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May 22, 2013

POV: Interview with Erich Funke, Creative Director at Saatchi & Saatchi LA

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Erich FunkeWhy is it important to integrate digital (social, search, etc.) into traditional campaigns, much like what you did with Toyota’s “I Wish” TV spot?

It presents more opportunities to tell your story and share your values. We should try to keep in mind the context in which various viewers and participants will engage with the message. We keep learning more and more about media fragmentation and multi-screens, and each new space is a gem of an opportunity – an opportunity to gain comprehension, to start a conversation, create a favorable impression and continue the brand experience.

How does your childhood and years motorcycling through Namibia influence your work?

It’s definitely shaped a big part of who I am. I served two years in the army, traveled the world and spent a large part of my youth in the wild African bush — all of which gave me a richer overview of life. When I joined the army, I specifically chose the off-road motorcycle unit because I had never ridden a motorcycle before. I also took the opportunity to face my fear of heights by parachuting from airplanes. These experiences were empowering and humbling at the same time. I believe you can choose to grow yourself in the challenges you choose to face.

People had said that precision targeting and one-on-one connections with loyal consumers is the way forward. Why is mass media still relevant to certain brands?

I recently learned a great term that fit this perfectly: tonnage media. The real power of mass media lies in its potential for immediate and massive scalability. It’s perfect as a campaign igniter and has the weight to get the ball rolling for audience interest and participation. Major brands still rely heavily on mass media to drive viewers to continue the brand experience online and elsewhere. I read an interesting statistic recently that during peak time roughly 40 percent of all tweets are about TV programs.

What do the changes in TV habits mean for advertisers?

This is a truly amazing and exciting time. It’s no longer about marketers serving content because viewers don’t want to simply view content. They want to author it, affect it, comment on it and contribute to it. This means more opportunities to garner unique and relevant engagement with the audience with near limitless possibilities of participation. This change in habits gives us great opportunities to create a human connection with the audience. An example of this is the Oreo “dunk in the dark” tweet from the recent Super Bowl. Kudos to the quick-witted individual who came up with this line and opened an industry’s eyes to the vast potential that awaits.

New habits mesh with the audience’s use of multiple devices. An amazing outcome of all of this is the more devices and platforms our audience has, the more content or engagement we create as a result. This means ultimately they’re spending more time with us.

Should a website ultimately tell the story of the brand? Why or why not?

Absolutely. Look at Toyota. Look at Apple. The website is not “merely another space” or the “information warehouse.” It’s a brand library and an important part of the story we want to tell and the conversation we want to have with our audience. Especially important is the consistency with which that story is told. A lack of consistency in the brand story feels vaguely deceitful. Think of how many people we tend to distrust if they employ different personas at different times and different places. Every audience-facing space is an opportunity to tell the story of the brand and a way to strengthen the relationship.

Venture Beat reported that mobile apps have won. Should brands be focusing on the mobile web or spending more time working on strategies to create useful applications?

Again, context is relevant. I would suggest there is a compelling reason for either approach. Which approach would depend very much on the motivation of the audience, what content they’re after, where they are geographically and what device they’re using. It’s also important to consider what time frame they need the content within, what level of “utility” is required and whether they need a “daily update” or require a deeper dive into the information.

Tell us about some of your favorite campaigns that you’ve worked on (no more than three)*. What was the strategy behind these?

I led the effort when Toyota launched a new full-size pickup into the U.S. How was I, a South African, going to launch a Japanese truck to Americans whose families may have grown up with only Fords and Chevys? Because this product had massive capability built into it, our strategy was to prove that this half-ton truck had the guts of a three-quarter-ton truck. Our target was “no B.S. guys,” and we needed to ignite an authentic barstool debate within truck circles that would literally change the category. The Tundra definitely had the goods, so we had to demonstrate its capabilities to our audience, which we did through some of the biggest product demonstrations the world has ever seen. Our campaign ultimately changed advertising in the half-ton truck category during a three-year period.

My next big challenge was launching a minivan. I realized the depth of the challenge when I overheard one of our research respondents emphatically retort: “Drive a minivan? I would rather have my tubes tied than drive a minivan!” Our strategy was to shift the focus back onto the parents to make minivans cool and kind of sexy to make parents feel good about driving them. We created a family that launched the campaign with a hip-hop music video in the style of Snoop Dogg and Jay-Z called “Swagger Wagon.” It became an Internet sensation.


And finally, I want to mention the campaign in which we used the Toyota Tundra to tow the NASA space shuttle Endeavour across the 405 Freeway on live TV. The weight of the NASA transporter was too much for the bridge across the 405, and they needed a smaller truck to get it across. We set out to prove that the Tundra had the guts to do it. This project was a year in the planning and testing, and finally, on October 12, 2012, our half-ton truck towed the 145-ton space shuttle Endeavour and its trailer across the 405. It proved again, in a very dramatic way, that this truck has the guts of a three-quarter-ton truck.


What emerging trend in advertising are you most excited about and why?

Well, I’m not sure this one is truly an emerging trend any longer, and we’ve dabbled in it, but the idea of content marketing is something I truly want to get my head around so I can do something great with it. There’s always a plethora of new social media initiatives to find opportunities within such as Snapchat and Vine. There are also platforms that have been around for a while such as Tumblr where the presentation can be beautiful.

There’s also probably going to be a massive effort from brands to have an even stronger, real-time, true 24/7 presence on Twitter. I think online influencers will become the hot new celebrities.

Must-read book: The art director in me wants to say “Where the Wild Things Are.” It has a great underlying story, too! I’m currently reading five books on a range of topics, but the one I find most useful is, “Your Best Body at 40+: The 4-Week Plan to Get Back in Shape — and Stay Fit Forever!” Ha! It’s very helpful!

Favorite ad of all time: The Apple “Think Different” TV launch ad. It’s brilliant. It’s a call to action, and it speaks volumes about the user’s mindset and Apple’s philosophy. Think of the insight and the intent this campaign captured. Whether we like it or not, whether we accept it or not, in my lifetime, Apple has changed the behavior of multiple generations in multiple countries on multiple continents and has created multiple technologies and business models. All because they “think different,” which leads to “do different.”

Connect with Erich on LinkedIn.


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