Tom Eslinger: “AI Will Mess With The Creative Industry Like The Internet & Social Did”

Tom Eslinger: “AI Will Mess With The Creative Industry Like The Internet & Social Did”
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Tom Eslinger is a New York-based multiple Cannes Lion jury president and award winner and former global chief creative officer at the integrated communications agency Burson Cohn & Wolfe. Even better, Eslinger’s coming to Sydney in March 2019 to speak at Australia’s premier advertising and technology conference, ad:tech. Here, B&T goes one-on-one with Eslinger to find out why his ad:tech presentation’s a must-see, why he’s no real fan of brand activism, and why he thinks AI will prove a boon for creative agencies…

You’re top of the speakers list at ad:tech in Sydney on March the 12th and 13th, 2019. What can us eager attendees expect from your presentation?

I’m going to be talking about technology, being creative with technology, the threats and opportunities associated with rapidly evolving communication technology, and did I mention technology? In all seriousness, AI and speed of change is going to mess with the creative industry in the same way the internet, mobile and social made huge impacts in the last 20 years. This is just as big and twice as fast.

As a creative, what still works?

With a great really connective idea, you want to believe that the marketing spend doesn’t matter as much and that an idea will be embraced and shared and championed. Unfortunately, when that happens it lasts a very short period of time and people say, “Thank you, next.” I think of ideas like a great classic suit that might need a trendy shirt and shoes to make it super-of-the-moment, but still makes sense and doesn’t go out of style.

And what’s a media you don’t really bother much with these days?

Just when I thought I’d never make another flyer or postcard, I get asked to add them to the mix. I’ve kind of given up on guessing where I think ideas should go and prefer to bring smart media planners and buyers in to the process as quick as I can.

In light of the whole Colin Kaepernick/Nike affair, how has that impacted creative thinking among US agencies?

I have strong, usually unpopular views on bringing politics and activism into brand advertising. But Nike has a history of doing this kind of work and has respect for the tone and temperature surrounding this debate. The work – which also featured Serena and LeBron – made an impact in the media and gave Nike stock a lift and shook a few trees, but did it sell lots of product or was the US Open and NFL season opener responsible? Either way, it doesn’t matter. It’s Cannes-tastic.

What SHOULD the modern creative agency look like these days?

Small, diverse and fast and stealthy.

There’s a big push in Australia at the moment to get media and creative back under the one roof. What’s your view of that?

When I started out, media was in-house and I had those teams in creative sessions, reviews and everything else. It’s like hiring the decorators and then bringing in the architects and construction company later on. It’s always been motivated by driving revenue, not making great work.

What’s a brand that you’re loving at the moment?

Casper (see video above), All Birds, Quip, ShopStyle and any shopping aggregator. And these brands are driven by very strong strategy and light, nimble creative executions. I think fashion brands like Celine, Gucci, Balenciaga, Vetements have the right idea, aren’t tone deaf and take some risks: big massive brands with high-quality products and distinctive images that drive sales through social and mobile, sponsorship and experiential and weird partnerships. Gucci (see below) and the NY Yankees, Supreme and Louis Vuitton, Apple And Hermés – bring it on!

Your tip for the next BIG thing in advertising?

AI is going to be seriously exciting for creatives that are less about credits, love iteration and speed. And science. Want one thousand ideas in a minute? No problem. I don’t expect lines of code to be able to pick the best idea to solve a business problem, but I do expect some weird, out of the box stuff that will happen through mistakes, interpretation and that code isn’t afraid to blurt out an idea and worry about sounding dumb. It will be chaos, but creative. I’m stoked.

The next big industry disruptor we should all be on the lookout for?

See above.

Brands all want to be loved, they want to do social good, but should many of them get back to price, product, promotion and place?

I think we’ve given “proper” brands human characteristics and needs since we’ve entered into the age of the person-brand. Companies and corporations that create and build brands do it for one reason. We are much more attuned to when social issues and making the world a better place live alongside the need for businesses to sell stuff to keep the lights on and the shareholders happy. Sometimes the desperate need to be liked and that’s a turn-off for a product or service – the same way it is with people. The brands that keep that balance of do good for people, the world and the shareholders keep the longevity they deserve.

Your favourite campaign of 2018?

Are we still doing campaigns??? I love ‘It’s a Tide Ad’ because it’s a great idea, super-cheeky and of-the-moment and I know how hard it is to get things with that scale and integration made.

Back to a previous answer, this is where media, execution, idea and strategy all sing from the same song sheet. The shallow art director in me spends hours pouring over all of the Gucci campaigns: fully realised stories riffing on classic horror movies, 80s video game mash-ups, art history, 1960’s student protests and hoarding – and that’s just the last year!

2019’s ad:tech conference is on the 12th and 13th of March at Sydney’s Hilton Hotel. Speakers include Zenith USA’s head of innovation, Tom Goodwin; Thinkerbell CEO, Adam Ferrier; and IBM’s head of marketing, Mari Kauppinen. For full details of the event and to purchase tickets, click here.

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