Kate Canada Obregon is the co-founder and director of strategy and research at Oishii Creative.
Tell us a little about yourself. Describe your job, how long you’ve been doing it, and how you got into it.
I co-founded Oishii Creative with my business partner, and now husband, in 2006. At university, I studied political philosophy and culture. It’s a bit different than studying about themes in politics. As a research intern, I helped professors who observed and studied social movements. As we worked together, they would share their field notes, methodologies, and observations with me. I was working on the theories -- the ideas they used to study and understand people they worked with. I loved the way people used art, music, and culture to challenge convention, interact with one another, and create subcultures. Other scholars were doing this too by embedding themselves in families, businesses, and social groups.
The more I studied and did my own research, the more I began to see the small, but powerful, tools people used in culture, language, and perspective -- how culture and institutions in society are in a perpetual conversation. Often, brands want to be in these conversations. In my doctoral studies, I was lucky enough to land at a university where I could continue my passion for culture and political science and blend it with the possibilities of technology. I was given free rein to work with what was called the New Media Lab, a place where graduate students and faculty could incorporate the digital world into their work.
Around this time, I met my future business partner, and we immediately clicked. He wanted to shape “branding” into a stand-alone and serious discipline for his clients, separate from the function and process of marketing, and I wanted to apply social science to study audiences and culture. I wanted to be a “social” scientist, not just study culture for science.
At Oishii, my day is spent working on the strategy and research side of projects. As each client comes in, I study their brand, goals, and needs and help them figure out where they want to go. Depending on the project, we put together a strategy and creative toolkit. For me, strategy informs creative and allows us to get granular without losing the fun and urgency of big ideas. It’s the best of social science and design.
Should creative ideas always be based in research and data? How does this foundation provide brands with a more impactful strategy or campaign?
The best creative emerges from a conversation with qualitative and quantitative data sets. I like to know the facts and the big picture that numbers can readily tell us. With that said, numbers do miss the subtleties of opinions, perceptions, and desires. This is where semiotics, ethnography, or other social science methods are extremely valuable tools. The best campaigns I’ve worked on are those where I’ve been able to dig deep into all sorts of data and turn up something unexpected and new. These campaigns end up being the most timely and talked about beyond a quarterly life cycle or the next ad buy season. I like partnering with clients who want to be relevant and let the research lead them beyond trends and into real meaning and relevancy. Audiences and consumers want this, too.
Why does advertising need to move to being less risk-adverse?
Risk and fear are important variables for any business, but they shouldn’t determine and structure creative. Agencies are in the business of imaginatively engaging people. It hurts our business to let fear or risk overwhelm our core offerings. Advertising relies on talented people dreaming, experimenting, and using technology. I strive to inspire people in my office; I feel it’s part of my responsibility. And I think others feel the same way.
If you allow people to unhinge from fear or risk, they will think big. They will trust themselves to follow their ideas, conceive campaigns, and dig deep. Whether it’s going on location with the next Vine celeb, dreaming up the next cause campaign, or finding partners to activate a social media idea, being less risk-adverse sets people free and creates a climate of action and purpose.
And the business reality is this: Audiences, clients, and consumers want -- even expect -- brands to think big and find ways to connect and engage with them. Whether it’s an on-air promo campaign or field activation or social content strategy, people do respond to and will champion brands who help them think beyond what is.
Why should brands refrain from selling on fear and mistrust? What approach should brands take?
Fear is not a long-term growth strategy -- for creative or business. Audiences and consumers want interaction with brands that understand their lives, choices, and needs, and make their lives better. It probably sounds a bit grandiose, but it’s real. Our approach is finding the “why” throughline -- the purpose for the campaign, how it speaks or represents the brand, and how it connects emotions. A well-planned throughline sets the tone, style, and voice and structures campaigns from beginning to end. For us, ideation is the best place to figure this out, and it has really worked for us.
Throughout the strategy and creative processes, we ask one another, “what’s the ‘value' for the user?” Every ideation for us ends with that question, and it makes the campaign stronger and more effective. Consumers are savvy and smart. They don’t want negative nor do they want all positive brand messages. They want choices and ways to make their lives easier and better. It’s about giving lots of choices and appealing to our best human selves.
What is one of your favorite campaigns your agency has worked on?
The Hub Network rebranded last year, and we were called in to work on strategy and ideation and to produce its on-air look and visual identity. The CMO and her team were amazingly open and collaborative. They wanted to make sure their brand was aligned and relevant for kids and families. We presented them with longitudinal studies about American families and a lot of on-the-ground research. In the end, we helped create a brand that really captures the fun and silliness of modern families. I’m proud of the work because it is real without being saccharine.
What advertising trend do you find most interesting and why?
I’m in love with the possibilities of native advertising. Journalism is changing quickly in the U.S. and as long form editorial content seems to be seeing a renaissance again, I like the fact other experts can join the conversation. I’m not talking about selling, but adding diversity of opinions and ideas into our public dialogue.
Must read book:
Experiences in Visual Thinking by Robert H. McKim