Razorfish’s chief creative: ‘5G is going to be a game-changer in ways we can’t even imagine yet’

Anthony Yell is chief creative officer of Razorfish, a marketing transformation agency that helps brands and businesses grow by creating “unforgettable experiences that connect and enrich people’s lives.”

We sat down with him to talk about creative trends and inspiration, as well as some of the work he is most proud of. Read on for his insights around data + creativity and how 5G will be a game-changer for the creative community.

How do you define creativity, and does it only live in the creative department?

While it sounds like a cliché, creativity is not a department, it’s everybody’s responsibility. It is not a cliché when you are a modern marketing transformation agency. As such, we believe that everybody can contribute to creativity in their own way: data, technology, media, creative, strategy, producers, and project managers can all help shape ideas. This is amplified due to the complexity of today’s digital-centric world and the opportunities for creativity to manifest in many forms. This starts with the platforms used to enable a variety of experiences, to the data-driven ecosystems and products that are powered by them, to how those ecosystem manifest across channels in the physical & digital space and are propagated with campaigns and content to drive engagement with customers. It all sounds a bit complex, and it can be, especially when you are trying to create a seamless experience for a customer, which is what they expect. So, for us, creativity comes from understanding and harnessing the interconnectedness between all these things so we can meet and exceed those expectations, and that takes a diverse body of people to do so.

Can you talk about a piece of work your team did that you are most proud of?

Sure, one piece of work I am very proud of – especially as it relates to its focus and outcome is something we have been working on for about a year-and-a half for Unilever, specifically the Dove brand. Unilever/Dove is a purpose-driven marketing organization that believes beauty is not one dimensional: it is not defined by your age, the shape or size of your body, the color of your skin or your hair – it’s feeling like the best version of yourself.

We recognized that this was not how women were generally represented in marketing & advertising. …We then developed a global marketing campaign, worked with significant publishers and marketing organizations to drive awareness and engagement for this new product, and accelerated the change in representation of women in marketing and advertising.

What I like about this effort was that it wasn’t just about communicating the problem. It was an actual solution to that problem, and its impact and outcomes have been notable, including 2500+ companies & publications using the images, including Apple, Airbnb and Adidas. Eighty percent of the Project #ShowUs photo collection was downloaded in over 60 countries and 73 percent of women in key markets believe Project #ShowUs inspires them to feel more positive about their appearance. It has also been recognized within our industry for its effectiveness and ingenuity by Cannes Lions, The Global Effies, Jay Chiat, The Drum Awards, etc.

I’m curious about the impact of 5G. I think it’s going to unlock all sorts of creativity possibilities, that undoubtedly will change how we think about marketing overall and how brands engage with their customers. As a specific example I feel like it should finally empower the acceleration of augmented, mixed & virtual reality, and other transformative media that has been around for a while but has not yet been fully realized.

It reminds me of the mid 2000’s when broadband started to actually become a reality, versus the hype and theory of the early 2000’s. All of a sudden broadband just snuck up on everybody, and then we could stream, watch on-demand, have multiple screen experiences and much more. Everything changed. So, from a creative standpoint, 5G is going to be a game-changer in ways we can’t even imagine yet. It should be fun to explore.

How do you know when an idea is worth pursuing?

Great question, as every idea goes on a journey of scrutiny, sharpening and validation, part of that journey is based on your own gut feelings and rationale about the idea. Part of that journey is what does the data support, question and refine. Part of that journey is how people react to the idea, whether that is the strategic quotient, the executional quotient of the idea or any factors that makes it what it is. All these points build momentum and deepen your understanding of whether to continue to pursue the idea, reshape it, or look for new one based on what you have learned.

How do you help your team stay creative?

As a larger interconnected North American team that spans 14 offices, we have some advantages as our footprint is broad and diverse. We are residents in many of the major U.S. cities, part of local cultures and have a broad and differentiated client base. We then build upon that base by connecting on a regular basis to share trends, share capabilities, share ideas, share work (where we can), discuss work we wish we did. We also have other disciplines and capabilities do the same, whether that is technology, media, data, etc.

The cross pollination of thinking and ideas by experts in any one of the focus areas we play in, whether products and platforms, campaigns and content, and physical and digital. So, one week we are discussing what the right mobile approach might be for a fintech opportunity, the next how we might determine a master plan for a large immersive retail experience, and the next what emerging media would best allow us to tell the story of a brand and reach the right audience.

How do you ensure you’re being a good leader and empowering your teams during a time like this?

I think listening is always instrumental to any form of leadership. Your role should be to enable the people around you, so that collectively you can achieve shared goals. To do this, you have to fully understand your team, what motivates them, what frustrates them, what they enjoy doing, what they don’t, how they want to grow and develop, and what’s on their mind.

I spend a lot of time working collaboratively with teams and individuals, and equally spend a good deal of time just connecting on a more personal level. Mix that in with always being open, available, approachable, empathetic and helpful, and you get the level of insights and connection that, I find, makes it easier to lead. By doing it in this manner, it allows people to feel supported and motivated. In 2020, this has become even more amplified by the ongoing situation due to Covid-19, along with other important cultural movements and political factors that have been front and center. But communication and empathy will always drive more passion and creativity, and that doesn’t change.