Nike Unlimited Stadium” (great consumer experience with latest tech on site), “Ubisoft World with no heroes” (amazing case and just staggering if you consider that attention to detail kept alive over a long period of time).

As a Direct Judge I did pay attention to the actual results and the impact of an idea. And to mechanics. So one off mailings just really did not move me all that much – no matter how nicely made. Even in art direction you feel: it’s not just about “looking/feeling nice”, the design needs to enhance relevance.

That doesn’t mean smaller cases don’t stand a chance. They do, if they really hone in on a relevant solution – like the “McDonald’s Promoticons”.

And so I guess my actual take on things after judging this year was: It’s not good enough to have “a direct element” hidden somewhere in the case. Given the way our entire industry is currently moving towards a completely new era of smart, data-driven and hyper-personal interactions between brands and consumers (possibly driven by machines), means that the best direct work really combines tech, data, intelligence and creative excellence in meaningful, impactful ways not possible a few years ago. I saw some of that in Direct. You will too: on the Cannes Lions site.

I really think: the Direct Competition is one where the future is taking shape and we will see it explode in the next few years.

Q) What is your blueprint for Serviceplan for the next few years?  

A) Well: pretty much everything that Alex Schill, our global CCO, the new Worldwide ECD Jason Romeyko, and Serviceplan International Managing Partner – Markus Noder, have laid out in terms of further globalisation of Serviceplan, and of course a few things we cannot reveal to the dear competition just yet.

Seriously: I feel that the growing independent Serviceplan Group with its international relevance born out of the export-nation Germany and with a fully integrated offering still has its very best years ahead. The level of intelligence we can offer clients through a huge array of specialists for almost any channel, tool, code, gadget, technique, marketing specialty is amazing. It is the backbone to being able to really deliver said creative excellence combined with up-to-date creative intelligence.

Q) What are your thoughts on the new trend of  ‘digital first’ campaigns? Are they the norm going forward?

A) When everyone is talking about ever more clever targeting, about programmatic, about social engagement and about creating personal relevance through branded communication I cannot think about all that without acknowledging: it is digital first. In fact: a whole lot of interesting cases (that may not score and win big) showed: AI driven marketing, automated marketing and highly sophisticated social/ digital engagement-mechanics are on the rise.

I believe this will have huge impact on our industry, on the way we work, structure organizations, create concepts and actually think.

I’m already experiencing all that in the day to day. It is no longer good enough to present a “nice campaign based on a clever insight”, you really have to think through the mechanics, the engagement models, the targeting and the touchpoint strategy. A presentation that would have taken 60 pages 10 years ago today has around 250. And they are not boring! We need to embrace change. It has affected so many of our client industries so deeply – what makes us think it won’t fully disrupt our own?!

Q) When it comes to digital and new age tech, do you think it’s more important for agencies to start building campaigns around these tools or should they be incorporated as an aspect of a greater idea?

A) I think this kind of discussion leads us nowhere actually. Who cares whether it’s one or the other?! All that counts is work that actually drives visibility and creates engagement. And yes: you’d better know your tech! And yes: you’d better know how to connect all the many dots. And yes: a strong concept with powerful visual and verbal comms is needed for roll out. Excellence and intelligence in everything.

If you think that’s a bit too general and grand, make your life easy: since it is safe to assume that for a huge amount of people (who have money to spend) their mobile is the most important medium/channel/tool, simply make sure all your work can be mobile first.

Q) What was your favourite piece of work from the last year?

  • Because I’m a dad to a wonderful 2-year old daughter: Fearless Girl.
  • Because I’m personally quite connected to Africa and also the Middle East: Refugee Nation.
  • Because I’m a sucker for big brands: All the gold cases by big brands.
  • Because I’m a mentor for young teams: Swear Jar, because it’s important not to be too serious all the time

Q) What advice would you give to young creative?

A) Do 70% work like Snickers Hungerithm, 10% work like Swear Jar and 20% work like Refugee Nation and you will get the Lions of St Mark some day… Oh: it also helps to approach things like that just to get a good job or promotion in the first place…

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