Interview: What Makes Creative Gurus Faris And Rosie Yakob Tick?

06 May, 2022

MAD//Fest sat down with the dynamic, nomadic advertising duo to chat about how travel inspires creativity and why 2022 is not the year of the metaverse

Faris and Rosie Yakob, co-founders of the wonderful nomadic, creative company, Genius Steals, are award-winning strategists and creative directors, writers, consultants and public speakers who have been living on the road/runway. They'll be in the UK later this month to speak at ProQuo AI's event, CHALLENGER: The Brand Marketing Forum. Last week we sat down with them to chat all things advertising and why travel fuels creativity.

1. 2022 will be the year of?

Faris: I’ve been doing this for a long time and the first time I remember the Year of Mobile being proclaimed was in the 90s. It was then proclaimed every year for over a decade. To quote Amara’s Law, we tend to overestimate change in the short term and overweight it in the longer term. Or, if you prefer, 2022 is Pando Year Three, the sequel no one wanted. Or, the year of Feeling 22.

Rosie: The Year of the Freelancer. When COVID hit, many workers gained a new perspective and were no longer satisfied with big companies controlling their time. And equally, companies have come to see that you don’t need an individual to be in the same city in order to provide professional services. I think the desire for flexible working will continue to grow, and I’m hopeful that we’ll see more protections for freelancers as more and more individuals choose this path.

2. Who is your hero from the marketing and advertising world? Why?

Rosie: Cindy Gallop. Hands down. She’s a total badass who calls out the systemic inequalities in the world of advertising, while pushing for people to charge what they are worth, while also running Make Love Not Porn, a company focused on real world sex.

Faris: Howard Gossage, an adman known as the sage of San Francisco, who helped make McLuhan famous, had his agency in an old firehouse. He hated most ads, but made some truly incredible ones and wrote powerfully and persuasively about advertising, which arguably had more impact than his ads or his agency. This is also true of Ogilvy, whose book has impacted the industry infinitely more than the ads he wrote, or even the giant agency that bears his name.

In modern times, Russell Davies had such a huge impact on my generation of planners and practitioners, in the UK and globally. He worked on some of the best campaigns ever (Honda Power of Dreams, Nike, Coke), and has never grown complacent. He is endlessly exploring new platforms, technologies and jobs and ideas, going to work as a planner for Nike, setting up his own agency and conference, working for the Government Digital Service, and now marketing a sustainable power company. He recently published “Everything I know Learned from PowerPoint’ which is required reading if you work in advertising.

3. What was the last ad your saw that made you buy something? Why did it make you buy the product?

Faris: I saw an ad for Beats Pro Wingtip - I’ve had issues with all in ear headphones because they feel like, or do, fall out - so the wingtip feature was compelling and I got them almost immediately, buying online because they weren’t out in the stores in Mexico where I was at the time. The specific innovation was perfectly designed to address my particular problem, I saw it at the right moment when I had just been complaining about my existing headphones via a Twitter ad. I was ‘in-market’ or just coming into the market, so a lower funnel / sales promotion ad with the right benefit was spot on, building on years of Beats branding and, ultimately, the Apple purchase, which gave me confidence in the quality of the product.

Rosie: I think most people would describe us as minimalists. Because we are nomadic, we have a one in, one out baggage situation. If I buy something, I’ve got to throw something else away, or give it away. That means most of what we buy are either consumables or gifts for other people. I got an Instagram ad for an artist I love who was releasing a limited edition print, and bought that as a gift for someone.

4. What’s your all time favorite advert/campaign and why?

Rosie: Yellow Chocolate. I just love this campaign from back in the day for so many reasons. One of the biggest reasons is because it’s for the Yellow Pages. So often we get told “You got to work on cool brands, so of course you got to do cool work.” But it doesn’t always work like that. The big brands are often more risk averse than the smaller ones. And even if you have something that’s in theory boring - like a phone book - you can still do ridiculously awesome work.

Faris: Campaign of all time is hard. A contender would be Honda’s Power of Dreams from WK London - Cog was no doubt one of the greatest ads of all time - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i0j1bZ4_hCs

And was so loved in the UK that “Honda’s iconic ad, Cog, has been asked to play a part in ITV’s People’s Ad Break. ITV is asking the public to recreate five TV adverts, with the best recreation of each being aired on a dedicated TV advertising spot on Saturday 23rd May.”

