Mark D’Arcy calls on creatives to build on the Facebook platform

Kiwi-born Mark D’Arcy, the chief creative officer at Facebook, has spent the last week in Cannes attending a series of meetings with the advertising community that has converged at the French Riviera. As a veritable Facebook evangelist, his objective has been to encourage creatives to continue experimenting with the platform to see how far it can be pushed. 

“Cannes is an increasingly important place for us to meet with the agencies we work with around the world,” he says. “It’s a pretty concentrated effort that includes well over 100 meetings.”

Speaking to StopPress before leaving the UK to present his share of this voluminous tally of meetings, D’Arcy explained that he hoped to encourage advertisers to bring their ideas to life on the Facebook platform.        

“Last year, we took to Cannes a spirit of what we referred to as let’s talk less and build more. This is really a philosophy that comes from the engineering culture of Facebook. It’s far better to start building and learning than it is to stand on the sidelines and keep thinking about what you could do.”

D’Arcy is attending the event as a creative, but he also plays a significant commercial role for Facebook when he talks about the potential the platform holds. A creative talking to other creatives about being creative is largely what typifies the Cannes experience, but underneath this also lies a move by Facebook to attract a bigger chunk of its growing share of ad spend. And the best way to do that is by encouraging advertisers to get adventurous with what they publish on the site. 

This approach is also seen with Google, Pandora and Spotfiy, which through their respective regional creative departments work with ad agencies to create bespoke advertising that showcases how far digital executions can stretch. In the case of Google, this was recently seen in Colenso’s work on the Pedigree Found app, which strung together the mobile, programmatic and online technology to provide a modern solution to an age-old problem.

And Facebook has also been actively innovating on its platform through initiatives such as ASB’s ‘Like Loan,’ which proved so successful at driving engagement that the bank brought it back for a second round.

These major campaigns are impressive, but there is also a sense that they are only viable for bigger brands that have the financial clout to invest in modifying the Facebook platforms. So, is D’Arcy’s message elitist and only relevant to the big guys of the ad world or is there also hope for the smaller players?

“I can’t speak about New Zealand, specifically, but, looking around the world, I talk about small businesses more than I talk about big businesses in terms of intuitively understanding all the things I’m taking about,” he says. “The thing I love about Facebook is how democratic it is. Whether you’re a small business in Timaru or the biggest business in New York, you get the same pixels. You get the same opportunity to connect with people at the appropriate scale of your business.”   

And this is also seen in the creative events that Facebook holds across the world. Over the course of the last year, the company has hosted a Hackathon and has also gone to various emerging markets to run Creative Accelerator to illustrate the potential of the platform for advertisers.  

“One of the things that people notice when they look at Facebook is the extraordinary diversity of canvas and paint that you have at your disposal to tell different stories,” says D’Arcy.

Still proud of his Kiwi roots, D’Arcy uses a local anecdote to explain how much the media landscape has changed in recent years. 

“I talk about growing up in New Zealand a lot when I talk about the changes in media. We grew up with two TV channels and it was exciting to get the third TV channel. That was really a huge portion of the choice that we had to spend our time with. And as soon as we become connected, particularly mobile connected, we go from having finite to infinite choice. And when you live in a world of infinite choice, you constantly have the freedom to optimise with what you’re connecting with.”

In addition to being important in terms of user habits, the reference to mobile is also key to Facebook’s revenue. In a story published earlier this year, Adweek pointed out that mobile ads now account for 69 percent of Facebook’s advertising business. And this is a particularly important space for Facebook in the New Zealand market, given that the small proportion of ad spend currently contributed by mobile advertising is expected to grow rapidly over the next few years. Facebook is already pulling ad spend from all the other channels, and it’ll probably be even more successful in what is essentially its primary stomping ground (let’s just hope that increased ad revenue leads to a more reasonable tax bill than $43,000 in the future).    

“Many of us are underestimating how quickly we’re shifting to mobile,” says D’Arcy. “I don’t think it’s a light thing to say that if you’re not shifting the central focus of your marketing to mobile, it’s probably not a good idea.”  

And, according to D’Arcy, this creates more opportunity for creatives. 

“From a creative standpoint, you’ve gone from ads on the side of a website to having a creative canvas that fills the palm of your hand. That’s an extraordinary thing from a creative perspective.” 

For several years now, the industry has become obsessed with consolidating its ranks by employing candidates with so-called ‘digital skills’. But D’Arcy is a traditionalist and believes the core tenets of advertising still have role to play in modern channels. 

“As someone who has made print ads for so much of career, so many of the elements—simplifications, sacrifice, strong visual identity, strong communications—are completely deployable on Instagram. And the best part is that millions of people can experience the work now.”

D’Arcy also applies this reasoning to video, saying that Facebook provides an opportunity for brands to repurpose their spots for the online space.   

“Commercials are actually brilliant forms for mobile distribution. An advertising commercial is an extraordinarily wonderful condensation of narrative form, which allows you take complex themes and reduce them down to 90 seconds. It’s a really powerful form for this type of distribution.”

And he goes on to say that advertisers now have the freedom to extend beyond the 90-second time limit to produce longer pieces that tell more in-depth stories. 

“There are all these different forms of content that we may have buried around microsites and hope that someone will find, but now we can actually connect all these stories to the right people at the right time.”

And while D’Arcy admits that he’s “wildly excited” about the potential offered by the platform, he adds that the onus to make it work still rests entirely on creatives and that the traditional tenets of advertising have been accentuated in their importance in the digital age. 

“The power balance between advertisers and people has fundamentally shifted to people, which is a fantastic thing. Advertising people are even more valuable in this eco-system because great ideas that connect with people and provide value offer exponential potential for brands to connect with people … The truth that [William] Bernbach first defined 50 or 60 years about respecting humans changed advertising. And no matter where we grew up that’s what we came to believe. And today, all of those things are more true than ever: to care about people, to build things of value, to market for rather than at people, and communicating in a way that’s worthy of attention.”   

And D’Arcy will no doubt hope that some of the messages he delivered over the last week at Cannes successfully swim through the rosé swirling in creatives’ minds and reach the targeted memory banks.  

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