Interviews

Afdhel Aziz

Creative Director at Absolut Labs

Ben Somerset-How

Client Director

Share


Afdhel Aziz is a brand strategist and marketing expert who has worked for global brands such as Procter & Gamble, Heineken, Absolut and Nokia, in London and New York.

He is currently Creative Director for Absolut Labs in the USA, a think tank and idea incubator that uses art, music and technology to find ways to make nightlife more inclusive and innovative.

He is an expert on how to deliver cutting-edge campaigns, content and experiences that harness technology and popular culture, working with world-class artists such as Lady Gaga, Swedish House Mafia and Kanye West, as well as diverse partners like the TED Conferences, Art Basel, Coachella Festival, London Fashion Week and the Andy Warhol Foundation.

creativebrief: As Brand Director of Absolut Labs, what is your primary focus?

Afdhel Aziz: Absolut Labs is our internal think-tank and idea incubator which allows us to create cutting-edge ‘moonshot’ technology and platforms that helps gives us a competitive advantage. Our goal is to think like a lean start-up; to move swiftly, iterate often and come up with radical new ideas to help drive our brand’s purpose which is to create a more open-minded world.

creativebrief: What is the biggest issue for your brand today and how are you addressing it?

Afdhel Aziz: Absolut needs to recruit a new generation of Millennials into the brand. We were a brand built on iconic advertising and media campaigns, but what we’ve realised is that in addition to great advertising, we also need to create experiences and content that drive engagement and advocacy. That’s what Absolut Labs is there to do.

creativebrief: Can you tell us about a broader initiative that you are driving for the brand outside of the day-to-day?

Afdhel Aziz: We have always had a great history with Absolut in collaborating creatively with artists – from the greatest contemporary artists of the 20th Century like Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Damien Hirst who all did iconic print ads, to 21st century artists like Jay Z, Lady Gaga or Spike Jonze….we have always given artists new canvases to connect and delight their fans. One area we are exploring is around using new technology like Virtual Reality to help deepen this in new and innovative ways. We launched Absolut Reality with the world’s first live VR concert and we are now working on deepening the narrative possibilities of this medium. Watch this space for more details next year!

creativebrief: Based on your book “Good is the New Cool: How great marketers optimise life”, what attributes would you say are required to be a successful marketer today?

Afdhel Aziz: I think there is now a sixth ‘P’ in marketing in addition to the traditional five “P’s” (product, price, etc). And that ‘P’ is ‘Purpose’; brands now need to figure out their higher order Purpose in the world, which is what allows them to create compelling campaigns, products and technology that help the lives of their consumers. In short, they need how to ‘Optimize their lives’ in a way that creates advocacy and word-of-mouth at scale.

creativebrief: How do you see the media landscape unfolding in the next five years?

Afdhel Aziz:  I think we are at a tipping point where technology is about to do to the ad business what it did to the music industry. Technology is allowing small players to take on the large, established agency networks. Technology allows consumers to completely block out ads altogether – whether it’s cutting the cord, DVR’s or ad-blockers (the last estimated to cost the publishing business $22 billion  in losses in 2015). Unless brands and agencies understand how to harness technology and use it to really delight consumers, we run the risk of becoming extinct very quickly.

creativebrief: What work are you most proud of over the course of your career?

Afdhel Aziz: I think one example was when I was at Nokia and brokered a partnership with the TED Conferences. Nokia’s purpose was ‘Connecting People’ and at that time the TED Talks were only in English. Instead of taking a very top-down approach and only translating the top 100 talks into the world’s top 30 languages, we took the course of funding a crowd-sourced translation platform which meant anyone in any country could translate any talk into any language. Today, with the “TED Open Translation Project” more than 50,000 translations have been published in 104 languages (and counting), created by more than 15,000 volunteers. This really made me think about how marketing could be a force for good in the world; how we could create a win-win-win situation that benefited Nokia, TED and the millions of TED Talks fans globally.

creativebrief: Industry wide, what work has excited you most this year, in the US and outside?

Afdhel Aziz: I think the recent Johnnie Walker spec ad by a couple of student film-makers really blew me away. It’s an epic production, really poignant story-telling that sends a shiver up your spine…and they did it on a shoestring budget. It shows the power of great creativity coupled with technology, how it can completely level the playing field.

creativebrief: How do you stay in-touch with the industry’s best agencies and their work?

Afdhel Aziz: I think that as marketers we are competing with the best of pop culture for attention; whether it’s the Star Wars movie trailer, the new Drake video or some new app that everyone is raving about. So I look for things that make an impact outside the bubble of the advertising world; when it shows up in my Facebook, Flipboard and Twitter feeds all at the same time, that means the work is making an impact on the broader culture.

creativebrief: How often do you look at new agencies or review your roster?

Afdhel Aziz: At Absolut Labs we have a very non-traditional way of working with external partners whether they are agencies or start-ups; we don’t have a traditional pitch process, but are rather open to hearing ideas from partners who genuinely want to co-develop ground-breaking ideas with us. And (in complete transparency) because at Labs we don’t have large budgets that forces us to be creative and entrepreneurial about who we partner with!

creativebrief: What’s your attitude to the ‘traditional’ pitch? Is there a better way?

Afdhel Aziz: I think agencies are operating in a very commoditised world where brands are able to pick and choose from an ever-more competitive set of options; whether that’s other newer agencies, or working directly with technology platforms like Snapchat, Google, Facebook, and by-passing agencies all together. I think the most interesting agencies are the ones developing their own original IP that is not client-dependent. I think they are the ones who are future-proofing themselves against the massive shifts that are about to happen in the space.

References

 

3 Marketing Innovation Labs Worth Emulating In 2016

08.01.2016

Marketers are constantly looking for new ways to one-up the competition, create better experiences for customers and experiment with new technologies. But they are increasingly finding it difficult to focus on optimizing results for the current quarter and to develop breakthrough innovations simultaneously. In order to overcome this challenge, several companies are establishing marketing innovation labs. These labs are not focused on creating new products but on testing new ways to deliver great experiences to customers.

Forbes

What You Should Know About the Future of Marketing from Absolut’s Afdhel Aziz

13.10.2015

“We are at a tipping point when it comes to conventional brand strategy and advertising. Here’s my prediction: Technology is going to do to the ad business what it did to the music business.”

Social Media Week

Why Absolut Created A Think Tank To Plan For The Next 30 Years Of Nightlife

The vodka brand has big ideas about how you're going to party in the decades to come.

Co.CREATE