It is the best time to be working in advertising: JWT’s Matt Eastwood

J. Walter Thompson’s chief creative officer Matt Eastwood on the importance of advertising awards, relationships with brands and strategies to stand out in a clutter


Matt Eastwood, worldwide chief creative officer, J. Walter Thompson. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
Matt Eastwood, worldwide chief creative officer, J. Walter Thompson. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

Matt Eastwood, worldwide chief creative officer at J. Walter Thompson Co, was in Mumbai and Delhi last week to review the creative agency’s operations in the country. Spearheading the company for the last two and a half years, New York- based Eastwood’s focus has been to shape up its creative work globally. On his second visit to India, he talks about the importance of advertising awards, building strong relationships with brands and strategies to stand out in a clutter. Edited excerpts from an interview:

You joined J. Walter Thompson as Worldwide Chief Creative officer in 2014. What has been your mission?

My mission coming on board was to improve J. Walter Thompson’s creative work around the world. We were doing okay, but we needed to do better. It really takes 18 months at least to start seeing some results. 2016 was terrific at Cannes, where we won more Lions than we have ever won in the history of the company. We won 80 Lions and 122 shortlists.

How important are awards in this business?

People ask me—do clients care about awards? On the face of it, they probably don’t. But what clients like, particularly when they are choosing a new agency, is the buzz around an agency, their creative reputation. And awards give you that.

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I want award-winning work and certainly in India J. Walter Thompson is the most-awarded agency. At Goa Fest, the big national award show, we have been number one— Network of the Year—for the last three years. But I also want us to do famous work that regular people talk about at barbecues and say: have you seen that new Nestle spot or have you seen the new Pepsi ad? I think if we can get that fame and awards, that’s perfect.

But shouldn’t advertising be selling brands\products?

Absolutely. There is a fantastic book called the Case for Creativity. It did a nine-year study of the brands that had been awarded the Advertiser of the Year at Cannes and tracked that against the share price of the company. And in every case the share price went up—not as a result of winning the award but as a result of the work that helped them achieve that. So it is a really nice, precise case around, well, it’s not just about the glory of creativity but it actually works and makes a difference.

How important is creativity in an era of shorter attention spans?

The role of creativity is really evolving quite quickly in terms of marketing. Somebody said the other day, people hate advertising. My answer to that is people don’t hate advertising, they hate bad advertising. People like good ideas.

When we talk to younger audiences who are multi-tasking and are on three devices at the same time, I think you have to find other ways to capture their attention. A big part of that is offering them experiences on behalf of the brand…how they can interact with the brand. It is changing the way you’re gaining attention because I don’t really think they want to look at traditional ads any more. They love brands but they want brands to do something for them, provide an experience or an opportunity or something they can’t necessarily get themselves.

So advertising professionals have to work harder.

For me there is so much fun being in advertising now as you can do anything. Even 10 years ago, a person entering the ad industry would be writing TV commercials and print ads. But now, you can invent a new product. Out of our Bangkok office we created this thing for Samsung called the touchable ink. What it does is, through a regular printer it can print Braille…We worked with Samsung and a local university to create the product.

To me it is the best time to be working in advertising as advertising is broad and brands connect with people in so many different ways. On behalf of a client I am working on a scripted TV series at the moment. It’s all comedy with the brand built into it. And that is so different to what advertising was 5-10 years ago.

You have worked in several major cities London, Melbourne, New York. Do these cities have their own distinct creative impulses?

It’s interesting. For me, some countries and cities are quite unified like Australia, which has a distinctive Australian humour and point of view to the way advertising exists. And so does UK. They like humour really subtle. They don’t like being oversold. They like the brand to be a little quieter and just let the viewer work it out.

New York is such an international city that it’s rare for me to meet a New Yorker who is born there. You meet so many people who go to NY with a dream of success. So there are all these people who are energetic and passionate— artistes, filmmakers, photographers, fashion designers, and they have all gone to NY to live their dream. There is such an energy there which is reflected in the work.

How do you feel about some accounts that you lose—you lost Kellogg’s Special K recently?

Only in the US, we still have the global relationship. Kellogg’s in the US, particularly its Special K, is going through a cultural shift in terms of the way people consume breakfast. That’s the challenge for them and it’s had a big effect on their sales. People are looking for fresh food rather than pre-packaged food. So it has been challenging for them. Recently they were looking for a new idea that came from somewhere else.

I think, generally, when you lose a brand, it is because they have got pressure on themselves—may be sales are going down and they look for change. They feel they have to do something, and it’s not always because the agency has been terrible. We are blessed because we have had some of the longest client relationships in the business. Our longest relationship is with Unilever which we’ve had for 107 years. That’s unheard of. Rolex we have had for over 60 years. We have these really deep relationships and there is a lot of trust.

Are you looking at growth via acquisitions?

We have a pretty robust M&A strategy. Content is a big thing and acquisitions that we are making are very much in that space. And probably in the digital space, through Mirum, which is our digital agency. We also have a pretty aggressive organic growth.

Are you eyeing something in India?

We always are. Our global head of M&A is based here in Delhi and he’s Indian. He has an eye on India. But things we are looking at here ...India is this tech capital where amazing technology is happening. And we are making sure that we are part of that conversation.

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