2020 AME Grand Jury POV Interview: Megan Nethercote

2020 Grand Jury member Megan Nethercote is Strategic Director for the F\NE Group South Africa. Her understanding of the importance of identity and brand originated at Apple in marketing and communications. As the F/NE conceptual storyteller, Meg has a strong grasp of the ‘power of the human story’ in accessing people’s hearts and minds to effect behaviour change and create alignment around common purpose and values.

New York | October 21, 2019

The AME Awards Grand Jury represents some of the world’s most creative and strategic minds in advertising and marketing communications. The Grand Jury is the powerhouse behind the prestigious AME Awards, their high standard of excellence ensures that AME’s 26-year legacy is upheld and respected globally both by winners and industry reports measuring creative distinction.

2020 Grand Jury member Megan Nethercote is Strategic Director for the F\NE Group South Africa. Her understanding of the importance of identity and brand originated at Apple in marketing and communications.

As the F/NE conceptual storyteller, Meg has a strong grasp of the ‘power of the human story’ in accessing people’s hearts and minds to effect behaviour change and create alignment around common purpose and values.

Meg’s effusive energy and disruptive thinking style enables her to galvanise people to successfully deliver large-scale, global change programmes – she makes large companies feel like connected communities through the power of hope and imagination.

AME Awards: Tell us about your process of creating and delivering effective results.

Megan Nethercote: The answer lies in the question itself – it’s all about RESULTS. What that means for me is: start with the end in mind.

Ask yourself, “how will this campaign/strategy shift customer behaviour” and thereby generate results (sales, likes, leads, loyalty etc…) for the client. Don’t start by thinking of clever lines or great design and retro fit that into a creative rationale to sell the concept to your client. Make sure the concept sells itself. Customers don’t have the luxury of creative rationales – the work either influences their behaviour or not – that’s the only litmus test that counts

AME Awards: As a strategic creative, what do ads that have taken the brief and turned it into a campaign that transforms opinions, evokes action and raises the bar for the brand have in common?

Megan Nethercote: I would say that campaigns that get noticed often have a very clear understanding of the human truth that underpins a specific behaviour. If a campaign can tap into that, then the opportunity to use creativity to amplify that truth is huge. Purpose is also the buzziest of buzzwords at the moment and brands that can authentically show they are about more than just making money are differentiating themselves in a meaningful way.

AME Awards: Why are effectiveness competitions like the AME Awards important?

Megan Nethercote: If marketing and communication professionals want to really have a seat at the executive table then we need to stop obsessing over pretty pictures and clever ideas. I am in no way undermining the creative process or outputs, but those outputs need to be judged on how they shift the needle for the brand and not for their aesthetic or conceptual appeal alone. If we keep awarding work based on design and concept alone and not results – the business will keep us in the “nice to have” box. If we want to hold our own with the C-suite of any organisation, best we start to think like they do and obsess over the same things they are obsessed with.

AME Awards: What makes you share you time and energy to participate on the AME Grand Jury and what do you hope to learn?

Megan Nethercote: I think it’s so important to expand your view of the world in any context it presents itself. My hope is that I get a glimpse of what other marketing and communication professionals are producing to elevate my own thinking and take time to look up and beyond for a bit - as opposed to head down in my own way of thinking.

AME Awards: What is your favorite most effective ad and why does it hit the bullseye for the brand?

Megan Nethercote: You highlight an interesting paradox – my favourite ads may not be the most effective ones for that brand. The ads that stick out in my mind are often ones that evoke a sense of nostalgia or pride in my country of birth i.e. my choices tell you more about what I believe the ads say about my identity that whether they were effective pieces of communication eg: ;

I love these ads but have never bought a VW vehicle nor a pair of Toughees for my children.

Favourite is a subjective word. Does a loved ad translate into sales for that brand? Maybe. Do people love an ad so much they rush to purchase the product/service? Not always. Does a loved ad build cumulative brand value over time that leads to loyalty and purchase – hopefully, otherwise many of us need to find new jobs. The challenge is to navigate between likability/love and short-term effectiveness in multiple communication channels over time in order to build brand perception - but not at the expense of results.

An interesting point to note: I asked a millennial in our office what her favourite ad was, and her response was, “I can’t remember when last I watched an ad, I usually just skip them.”

This is what we as communicators are up against in terms of the media consumption habits of the customers we are trying to target.

The last ad that actually made me take action was a sponsored, targeted ad on Instagram. It was probably not the most crafted piece of communication ever made but it hit me with a clear message (price driven) and resulted in me making a purchase.

My closing comment would be that there needs to be a place for different types of communication in a broader brand communication strategy. We need to make space for those communication pieces that evoke love, pride and a sense of belonging and build brand perception over time. As well as those that help create short term results and meet targets.

The interesting point is that as marketers, which of those types of ads mentioned above do we deem to be “effective”. Do we think that we need to forsake concept and craft in order to be effective in the short term? In my opinion, the real gems out there should ultimately crack both sides of the equation.

AME Awards: In your opinion, which brands are doing the most effective millennial friendly creative?

Megan Nethercote: You’ll have to ask a millennial to answer that one – I think my sell by date excludes me from the pack on this one 😉

AME Awards: What campaign or campaigns are you most proud of and how did it move the needle for the brand?

Megan Nethercote: At F/NE we conceptualised Dream Rooms for the South African NGO: Reach for a Dream

This organisation believes in the power of dreams to help fight life threatening illnesses and works tirelessly to make as many dreams as possible come true for children in South Africa. A key player in bringing these dreams to the attention of the foundation is the child’s doctor.

The brief:

The initial brief was to help the foundation increase dream referrals from doctors so they could fulfil more dreams.

Key insight:

The key barrier was that doctors typically focus on the clinical treatment needs of a patient and are not always open to the non-clinical interventions that can improve a patient’s health outcomes. A campaign was therefore needed to showcase the effect of hope and dreams on the health outcomes for children with life threatening illnesses.

The big idea:

The “campaign” did not take the form of any traditional or even digital media channel. Rather, we found under-utilised spaces within hospitals and transformed these into sanctuaries where children could engage in play and reach their developmental milestones.

The result:

Increased dream referrals from doctors due to the fact that we placed the “evidence” in the doctor’s place of work. For the first time, doctors could see first-hand the difference that an environment of play, joy and hope had on their patients.

The lesson was to think way beyond the traditional boundaries of available media channels to get the results the client needed.

AME Awards: Any advice for entrants? Will you share your tips for entry success?

Megan Nethercote: Great work floats to the top swiftly and almost intuitively - If you have to explain it too much that means the battle is almost certainly already lost.

Have a very clear summary of how this campaign shifted the needle for the brand – judges have the same attention span as everyone else these days 😉

Think carefully about your category – place your entry where it will hold the most value and not where you think you have a better shot at winning.

AME Awards: What cultural and/or social changes do you think will influence this year’s work?

Megan Nethercote: Coming from a healthcare background purpose has always been intrinsic to what we do – we are seeing this trend extend to the mass market more so than ever before. I think brands that tap into purpose in an authentic way (and not just to piggyback something topical or based on current public opinion) will catch the consumers eye more so than ever before.

Diversity and inclusion are no longer reserved for the more liberal brands but should be embraced by everyone if they want their brands to continue to have a seat at the table.