2020 AME Grand Jury POV Interview: David Bates

2020 Grand Jury member David Bates is CEO & Creative Director of Bokeh. He is a high-functioning eccentric who thinks in stories, speaks in aphorisms, and wields a passion for storytelling that’s unorthodox approaching idiosyncratic. Hired at Google as a 22-year old, David held an objectively unjustifiable amount of power. He built a content team at Google Maps and established a global production strategy that covered the Canadian Arctic, Taj Mahal, and Pyramids at Giza.

New York | November 03, 2019

AME’s award-winning Grand Jury members have a world-wide reputation for innovation, creative excellence, strategic prowess, and the ability to deliver distinctive and effective results for global brands.

The AME Awards honors not just campaigns that are creative, but campaigns that hit the bullseye for brands, triumphing in both creativity and effectiveness and AME’s Grand Jury are the genius minds behind many of AME’s award-winning entries.

2020 Grand Jury member David Bates is CEO & Creative Director of Bokeh. He is a high-functioning eccentric who thinks in stories, speaks in aphorisms, and wields a passion for storytelling that’s unorthodox approaching idiosyncratic. Hired at Google as a 22-year old, David held an objectively unjustifiable amount of power. He built a content team at Google Maps and established a global production strategy that covered the Canadian Arctic, Taj Mahal, and Pyramids at Giza. Then he left to turn his side project, a wedding video company named Bokeh, into a marketing agency. David now develops campaign strategies and content for brands like Google, Instagram, Airbnb, WeWork, DoorDash, Visa and more. David is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and currently lives in San Francisco. 

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

David Bates: Good creative pushes creatives. Recognizing the best creative is important to expand the mindset as to what’s possible in storytelling. This work inspires new directions and approaches for advertising and in so doing pushes the industry forward. But AME’s focus on “effectiveness” ads a layer of utility that is vital to consider when judging the value of advertising and marketing. It doesn’t matter how “creative” any individual idea is if it is not catching eyeballs, raising awareness, building equity, or selling products. Too often we hyperfocus on the means and lose sight of the ends. We have to thread the needle. Advertising creative is no longer a choice between fast, cheap, and good. We need efficient strategies to build brand-worthy content that drives meaningful brand growth at all times.

AME Awards: What multi-channel techniques are being used most to strategically and effectively set apart brands from the pack?

David Bates: The ability to tell a cohesive narrative visually and verbally across traditional and digital marketing channels requires advertisers to partner with creatives who understand how to integrate creative both in the development phase as well as during the production of assets. It also requires advertisers to question common assumptions. Why does the production of a television ad often cost significantly more than the production of a digital video ad? Does simply cutting down and reformatting content to fit different screen sizes create the best user experience with our advertising?

A truly integrated multi-channel mindset requires us to think 360° at all times. It requires us to think vertically and horizontally. It requires us to take into consideration the unique platform and storytelling capabilities that separate the television experience from the Instagram experience from the TikTok experience. It requires us to respect our consumer’s familiarity with advertising and desire for entertainment. It demands for a level of nimbleness that, to be frank, most advertisers and agencies aren’t built for or know to invest in. Most importantly, it asks us to prioritize the story first and metrics second. That is not to say that metrics don’t matter. That is to say that investing in performance is a short-term calculation. If you articulate your brand in well-crafted stories that can be disseminated natively across traditional and digital media, you position your brand’s marketing to achieve not only short-term performance objectives but also long-term brand-building prerogatives.

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

David Bates: As a millennial, I place an enormous amount of value in the expression of values. But what exactly does this statement mean? It’s too easy to point to socially-conscious i.e. woke creative like We Accept by Airbnb, Dream Crazy and Dream Crazier by Nike, or #Likeagirl by Always. Although I’d argue that this creative is incredibly appealing to millennial audiences and builds an enormous amount of goodwill and brand equity, simply expressing progressive values are not in itself a recipe for success. Pepsi’s attempt to channel values of diversity and acceptance with Live for Now and Gillette’s effort to call out toxic masculinity with We Believe felt disingenuous at best since neither brand has a track record promoting social justice and gender equality.

