99//Club: Be more punk

Ad agency Havas London’s chief creative officer Vicki Maguire has urged the industry to cut the bullshit and embrace a punk mentality in order to thrive in a post-pandemic world.

She said the punk era was born out of similarly tumultuous times. “There was a three-day week, there was a cold war, recession, racism and there was anarchy in the UK,” she said, speaking at the 99//Club Digital Festival, a week-long event tackling the theme of ‘Emerge Stronger’.

“Fast forward 40 years, and what do we get? We get COVID, we get chaos, we get recession, we’ve got anarchy in the UK, again. So let’s learn from those who made it work for them. Let’s learn from the Sex Pistols, let’s learn from Poly Styrene, from Malcolm McLaren – all of these people had common traits, they were uncompromising. They had a point of view, they had an authentic voice. They had support from their fans and their customers, and they didn’t sell out.”

Find your voice and stand for something

Brands such as Brewdog, Patagonia and “even Yorkshire Tea” who had taken a stand against racism were displaying classic punk behaviour today, she said. Maguire urged clients and creatives alike to find their voice and stand for something, to speak up, stand up but don’t sell out.

It was important to look deep into a brand’s DNA to find the platforms and causes they could “authentically” make a difference to, rather than attempting to shoehorn themselves into issues such as Black Lives Matter when past actions meant they had little right to be there. “Read the room and find your authentic self,” she urged.

However, being “punk” was not about taking risks or “being brave” for the sake of it, cautioned Maguire.

“I don’t believe in risky advertising, I don’t believe in brave advertising – I believe in ‘right’ advertising,” she concluded.

Be authentic – and beware piggybacking

Authenticity was also at the heart of the 99 second talks Julia Smith, founder of The Digital Voice and Mark Nicholson, head of online, O2.

Smith, speaking earlier in the week, urged brands not to “piggyback” issues. “People are becoming wise to the fact of brands who jump on messaging like Black Lives Matter for selfish reasons,” she said. “Unless you’re genuinely adding value, steer clear.”

Nicholson said it was important for creatives to be authentic and live a brand’s values, while marketers had to ensure those values were expressed in clear briefs that agencies could explore and be brave with.

The week-long invite-only festival was a collaboration between MAD//Fest and New Digital Age, and followed a successful 99 Club event held earlier this year before lockdown. Over the course of five days, 99 speakers are debating topics across themes including media and tech, customer experience and personalisation, brand experience and creativity and innovation for growth.

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