Possibly the best case study for a brilliant, ambitious campaign was Decoded JayZ BING:

5. Where have you traveled/lived in recently that you loved the most? (Did it help with your creative process?)

Rosie: We spent a few months in Mexico City at the start of the year, and it’s certainly somewhere that we want to continue getting to know. We love the vibrant food and arts scene, and practicing our Spanish — but the truth is, all of our travels inspire us in some capacity. It’s not so much location dependent as it is based on constantly adding new stimuli - novelty, if you will - into our lives.

Faris: As nomads we travel all the time, (less so during the last couple of years). Travel always helps creative thinking, seeing new things keeps your mind awake and paying attention, seeing old things done in new ways helps you think about innovative solutions. We love Mexico City, it’s so vibrant, but everywhere has something to offer.

6. What keeps you awake at night?

Faris: Jetlag.

Rosie: The ridiculousness of the American healthcare system. It’s appalling. From the cost to protect yourself from bankruptcy to to the Supreme Court overturning Roe v Wade, this is something that is in my head all too often. I’m embarrassed by our government and the protections we offer to our citizens.

7. 2022 is the year of the Metaverse, (apparently) - will you be an early adopter or a cynical onlooker?

Faris: The Metaverse doesn’t exist yet, so 2022 probably won’t be the year of it. We are very early on the hype cycle for virtual worlds, or AR, or web3. But I play Fortnite and have even dabbled in Roblox on occasion, and have enjoyed playing with the Oculus - but I got frightened and threw the controllers at the wall. As I said, we are still early, and we tend to inform new media with the behaviors, the assumed affordances, of the previous ones, at least to start.

8. Which brand do you think has consistently produced the most effective advertising campaigns over the last 10 years?

Faris: Effectiveness is tricky - we aren’t likely to have the necessary data unless they entered Effectiveness awards, which aren’t audited…so it’s hard to say.

In cultural impact terms, Snickers and Burger King both developed flexible creative models that allow local agencies to create a global set of ideas that generate lots of their own PR. For a time it worked well for both of them commercially, based on publicly available data, but clearly BK at least has decided it was no longer and is moving in a different direction.

The tricky thing about attention is that we habituate - whatever attracted attention before will experience diminishing returns over time. Hence we have to be consistent for brand building and fresh to attract attention. 

9. What’s the biggest opportunity in marketing and advertising right now?

Rosie: Selfishly, I’m really excited about the opportunity for increased creativity in how we work, and where we work. While I’ve seen some cool office spaces here and there, more often I find myself surprised by just how many boring, beige spaces there are. Hybrid working was forced upon many of us during the pandemic, and people made it up as they went. But it was all very reactive, and the big traditional shops are still on the hook for these long term corporate leases in uninspiring locations. I’m waiting for them to give up those leases and buy boutique hotels. Even with the cost to fly employees there, I’m betting companies could reduce their overheads while also getting people excited about going to work. Quarterly meet ups, specific project based sprints

10. Which (emerging) trend or innovation of the past 12 months will have the greatest impact on the industry and campaign effectiveness for the rest of 2022 and beyond?

Both: The ongoing changes in the digital media infrastructure and issues with measurement of broadcast, will reshape how we think about media, creative and brand measurement broadly.

11. What’s your favourite brief you’ve worked on recently?

Both: We love the breadth we get: a naming brief for a digital journalism brand, writing briefs, consulting briefs, training and workshops, all the way through to business consulting engagements.

12. What do you have planned for the rest of this year?

Faris: We have ongoing larger consulting projects that will continue throughout at least this year but also beginning to accept in person speaking events again. We have two booked in the UK - including this event with ProQuo, and then hopefully two in Australia and New Zealand later in the year.

13. What’s one Marketing software that’s made your life easier?

Faris: Keynote.

Rosie: Keynote for sure. TextExpander is a close follow up.

Faris and Rosie will be speaking at  CHALLENGER ’22: The Brand Marketing Forum (powered by ProQuo AI) which is taking place on Wednesday 25th May. They'll be discussing 'Principles of Creative Effectiveness in Advertising, and the event will bring together marketers, comms pros and creatives for an unmissable evening of idea exchanges, networking drinks, and snacks with some of the fastest-growing brands in the UK. This year’s event, hosted at The Loading Bay, explores the topic of creative and marketing effectiveness, the holy grail for all brand marketers.

Grab your free ticket now, while you still can!

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