Cristiana Pana, Minio Studio: “The difference between the pandemic and the crisis in Ukraine was that this time we were no longer taken by surprise, we already had an exit plan”
The advertising market has undergone an unprecedented transformation in the face of recent challenges, marked by the pandemic and the war crisis. Adaptation, building sustainable partnerships, and relevant communication have been the pillars of advertising in unstable times. “The difference between the pandemic and the crisis in Ukraine was that this time we were no longer taken by surprise, we already had an exit plan. The answer is to find a way to be relevant, to have a proactive idea to help your brands get out of the situation“, says Cristiana Pană, advertising specialist with 8 years of experience, one of the creative people at Minio Studio.
Minio Studio Agency, launched in 2016 by Ioana Mucenic and Paul Cotor, was the most awarded local independent agency in 2020 and is the only one in the region with its own integrated biometric analysis laboratory. Minio Studio also ticked off another first, the release of the first documentary that makes transparent the work processes behind the agency’s campaigns.
Business Leaders: How important is the fact that you are the only agency in the region with its own integrated biometric analysis laboratory?
Cristiana Pană: Data is everything. How we manage to integrate data and be creative with the data we collect is what makes the difference in advertising right now. The costs for such services are high because most of the labs are in countries like England, France, and the Nordic countries. What we have integrated in Romania, in our own laboratory, are: eye-tracking services, which measure where the consumer is looking, what catches their attention in the first place; a sensor that facially decodes the emotions we have when we are exposed to various stimuli, especially to visual stimuli; a sensor that measures the intensity we feel a certain emotion. The three trackers help us integrate in real time the consumer’s reactions to the ads they are exposed to, whether digital or in-store. How does it help us? Using analytics like this, we try to give them examples as close to real life as possible. For example, if we want to track how well shelf ads or product displays perform, we generally build a journey through the stores and give them a shopping list, so we follow their typical shopping behavior.
Can we talk about certain stimuli that the consumer reacted to during this period or does it depend on the product the brand is promoting?
It depends very much on the study. We are at the early stage in the market, historically we have had the lab since 2019, but the pandemic has put a brake on it, with many budgets on innovation and research being stagnant, for obvious reasons, so I don’t have a nationwide database to make a judgment in a particular direction. Depending on the profile, the biggest differences are seen concerning the gender of the person, whether male or female. For example, women are more likely to spend more time at the shelf, do research, and read. In contrast, men are more attracted to technology, more unconventional displays, and innovations (e.g. holograms).
How do you manage to stay creative at a time when we’re facing pandemics and war? What is ethical anymore and what do brands want?
I believe that the best human resource is creativity. It’s not specific to a certain industry, although we may end up using it on a professional level, creating tools to stimulate creativity. Instead, what has always helped us in harder times has been the creativity to find the necessary solutions, to somehow make things work for the moment. It’s a difficult time, you can see we’re not out of the pandemic, marketing budgets have been cut first. What has helped us during this time has been to be more creative on a business level, to innovate, and to be more agile. Going places we wouldn’t have gone if we weren’t constrained. Hard times teach us. These times, as tough as they have been and are, also bring opportunities.
We focus on long-term projects because that’s how you understand the brand, you have a consistent build over time. It’s our footprint. This year we took the Effie award for sustained success (Effie is a competition for advertising effectiveness). We’re proud because we’re talking about a brand that has grown successively three years in a row. That establishes us as a creative agency with strategy at our core. When it came to instability in the market, retreating to a one-time project was a bit of a discomfort, not necessarily financially, but more like how we want to do creative and advertising in Romania and build on it.
Are companies still willing to enter into long-term partnerships, given that they can hardly set long-term budgets now?
I think it’s a testing period for them too. The first instinct was to test more and more. When you stop your historical solicitations and give away your brand piece by piece for various reasons, one of them being that you as a marketer also have pressure on your budgets and they stop depending on various constraints, you have to refocus. That comes with the simple solution of always calling on another partner. What I’ve noticed is that a lot of brands are going back to the idea of partnering because they’ve realized that it’s hard to see results over time, to link whole teams together, to get some results out at the end of the year that actually make sense.
The digitalization of work in the advertising market has been reflected in its liberalization. Many freelancers have taken their freelancing to the level of micro-company work. We have a lot of professionals who can offer advertising services on a one-off, agency-level, performance basis. This has helped clients as well as agencies to free up their resources or service providers as appropriate. All this has accelerated processes in line agencies, which are a little more resistant to change.