Advertisers need to do more than merely express “values” toward any particular issue that’s part of today’s socio-political discourse. Every statement has to be met with meaningful action time-and-time again to reinforce the brand as an arbiter of values; as “woke” to the millennial condition and the world we inhabit today. Airbnb’s ongoing Open Homes program offers disaster relief for those in need of emergency housing. Nike has a heritage of touching on major social issues and challenging cultural normatives through its advertising starting in the late ’80s and early ’90s with spots like If You Let Me Play and Ric Munoz. Always continues to act on its values by recently announcing to remove the Venus symbol so as to be more inclusive of transgender customers.

Perhaps my favorite recent example may be an unexpected one: Burger King. The business decisions that Burger King makes and the creative that follows consistently reinforces a connection to current culture. I love the action Burger King in Argentina took to support McDonald’s fundraising campaign for children with cancer with A Day Without Whopper. I also love Burger King playfully spoofing McDonald’s with the Not-so-happy meal to support Mental Health Awareness month. From Whopper Detour to the Upside Down Whopper to the release of the Impossible Whopper, the Burger King brand has used its creative to express that it understands the connected world I inhabit, the causes I support, the shows I watch, and even my lighthearted sarcastic sense-of-humor. And the result is astounding because I ordered my first Impossible Whopper - my first Whopper - in 15 years. 

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

David Bates: One of the campaigns that helped Bokeh grasp the unique value our agency provides to our partners was Airbnb’s Welcome to the World of Trips. With 5-weeks to go before Airbnb was set to announce its largest product expansion, Bokeh was tasked with an enormous product marketing challenge: to design a system for animation and video content that educates users to new features in the platform, builds awareness of new services like Experiences, and ultimately arms Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky with the tools to introduce the world to his vision for the future of travel. This was product marketing as brand marketing. We melded organic live-action footage with engaging UI animations to channel the humanity and whimsy of the Airbnb brand. Then we designed every component to display natively on both traditional and mobile platforms. The result was what former CMO Jonathan Mildenhall called the “gold standard for launching a new product.” A product launch that included an announcement film that Brian Chesky “cannot imagine now having done this without it.”

More recently, we partnered with DoorDash to develop and produce a series of content and assets for the Kitchens Without Borders microsite, social channels, newsletters, and media kit. Kitchens Without Borders is a program DoorDash created to support small food businesses owned by immigrants and refugees. We were inspired by the stories of these merchants and subsidized bottom-line production and development costs to enable us to highlight as many business owners in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and Chicago as possible. From a creative and personal perspective, it was a very fulfilling campaign for our agency. The campaign also highlights a different way advertisers may want to consider measuring ROI for their marketing spend. These stories were not focussed on advertising DoorDash per se. We avoided overt product or logo placements, and did not direct interviewees to mention DoorDash. Instead, the storytelling gave a warm, sincere and intimate look at the people who make up DoorDash’s community of merchants. The result was a campaign that employees could embrace and take pride in. Email away messages and digital signatures directed people to the landing page. DoorDash employees shared the content widely on their social channels and our photography can be seen throughout the DoorDash office printed large on canvas. As a culture-reinforcing tool, and as an employee retainment and recruitment tool, Kitchen without Borders represents the type of values-driven marketing that makes current employees loyal to the brand they work for and encourages potential applicants to view DoorDash as a brand reflective of their values.

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

David Bates: Agnostic consumerism is dying, especially among millennials and Gen Z whose worldview can be described in the same terms as their technology — connected, inclusive and human. Corporate neutrality is a safe, outdated paradigm. The polarization of social and political life combined with a globalized, mobile, always-on communications infrastructure has created a marketplace where moral conscious is part of the consumer calculus. We want to believe that the companies we support are able to perceive the world as we do; to feel that they empathize with our unique human condition. It is a unique challenge for advertisers driven by profit-motive to produce work that is values-driven. It starts with a thorough understanding of what a company stands for and what issues are appropriate for a brand to speak on. Whether it be on issues of race or sexuality, gender equality, censorship, privacy, the environment, immigration, gun violence, authoritarianism, etc. it will be fascinating to observe how the current socio-political and economic climate manifests itself in this year’s work to the benefit (or detriment) of the advertiser.