Expert Interview: Tim Solomon

The former Chairman of Ogilvy & Mather Portugal shares his thoughts on a strong ad campaign and why it is always good to ask yourself, "why not?"

By Cat HowPosted in Ideas

Tim Solomon was the former president of Ogilvy & Mather Japan and Chairman of Ogilvy & Mather Portugal​​. He is now an advisor on special projects at WPP Portugal. He has lived all over the world but is now based in the Portuguese capital and also travels often to Italy, London and New York.

What is your formula for a great advertising campaign?

I really do not believe that there is a formula for developing a great advertising campaign. Certainly, there are some processes along the way that can help: understanding (the marketplace, the brand, the competition), enlightening (consumer insight) and directing (the brief). 

However, without a great creative leap, without a strong idea and without a memorable, surprising execution you will never have a great campaign. The world is littered with worthy, dull attempts but truly great campaigns are few and far between – just consider examples like the Dove “Evolution” and “Beauty Sketches”; Apple’s “Think Different” and “Gorilla” for Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. All great campaigns and all of which had real business impact.

What are some of the benefits of working for, and with, companies based in more than one country? What are the downsides?

My career has taken me to live and work in different countries in Europe and Asia. I consider myself hugely privileged to have had these opportunities: I got to know different cultures, saw places that in a normal lifetime it would have been tough to visit and made friends across the world (and on a very personal note, my Milanese girlfriend whom I met when working in Milan has been my wife for many, many years).

It was because I worked for a multi-national agency that the opportunities to tackle new challenges in a different market opened up. Being part of a multi-national organisation also facilitated the practicalities of moving from one market to another. Most importantly it was the very strong corporate culture of Ogilvy & Mather around the world that helped make these moves a success for me.

Downsides? Interestingly, language was never a problem, but at times struggling to adapt to a very different culture made working that little bit tougher. Or maybe, on a personal note, not being certain where one’s roots lie.

How do brands ensure messages and campaigns have maximum impact in different countries and cultures?

Gone are the days of ‘cookie cutter’ executions, where a campaign developed in one market was rammed down the throats of consumers in other markets. Today, there is far greater respect for the mores of consumers in different markets. This does not mean that a central brand or executional idea cannot be adapted successfully to work for consumers in many markets – just consider Dove and the success of its Campaign for Real Beauty around the world.

Should the industry be worried about the growth in the use of AI technology?

On the contrary, we should embrace AI. All new technologies start off raising concerns: the launch of radio or TV as advertising media, the arrival of colour in TV ads, the migration to digital messaging… the list goes on.

But in fact one of the most exciting technological developments in this industry over the past 5 years has been the growth of programmatic buying: advertisers should feel more reassured that brand messages are reaching their core target more efficiently and more effectively. And that thanks to AI technology.

What career advice would you have given your younger self?

Early in my career, my boss in Italy taught me a very valuable lesson. I would give it to myself again. He always said that there were two types of people. Those who said “Yes. But….” And those who said “Why not?” I would always hope to be a “Why not-er”.

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