Do companies want to advertise or rather donate?
Companies want to be relevant, to be financially successful, and have a healthy brand. That means being understood and liked by consumers, no matter what results you want to achieve. The current context has forced many companies to be more willing to try charitable actions. From an ethical perspective, as long as you manage to make a good impact in the world through the service you do, the initial emotion doesn’t matter.
I think every company has gone with what they thought would work at the time. If they saw a more unstable context, like the war in Ukraine, they already came up with ideas about how their brand could be useful at that time.
How did you deal with the crisis caused by the war in Ukraine?
For us, it was 2020, version 2.0. The same phenomenon: zero emails, requests put on hold, logistical problems, distribution problems for clients who had their production blocked in different countries, influenced by the war in Ukraine. It was a huge hold. The difference between the time of the pandemic and the time of the Ukraine crisis was that this time it didn’t take us by surprise, we already knew what exit plan to have. The answer is to find a way to be relevant, a proactive idea to help your brands out of the crisis and to support them where possible. For example, so many refugee resource integration platforms offered accommodation, medical services, or clothes and didn’t know how to promote themselves.
How do you differentiate between charity and promotion, so that you are not judged by the public?
It’s a fine line. It depends a lot on what the brand has as a proposed value. You can’t be a cosmetics brand and give luxury makeup products to refugees. You can’t use that advertising, correlate it with an in-store promotion. It’s business ethics. We as marketers/advertisers are firm on our positions and when we don’t feel represented by a particular initiative, we back off. Essentially we can’t judge the customer, but if certain things are over the top, opinion is free and that hurts, especially online where everything is transparent.
How hard is it to understand the consumer? There are many who, when confronted with a harsh reality, seem more attracted to entertainment.
From an emotional perspective, the opposite of pain is laughter. So, one of the forms by which we defend ourselves from pain is laughter. It is natural to need to consume content that relaxes us, that helps us forget about what is going on around us.
The second phenomenon is that we, as a nation, make fun of trouble. We have become accustomed to it and this is also our defense mechanism as a nation.
Last but not least, it is the trend we see coming from the outside. Perhaps more specifically it’s the type of humor or the type of humorous content we consume, but entertainment advertising is a phenomenon that’s happening everywhere. Why? Because people can’t stand ads in the classic sense anymore, we want to be entertained. It’s a normal market need.
What does a company want from its advertising agency in 2022 and what challenges do you face in dealing with them?
I think that clients, too, in the context of market liberalization, are forming their new demands. What I have noticed is that precisely because of the instability around us, brands are looking for partners, people who are willing to work with them. Before, briefs used to come very structured and clear, they were a kind of bible for the advertiser. Now they are much more generic, they don’t give you a specific lead. Given how much has changed for them too in terms of logistics, regional integration, processes, and teams that they don’t have control over, it becomes natural that the brief should be a joint piece of work with the partner.
Many also complain that some clients want more and more input into the creative process. Not just the briefing part. Creativity is a skill that we should all master and use to our advantage.
What do you do when you run out of creativity?
It happens and it’s natural. Market liberalization comes with its good and its bad. The freer a market is, the healthier it is. Both in terms of advertising quality and consumer reaction.
We have more instability, and more one-time projects, you accept more things than before, but it depends on each agency. We at Minio Studio looked at it as being in step with the times you’re in, an essential business skill.
How do you see the market changing going forward and what are your goals for the future?
Relationships between the consumer and brands, but also between brands and agencies, are also becoming more liberal. They need to become more authentic, more owned, with good and bad, and more transparent. It’s a phenomenon we see in direct advertising. On the other side of the fence, client-agency, we’re still not seeing change so quickly because there’s this resistance to change, we like the procedures that we’re used to.
As a plan for the future, to meet the need of the market, we have launched the first agency documentary that makes transparent the processes behind successful campaigns. The documentary aims to encourage the market’s tendency to take this magic that’s happening behind the scenes and at the same time, we want to educate the market, and the people at the beginning.
Our documentary, Creative Chaos, introduces each major campaign and makes transparent the processes behind it. We don’t use actors, we use people who worked on the project, clients, partners, and everyone who comes with their piece. Generally, only success stories are told, but what got us there, the failure behind the success, is not told. That’s what we try to do.
Source: Business Leaders