THE BLOG
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Necessity Is the Mother of our Creative Invention

We've heard the generational tales -- some tall, some true -- of the innovative survivors of the Great Depression. They wasted nothing. Necessity was the mother of their invention. Surviving demanded creativity.

If history repeats itself, these economic hard times are forcing our hands once again to be more creative and innovative. And that's good. As advertisers, we're in the business of breakthroughs and creative ideas to radically transform our clients' businesses.

We learn lessons from our past. As we look to 2010, the tough economy will accelerate the transition toward non-traditional channels. We see it as an incredible opportunity to lead clients toward experimentation. The industry is being redefined, but it's not a time for novices. We're going to have to capitalize on the best of the past and apply it to the best future.

I recently came across a poignant line from an in-house JWT publication that was published 100 years ago, "It is the mingling of good new things with good old things that gives us strength."

Brands have to be confident now more than ever. They need to be innovative in how they go to market with creative and communications. Ultimately, JWT has proven, tough times provide us with the chance to push boundaries. Around the world, through our craft, we've used this crisis as a chance to define and redefine the industry. It may be a global crisis, but it's also a global creative opportunity.

Our expertise and history are rooted in defining and reinventing global brands. Our relationship with Unilever spans more than a century. Our partnership with Ford goes back 66 years; US Marines, 62 years; and Rolex, 63 years.

We believe in work, reputation and growth. Great work transforms businesses. It steals market share. It turns indifferent brands into beloved brands. And it attracts clients to our agency.

For these clients, we work around a central premise of global networked creativity, the belief that ideas come from anywhere, which is why we need to be everywhere. With 200 offices in more than 90 countries, we're defining a boundary-free future -- free from geographical, media and historical constraints.

What bridges time, geography and culture is our central communication philosophy -- that we create ideas people want to spend time with. Creative ideas inspire people to spend time with a brand. More time means more bonding and ultimately more loyalty to the brand.

Consider the Kit Kat in Japan, one of the world's most competitive retail markets. Getting shelf space is not nearly the challenge of keeping it in Japan's fickle confectionery market. For Kit Kat, one of Nestle's flagship brands and one of the world's most famous chocolate bars, the strategy wasn't to fight the battle on the shelf, but to create a new level of meaning and a revolutionary new way to experience the brand.

The term, "Kitto Katso," translates from the Japanese as "surely win." It's a hopeful thought for people trying to compete with 127 million people in the country. Nowhere is the pressure to "surely win" more pervasive than in the schools. Every spring, friends and family send care packages to students embarking on school entrance exams. Hand-written notes are especially cherished. We wondered what if we could inspire the entire country to send students Kit Kats.

Our Tokyo team tapped the Japanese postal service, one of the country's largest institutions with more than 20,000 locations, to accept Kit Kats as edible postcards. In the first ever partnership between the government, Japan Post and a private brand, we introduced Kit Kat Mail. You could buy a candy bar at the post office, write a personal message and send it to a friend. The campaign was deployed in 22,000 offices overnight without a single competitor in sight.

The seemingly simple idea generated more than $11 million in free publicity and landed Kit Kat Mail as a permanent product in Japan Post outlets, alongside stamps and postcards. More than 260,000 Kit Kat Mail packages were sent, and even though the spring exams are over, hundreds of thousands of people are sending them to wish good luck for any occasion. Now, the candy bar is synonymous with good fortune. The work also won us a Grand Prix at Cannes, the most prestigious advertising award show in the world. This is the kind of open-minded, barrier-free idea that can be translated around the world and inspires real bonding with the brand.

We also recognize that global consumers are rapidly reevaluating and readjusting their value paradigms and purchasing decisions. Our job is to keep our ear to the ground with these consumers, providing relevant real-time insight to our clients that inspires cutting-edge, cost-efficient solutions.

Born out of our need to be more innovative is a change in how we communicate. We've evolved from a reliance on advertising that interrupted what people were interested in to communications that are what people are interested in. The new model shows interruption is out. Consumer engagement and interaction are in.

The idea is to engage the audience with meaningful work and keep topping that work with consistent innovation. In 2008, at the height of the economic collapse, JWT launched a campaign for Macy's called "Believe." The campaign asked Americans to prove they believed in the true spirit of the Christmas season by mailing their letters to Santa Claus at special mailboxes installed at more than 800 stores nationwide. For each letter, Macy's donated $1 to the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

The campaign was a massive success, collecting over 1.1 million letters. But our next assignment was to top it. For 2009, we needed to continue "Believe," build on its success, and find new ways to ignite the spirit of Christmas among customers. The solution wasn't to make more advertising. Instead, we made a television show from scratch.

"Yes, Virginia" is a 30-minute animated Christmas special written and produced by JWT. The show is based on the classic true tale of Virginia O'Hanlon, who in 1897 set out on a quest across New York City to prove Santa Claus was real. The entire story shows one little girl's struggle to "Believe" -- bringing our campaign idea to life in a way no commercial could ever accomplish.

Last year we were able to inspire 1.1 million people to write a letter to Santa Claus. By creating an original show for network television, we'll reach an audience far, far bigger than that.

It's contagious advertising exactly because it doesn't look anything like advertising. It's interaction, not interruption. Unlike a commercial or print ad, "Yes, Virginia" was crafted to be timeless. We had to deliver a show that was as good as or better than the other programming we were competing with. And above all, we tried to make something that would inspire people to believe long after this holiday shopping season is over.

These tough economic times may be forcing our hands to innovate and push harder to survive. But if we've learned anything from history, we can marry the good new things with the good old things and come out stronger for it.