Judy Wellfare of Plus on Dynamic Storytelling and Culture as Currency [POV]

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Jami Oetting
Jami Oetting



judy-welfare-plusJudy Wellfare is the executive creative director at Plus, a boutique creative agency located in New York.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I grew up in Asia; my dad is a British Diplomat. My childhood was an adventure: I went to an international school in Beijing with kids from 30 different countries who has different cultural points of view, so we had to develop different ways to communicate. I think this sparked a passion for storytelling and an appreciation for cultural connections. My career has always been connected to visual and cultural storytelling, from starting out in music television in Hong Kong to directing a live sketch TV show for an audience of 220 million people across Asia and the Middle East. My job was to connect distinctive cultures and passions across 15 countries, and we did it through comedy and music.

I soon turned to graphic design and live-action direction in Japan and then moved to NYC to work as an art director at RIOT Manhattan, a design agency. As ECD at Plus, my role is really to help create different story platforms and integrated experiences across all visual and communication mediums with our brand partners.

Can branded content also include storytelling aspects? What key elements need to be included?

Of course! Branded content is all about storytelling; it’s the perfect medium to connect with consumers around shared cultural values. In our multi-channel world, brands need to be fluid and prepared to participate in more conversations to communicate their story. Branded content is a great vehicle for this.

The key elements are consistency, point of view, and relevance to context.

We hear all the time how difficult it is to simultaneously be efficient and effective in content creation. We help our brand partners in an approach we call dynamic storytelling, which is a means of supporting many different conversations that are contextually relevant to the distribution channel.

In its simplest form, this entails creating a content map that overlays a brand’s creative and communication vision. This map shows how creative will be translated to fit different messaging categories, mediums, and contexts. This map should specify how an offering relates to a brand and how different conversations and categories might relate to each other to develop the brand narrative.


What is culture as currency? Why is this important for brands?

People engage with a brand because of how they perceive a brand and how they see it relating to their lives — how it adds to their personal story. This is essentially the core of what consumer engagement is, and it’s how brand loyalty and passionate fans are created. Sounds simple, but it is more complicated to manage a brand’s perception now. Iconic brands such as Nike, Calvin Klein, and BMW 'grew up' in a time when they could define the conversation — they could influence what was cool and important. They could define and influence culture and trends.

Now, there are so many different outlets for interest, experience, and conversation, and as a consumer, I can shift from one genre or style to another in a millisecond. I can define my identity and craft my story in a much more unique way than I could have done five years ago.
My world is a blend of images, sounds, and topics I curate for myself how and when I want it. Most importantly I can also choose to filter out what I don't want to see.

For a brand to make it into my stream, it needs to fit into my values, my interests, and my desires. It needs to be part of my culture. For me to buy into a brand, it needs to be a cultural fit – it needs to authentically reflect my culture. This is how it can gain my attention and earn my business. If I feel sufficiently engaged by a brand, I can be compelled to make it part of my own life story.

This is how culture has become currency.


How has cross-channel marketing made crafting a cohesive brand story more important? Or has it?

NikeAmbient2A coherent brand story is more important than a cohesive one. The idea of a developing and nurturing living brands means that content is created and distributed in lots of formats and across different channels. It’s about sparking positive connections with people and getting the people to be part of the brand through buying in and sharing. This all needs to map back to a brand narrative.

It’s important to note that this idea of a brand story extends through all aspects of the brand — visual, experience, and service.

Is paid media necessary anymore? How can the right story and compelling creative work without paid?

It really depends on the brand, the story, and the audience. Unfortunately the window of free impressions through social has pretty much closed. The social channels have to make money, so they throttle reach. Brand publishing is a long-term approach: It is powerful in helping build trust with audiences. Its role is to develop and share a point of view to resonate with people.

Certain types of content can still achieve organic spread, but honestly, for the most part, the subject of these only works for certain types of brands or campaigns. For example, these can be very effective to raise awareness for entertainment launches but are less effective for brands that have developed more defined brand stories.

What is one of your favorite campaigns your agency has worked on?

One of my favorite campaigns that we’ve worked on was the MAC Cosmetics Spring Colour Forecast campaign for a collection launch. We created an audiovisual kaleidoscope across four spots to invoke an emotional response to colour. It was a beauty campaign done through an editorial lens, and it was successful because it created an emotional connection with passionate brand fans.


Must read book:

"Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World" by Gary Vaynerchuk

Favorite Ad:

I don’t have a favorite… , but there are two that I love for different reasons. The first was the Dove Real Beauty Sketches branded content campaign. It hit a human truth so effectively. I also love the J’Adore Dior campaign with Charlize Theron and Grace Kelly — just beautiful eye candy. Both of these for me were inspirational and compelling.

Connect with Judy on LinkedIn or follow @WeArePlus.

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