Creative Work Does Not Follow A Template. Do Not Be Afraid To Implement The Boldest Ideas

LA WEEKLY Aleksei Duriagin 

Aleksei Duriagin, Creative Director of ASAP Agency & Production on creating memorable advertising campaigns for global brands.

Advertising is one of the most important tools helping increase product sales and improve brand awareness. Successful advertising campaigns require creative content that captivates the target audience. Aleksei Duriagin, Creative Director of ASAP Agency & Production, creates such content. His innovative ideas have brought the agency multiple tenders for large projects in the CIS markets. And his clients keep coming back with new requests. Aleksei explained how he comes up with advertising ideas for brands that are creative, memorable, and inspiring.

Aleksei, you became a creative director at the age of 25. Many people don’t reach such career heights even at a more mature age. Why have you been entrusted with such an important role?

I started working at ASAP Agency & Production as an assistant to the creative director, who was also the studio partner. I was practically his hands and eyes. Coincidentally, with my arrival, the company began to develop from a video production studio into a full-service agency. The work volumes were growing, and tasks were becoming more diverse. I participated in all briefings, brainstorming sessions, and client presentations, and at some point, I began not merely assisting but also preparing creative proposals.

Gradually, the company began to entrust me with large-scale tasks. A year after joining the agency, I was already assembling creative teams for projects and even handling small projects for major brands. I performed well, and at some point, my chief realized that I could oversee the preparation of advertising campaigns on my own. So in 2019, I led my first project as a creative director – an advertising campaign for a new Mentos product, Pure White chewing gum.

I came up with an idea for a graphic video, pitched it to the client and got their approval, and then supervised its creation at different stages. We needed to present the whitening chewing gum, and I decided that the easiest way to show this was through a smile made of white dragees. And this is how a stunning white dragee smile was born. Although, at first glance, the idea of the video seemed somewhat simple, the client was satisfied. Moreover, the global office of the brand adopted the ad in other markets. Mentos has been our regular client ever since.

And now, are you responsible for the entire process of creating advertising – from the idea to implementation?

Actually, I am. I perform not only managerial functions. Very often, I come up with ideas myself. I am the author. Thus it becomes crucial for me to participate in the creation of the ad content at its different stages. Our experience differs from many other network agencies with corporate hierarchies. In such agencies, a creative director acts as a final authority that evaluates and approves the assembly and results of the team’s work but rarely takes part in creating ideas.

Do you conduct any research on the target audience’s preliminary reaction to your ideas?

If a client comes to us from a sector that we have not yet worked in, then in addition to the creative team (creators, copywriters, designers), we involve a strategist who performs an initial market analysis. This step is necessary to assess the competitive environment and understand the language and attributes used by other companies. Only then we formulate some hypotheses and derive a communication message that our ideas would convey. Before testing these ideas, we verify that they correspond with the client’s vision. The tests are typically performed in focus groups. And the client usually organizes the testing.

In 2020 ASAP Agency & Production launched a widely discussed advertising campaign for Reebok’s winter collection in CIS countries. The video featured models walking through recognizable locations in Moscow with an iceberg, a polar bear, reindeer, and the northern lights appearing behind their backs. Was it your idea to combine the city and nature?”

Yes, it was my idea. I decided to build the campaign around the slogan “Conquer the City”, which encouraged the target audience to go outside despite the cold and the snow. The visuals were based on a juxtaposition of recognizable urban locations with footage of winter nature. This idea helped us win the entire tender, including the right to produce.

The objectives of the campaign imposed certain limitations. First, shooting for the winter collection took place in the summer. The models had to spend the whole day in pretty warm clothes. We were lucky that it was cloudy on the day of the shooting.

Second, we had challenges with selecting locations. Summer 2020 was a period of coronavirus epidemic restrictions. When selecting sites, it was not only a matter of satisfying the creative content and production parameters. We had to find sites that permit us to shoot.

Also, we worked on a limited budget, so video and photo shoots had to be done on the same day. We devised an ideal plan for the movement and repositioning of models so they can replace each other at different locations. Since I was responsible for creative and visual implementation, I had to keep moving among the sites to control and guide my colleagues.

Could you evaluate the effectiveness of this advertising campaign?

We cannot disclose specific figures. This information is a trade secret. But I should point out that Reebok had very good sales that season. For example, in their campaign reviews, the client indicated that the ‘key’ pair of sneakers from this collection was sold out in just the first month.

Our visuals received high ratings from the local and international offices of the client. Industry representatives werealso inspired. Interestingly, after a while, Adidas, which owned the Reebok brand at that time, launched an advertising campaign that practically repeated our idea and slogan. Their slogan was “Conquering Urban Peaks”. And inspiring Adidas is no small feat.

You mentioned the coronavirus. Have you ever worked with this topic?

— In 2021, we made a video for the “Sputnik V” vaccine manufacturer. The idea was based on the effect of the Rube Goldberg machine: each new event connects to the previous one, and a change in one of the links of the chain, can lead to an entirely different result. Through this chain reaction principle, we demonstrated both the way the epidemic emerged and attempts made to stop it.

This video went viral and gained 13.5 million views on Twitter. Shortly after its release, the Telegram users actively spread it through its numerous channels. It feels good to know that people appreciate your work and are eager to share it.

You work with different formats, including videos that are broadcast on television and on the Internet. What are the specifics of creating content for the digital medium?

Television and the Internet have different contexts and content media. This needs to be considered when creating an ad.

For example, an effective TV commercial must differ from the videos broadcast there. It needs to stand out. But at the same time, it must comply with certain censorship rules to get on the air. And I’m not talking about political prohibitions. We are restricted in using specific phrases. For instance, to state that a product is “the best product” we need to provide plenty of arguments.

There are fewer such restrictions on the Internet, but the context differs. Often videos are watched on mute, so it is very important that they contain key visual information and are accompanied by subtitles. People generally don’t like watching long ads on the Internet, so branding needs to appear within the first seconds. But for the branded content it’s different: digital ‘time’ is much cheaper than the one for the TV. So, it’s easier for a brand to broadcast a long lasting branded story in digital. The key is making sure your story is interesting and involving.

How do you create videos that get millions of views on the Internet?

It is like asking a musician about the success formula for a hit record. Of course, fortune and chance play a role here. But there are also certain parameters that help a video go viral. These are:

  • First, it’s captivating visuals –some eye-catching images that activate the part of the brain responsible for the feeling of satisfaction. Videos of this quality are shared, reposted, and viewed more often.
  • Second, it’s storytelling – a viral story, some sequence of events that everyone wants to follow.
  • And finally, humor often makes videos viral. But I must admit that the humour-appeal does not suit all clients.

My rule is to try something new every time, to have a unique approach to each client’s brief.  Cookie-cutter solutions and textbook schemes rarely help you achieve good results. Therefore, having received a solid brief from a client with clear information about the product and campaign objectives, you need to direct all your efforts at generating the most original thoughts and daring ideas. Then, dare to implement them. Have no fear.

And, probably, the main piece of advice is – don’t try to generate ideas in front of a computer. It’s true that even creative work requires discipline. And, sometimes, a search for references can lead to something interesting. But most often, good ideas don’t come when you are staring into a blank presentation slide. Go for a walk to get inspiration. Look around, observe and dream.

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