Advertising expert Sherri Maxwell, Executive Creative Director at MRM McCann, shares her thoughts on the shift in dynamic between brand and audience, and what businesses should expect in the future of marketing.
Having made her start at Marvel Comics more than 20 years ago, Sherri Maxwell has worked for some of the biggest advertising agencies in the world, crafting campaigns for Ogilvy as a freelancer in New York, taking lead as APAC Regional Creative Director under Saatchi & Saatchi in Hong Kong, and now as an Executive Creative Director at MRM McCann, one of the world’s leading global marketing agencies, in Bangkok. Garnering a long list of accolades for her creative work, she has worked with some of the most globally recognisable brands, like Colgate-Palmolive, Heineken, Tampax and Folgers. She talked to Hive Life about the power of the consumer in today’s relationship between brand and audience, how it’s already majorly affecting the marketing industry, and how the advertising landscape in Asia is changing with the times.
Sherri has previously worked in New York and Hong Kong, but it isn’t her first time working in Bangkok either. Previously at Wunderman Thompson Bangkok, she worked on some of the most recognisable brands in Southeast Asia – think SUNSILK, LUX and Unilever. Now, as Executive Creative Director at MRM McCann, she reminisces on what the industry used to be like more than a decade ago. “It used to be more creative for the whole APAC region in the past. The ad landscape in Asia currently has moments of creative celebration and ones of complete conservatism with celebrity endorsement,” she says of the shift in focus. “Thailand’s advertising creative reputation is portrayed in award shows as super creative, but in truth, most of the work is formulaic, and this is the battle we are currently having in Asia.”
To combat an unimaginative, celeb endorsement-led approach, she seeks out colleagues to work with that display emotional intelligence and genuine creativity to help create content that grabs people in today’s tech-savvy and information-heavy world. “Ego-based advertising is a thing of the past where advertising agencies used to create storytelling that either worked or not because, no matter what, the audience was always a passive viewer.” Now, with the rise of social media, Sherri has seen and adapted a change in tact to accommodate the evolving relationship between brand and audience. “The relationship is very different now. The audience is now part of the brand dialogue, with social and viral marketing where they can not only share, but actively be a part of a brand and perhaps become a brand advocate. You need emotional intelligence to even conceptualise the type of work needed to connect and make brand experiences that work.”
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Having also founded boutique marketing agency Creative Underground, Sherri has in-depth predictions on how marketing will continue to evolve. “New boutique agencies will emerge and become the organic signs of what is needed in marketing brands. Their immediateness and cost-effectiveness will be their competitive edge,” Sherri says, keeping in mind how quickly trends and tech tend to come and go. “The consultancies that are agile, maybe Accenture, Deloitte, PWC, could potentially rule the day because large network agencies are unable to be agile enough because of their sheer size. They seem to be unable to accommodate new technologies and services that brands need now, in real-time.”
According to the Effie Gold winner, much of the change that is taking place among advertisers is led by the impact of data. “There will be two major outcomes of demand for agencies: content in volume because of the high digital media consumption rate, and digital transformation using data to tailor the experience – the reason for this is people hate advertising unless it entertains, or it’s a brand experience.” These days, people expect personalised content in the place they want it. “The advertising spend has changed and migrated from the four old media channels, TV, radio, print and outdoor, towards digital media and web apps because they follow people’s viewing habits. Due to the ‘always on’ nature of digital, the volume of content needed is vast. Apps that add value to people’s lives will be valuable in other ways as well, thanks to the data.”
To deliver all the above, your team is key. “At this level of my career, it’s really about how you manage and mentor creatives to a better level of work,” Sherri explains. To get the very best out of people, you have to lead from the front, no matter how senior you may be. “Leading my team means being a part of the team and walking with them through the process of creation where I support and guide when needed,” she says. And, it follows that cooperation amongst all members – especially when you’re trying to foster an environment of collaborative creativity – is just as key. “Sometimes, you encounter one of your team members that is led by their ego and not by actual talent, experience, and knowledge. This can be a challenge because you want the best for them, and yet they think they know better than you,” she says. “If you don’t have a talented group of team players, you then have a game of thrones,” she elaborates. “Success is conditional on the team you have and whether they are receptive to these qualities. Power is not a one-sided thing; it is a dynamic relationship.”