AME's Grand Jury members are the All-Stars of Strategy, their global reputations as both industry leaders and award-winning marketers ensure that all entries submitted into the AME Awards are evaluated with the utmost of care and consideration.Their commitment to ground-breaking effective work and their understanding of the partnerhip between creative and effective work has delivered impressive results for prestigious global brands.
2021 Grand Jury member Aki Spicer is Chief Strategy Officer at Leo Burnett/Chicago. Aki is bridging the gaps between timeless branding and timely behaviors at one of the most storied agency brands in the world. He sits at the center of multiple “Power of One” Leo Burnett Group agencies specializing in Shopper, CRM, Digital, Experience all with Data at the center. To do this Aki advances the agency’s “Humankind OS” – a strategic process that strives to frame the business problem, brand purpose, and resulting creative solutions thru a lens of human needs for brands like Samsung, Messenger, US Cellular, Kellogg’s and more.
In the interview below, Aki shares his perspective on the evolution of brand positioning during COVID, the challenge of making data user friendly, what attributes exemplify stand-out creative/effective advertising and much more.
AME Awards: As a strategic creative, what stand-out attributes do you recognize in award-winning creative effective advertising?
Aki Spicer: I lean towards wanting to see that the idea really changed a behavior beyond just making people think, feel or consider. I believe that if you want to make ideas that can change the world, this is prefaced by proving the idea can change behavior, itself. So I am keen to know that the idea was participative, contagiously-engaging and enlisting some forms of action by people. Advertising is hard, people classically don’t want it, so if advertising can make people participate with it, shift viewers to do’ers, you are on the path towards making impact.
AME Awards: Why are effectiveness competitions like the AME Awards important?
Aki Spicer: Celebrating proven success is good for us all, and effectiveness competitions like the AME Awards are a catalyst for the conversation. Competitions can get an organization, and brand team, aligned around a culture of success and proven performance, and it can enable that dialogue – at the agency level, at the industry level around best practices. Also in this era of fast-moving response, we tend to skip right past the critical post-mortem of “what did we do?”, “how did it do?” And competitions can remind us to consider and re-appraise so that we can try to improve on it next time.
AME Awards: How has the brand’s voice changed since the pandemic confinement measures? Speak to the evolution of brand positioning, values, and tone of voice during COVID.
Aki Spicer: I witness that brands are back to needing to make their case for Purpose and role in people’s lives beyond parity function. Our industry may have over-indexed on functional focus thru the new age of digital and connected TV and programmatic. And then Scarcity and New Conveniences made brand loyalty suddenly ~optional. The Pandemic forced many of us to ask: well, is this brand really worth the effort of pursuit? Is this brand worth my commitment? So brand functional value and product experience now needs to really become stand out, and/or we are needing to bolster our connections with higher emotional value.
AME Awards: What innovations are changing the way agencies create on behalf of brands or launch new products? Does big data and AI play an even bigger role today?
Aki Spicer: I believe data has always played a role on behalf of brands and ideas, the challenge of our time is making data user-friendly – weaponizing it to have better impact on today’s decisions and ideas. Data Stewards, themselves, also still have a ways to go towards translation and application. Data Leads on a team can sometimes feel aloof, hard to parse, or apply. To solve this classic tension, I have embedded data teams at Leo into creative strategy teams, no departments inside the department anymore. But rather, data as collaborator and partner – the strategist’s and creative’s best friend. We also strive to make our data storytelling plainspoken, always putting needs of people at center.
We are also underway bringing AI to bear on our trends hunting – thru a development that we call Culturefy AI. Smart Strategists being smart will always be on brief, but we also believe that machine learning can scale our strategists’ ability to locate and quantify a trend opportunity. AI can bring more and more, relevant opportunities forward, and de-risk the trend for our clients’ consideration. Culturefy AI would then shift more of our time and focus where it matters: on the creative ideas, not on surfacing the trends.
AME Awards: Why did you agree to participate on this year’s AME Grand Jury and What do you hope to learn by viewing entries into this competition?
Aki Spicer: I endorse the idea(l) of pausing and “taking stock.” I believe it is healthy for any team, org or industry to stop and ask, “how are we doing?”, so I enjoy peeking in on other brands and teams’ approaches to success. I truly appreciate knowing the standards and barometer of the industry, and bringing that back to my teams to push us forward.