From the metaverse to artificial intelligence, and from ChatGPT to augmented reality, technology is advancing at a breathtaking pace. It is pushing consumers to spend more time on digital platforms than ever, presenting brands with the opportunity to reach and engage audiences in ways that traditional media simply couldn’t.
But, as technology evolves, one thing remains constant: creativity. The good news for brands is that technology and creativity go hand in hand, and that’s good news for the UK as it is one of the leading creative markets in the world, with a fast-growing reputation for early technology adoption.
Campaign, in partnership with the UK’s Department for Business and Trade, the Advertising Association, and UKAEG, brought together a panel of industry thought leaders to discuss how technology and creative can power a new era of commerce.
“Our aim is to make UK advertising as successful as it possibly can be all over the world,” said Rupert Daniels, director of digital, education, creative, consumer & sports at the DBT. The Department for Business and Trade (DBT) is the UK’s home for economic growth. Essentially, it is the country’s salespeople-in-chief.
“To understand how to do that, we have dug deep into what makes the UK a great place to create great advertising, and we believe that exists in the intersection of creative and technology.”
So, what gives the UK an advantage when it comes to delivering creative?
“McDonald’s has so many creative resources to work with in the UK,” said Eugene Lee, CMO of international developed licensee markets at McDonald’s. “This means a lot of our big ideas come out of the UK, and we look at the UK as a lighthouse pillar for us.”
Meredith Kelly, global head of marketing at Skoda, said: “Creativity is what makes the UK really attractive for us. More and more work needs to travel well and understand different cultures, and the UK offers that quality.”
A diverse outlook
While the advertising industry still has much to do to improve DEI, for brands based outside of the UK, the country represents an opportunity to tap into a hugely diverse creative workforce.
“I’ve been lucky to work all over Europe, and what the UK offers is the most diverse culture I’ve seen, and that is similarly replicated in the agencies,” said Becky Verano, global head of marketing operations & capabilities at Reckitt. “That gives the UK, and London, the edge, because you have more diversity in front of and behind the camera.”
“That diversity is super important for Mastercard,” said Jerzy Holub, marketing director for Czech, Slovak, & Polish cluster at Mastercard. “We have a very wide and diverse audience, so it’s a huge advantage for the UK to have such diversity working among its creative agencies.”
While the UK has a long-held reputation for being at the forefront of creative advertising, it is also increasingly known for its tech innovation. While Britain may not have a Silicon Valley, in May 2023 London was named as the official tech capital of the world according to the Smart Centres Index, ahead of the top five of New York, San Francisco, Zurich, and Lugano. With Oxford also in the top 10 and Cambridge 13th, it shows that the UK is developing a stellar reputation for innovation.
“The UK is very willing to experiment,” said Lee. “For example, Monopoly used to be a really traditional offering for McDonald’s; you’d walk into a restaurant and buy your stickers and stick them on a big map. The UK was one of the first markets to move the whole experience to digital. It is often pioneering, and we learn from that, and take it to the rest of the world.”
While much of Samsung Electronics’ creative development happens at its global headquarters in South Korea, the company turns to London as a hotbed for early adoption. “Germany and the UK are the most advanced countries when it comes to early adoption, and where we implement new technologies, particularly for targetting audiences,” said Alfonso Fernandez Iglesias, Iberia e-commerce director & CMO at Samsung. “A lot of our creative ideas are developed in London and then taken to other countries.”
“I had a client from India saying they want to bypass the learning curve and go straight to the UK,” said Aisling Conlon, international trade director at Advertising Association. “So I think our reputation as an early adopter means the UK has a real opportunity to be loud and shout about being a test market.”
Jamila Saidi, head of digital commerce, retail & luxury at the DBT, believes the advertising industry in the UK is well-placed to take advantage of advances in technology. “Tech is evolving so rapidly that it’s at the point where it’s hard for brands and consumers to keep up,” she said. “This means marketing and creative professionals are in such a unique position to drive change. No other industry can do what this group of people can do, and ultimately we are better doing that as a collective.”
Digital commerce is increasingly fragmented and complex. The unprecedented growth of social and gaming commerce, married with the consumer demand for customisation, means that if a brand fails to understand its audience, it is irrelevant how smart the creative is.
“What you need to have within an agency is people that understand the customers of a brand, what platforms they’re using, how they’re using them, and from that understand whether they’re going to have a relevant impact on their business,” said Emil Bielski, UK managing director at Croud. “There’s no brand that can afford to try everything at the same time, so it’s about identification and focus.
“Because of the diversity in the UK, we are able to understand those trends and how customers experience them better than elsewhere, so we deliver really good commerce experiences. We are right at the cutting edge of marrying storytelling and performance in the UK.”
Whether or not the metaverse truly takes off, and whether natural intelligence is the next frontier of AI, it doesn’t particularly matter. What matters is that, whichever road tech takes us down, our panel of experts believe the UK has the talent, agility, and creative culture to capitalise.
“It’s an exciting time to be a marketer,” said Verano. “For me, generative AI is going to pivot marketing into a whole new universe, and it will allow us to have the conversations with consumers that we want. But, like with any new tech, it will only be as good as the creativity that goes into it. And that is where the UK is going to stand out from the pack.”
Best of the rest…
On UK diversity
Dan Cullen‑Shute, worldwide CEO & founder, Creature
“When we go to places like Cannes, we get told ‘you’re so good at this stuff. As a market you’re so focussed on pushing diversity, and actually baking it in and making businesses better’. And an increasingly powerful part of that is that over the last few years we’ve made huge steps in creating successful agencies throughout the UK, not just in London. Previously, we were too London-centric, which created homogenous work, but we’re getting better and that’s making us better at talking to the rest of the world.”
Michael Sugden, CEO VCCP partnership, CEO, faith
“The advantage the UK has is its mindset. We often talk about skillsets, but the merger of commerce, creativity, and technology is a mindset. We’re naturally curious and inquisitive as a nation. Every year you have a new platform, a new technology, and a new opportunity, and you have to lean into that, and you have to invest, and you have to experiment, and we’re really good at having that mindset.”
On merging creative and tech
Neil Henderson, CEO & Owner, St Luke’s
“A great example of our curious and creative mindset is, during lockdown, one of our creative partners learned how to do augmented reality. He’s been doing filters on Instagram and TikTok, and he’s had 800m views on TikTok just from doing his own stuff. And now we’re bringing that expertise to our clients.”
Beth Johnson, founder, Umbrella
“Collaboration is vital, and we’re doing this much better in the UK than we were 10 or 15 years ago. If we have a new idea for a client, or a new technology that could enhance our work with a client, I will pick up the phone and talk to other agencies who we might share a client with, and work with them to test, innovate, and improve.”