In May 2015, Havas Worldwide announced the opening of a Bangkok-based specialist unit, Havas Drive, focused on delivering digital business transformation solutions for brands throughout the region. The team is based at Havas Worldwide Bangkok, and its remit spans all Havas Worldwide offices in APAC.

The specialist unit boasts a pool of talent from around the globe who share a vision for a new approach in the brand partnership model. Havas Drive specialists in design, data, strategy, coding/development, innovation and experience design work with clients on business and digital conversion mandates to help them set a strategy and build new approaches to their customers.

Havas Drive is also tasked to integrate these emergent practices and thinking into the Havas creative agencies across APAC. The team’s appointed director of experience Michael Lisboa catches up with LBB to discuss how marketing gets in the way of what people really need and the opportunities this presents to those willing to transform in the digital space.

LBB> Do you think your varied career as a DJ, punk singer and creative strategist has helped you gain the necessary insight needed to become a director of experience?

Michael Lisboa > It has been a winding path; I actually started out as a psych major prepping for medical school. Imagine me as your psychiatrist? What a laugh. At the time, I was drawing comic books to pay the bills so I dropped med school to pursue art. That led to some really fun years, until I discovered the Internet rage.

I started my first company in ’92. We were an “interactive advertising agency,” designing banners, microsites and websites—the usual. I’d always been interested in human behaviour, so the whole advertising thing was interesting, but realised soon enough that marketing always gets in the way of what people really need. So while my team was doing the day-to-day ad stuff, I directed my attention to the more interesting “why” and “how” questions.

I asked questions like, “How do you help a single mom, with two kids, who works 80 hours a week to make sure there are gifts under the tree on Christmas morning?” I developed an ad tracking system to understand why people do things, by looking at the what they’re doing data, then exploring how to reach them.

I didn't realise there were other people around the world thinking the same way.

In the early 90s there was no "User Experience" practice. So I made it up as I went along, referencing sources from the past (e.g., Don Norman's "Psychology of Everyday Things"), and over time the practice was developed. I remember the first time I picked up Morville's "Information Architecture for the World Wide Web," in ’98 and realised that other people around the world had been doing all the things I was doing. It was formalised and a practice was created.

LBB> The launch of the Havas Drive team in Bangkok is set up to provide leadership and skills to evolve digital capabilities in the region. How does the team aim to drive this in the months ahead?

ML> Through understanding, insights and opportunities.

The threat to the ad business is the lack of relevance. The industry is cannibalising itself from the inside out, the cracks are showing and the world recognises they don't need us anymore.

Not as we were.

Every agency gives the same pep talk about change and disruption to clients, but as an industry we need to look inwards and ask, "How do we disrupt ourselves?" This presents an enormous opportunity for Havas Drive.

We're not a digital department or an ad agency. We are a unique team of five people with different, complimentary backgrounds, formed to create a single force for Havas Worldwide regional offices to tap into. We're not occupiers. We're invaders. We’re here to help provide new thoughts for Havas Worldwide agencies to bring to their clients.

LBB> What are the benefits of having an “agency within our agency” set-up that works with clients to innovate, build and prototype solutions to solve clients’ brand challenges?

ML> We’re working in a model that places us as a force of transformation for our agencies across APAC. Nobody else is doing it, and Havas Worldwide is uniquely positioned to be able to do it! So many “digital” agencies are acquired then put in the “digital” team box, soon forgotten and left to producing Facebook posts and banners.

We all joined Havas Drive because we saw a chance to really drive change in the business of advertising. To get away from the status quo and really challenge the medium to produce great work that we can be proud of.

LBB> What have been some of your favourite (more recent) campaigns to work on and why?

ML> This is a tough one: I haven’t been thrilled with much while I was in Singapore. The lack of creative thought, and fear of being “different” coming out of this business is crippling.

Look at a brand like Singapore Airlines. How safe and monotonous are they? Then look at Virgin, they know how to have fun. They launched a humourous 6-hour YouTube pre-roll, and people love them for it.

www.blahairlines.com

I would love to see more like Honda R, “The Other Side”. So simple, but tells an amazing story of duality that people can relate to subconsciously. Plus, it's fun to play with – how many times did you watch it?

www.hondatheotherside.com

The part that rings true for me is that their regular agency didn’t do it.

LBB> What kinds of experiences should brands be aiming to have with today’s consumer?

ML> We need to stop thinking about target audience and consumers. That’s building a marketing wall between us and them. We are real human beings with real lives. Sometimes we're tired, sometimes we want chocolate, sometimes we’re planning a holiday and sometimes we just want to be left alone.

We need to be creating brand experiences that address the real motivations of humans, not targets.

LBB> What sort of experiences are consumers expecting to get from brands nowadays?

ML> Very little: which is a shame, because we want more.

People are literally scouring the world looking for cool stuff to discuss. We should love this because we are a creative industry. Let’s give them something worth talking about.

This should be the easiest job in the world because we, as an industry, have so many talented people with great stories to tell.

LBB> Do you think there is good industry understanding of what it means to be a director of experience? How would you write a job description for this role?

ML> I think not. Buzzwords, jargon and pre-judgment confuse the expectations of the role. I can talk about methodologies, research and testing, which are all key requirements. But really, I believe empathy is the greatest skill anybody going into experiential design should have. The ability to put yourself in other people's shoes – this is a creative role.

What about that single mom? What does she need? If we can discover, understand and solve her problems, she will love your brand for it!

It's a tall order, but aside from the methods and process, I think a key role requirement is to understand people's challenges and needs and solving that at the right time, in the right context. It is the ability to get out of your role as advertiser or marketer and into the needs and wants of people.

LBB> Advice you’d give up-starters interested in a job title similar to yours?

ML> Travel. Meet people. Communicate, learn and share ideas. Go to Burning Man. Love art. Love music. Take a stand, and always stand for it. Doodle. Read a lot of books, love people. Admit that the foundation of civilization isn’t an Excel doc, but the things that humans make (including Excel). Know when to speak with conviction.

And no matter what you do, absolutely stay away from advertising. But, if your heart is really set on this business... grow a very thick skin.

Michael Lisboa left medical school to draw comics for a living, deciding he was an artist not a doctor. Later, choosing to pursue a more sensible career, he became a DJ and fire-breathing punk singer in San Francisco. Writing songs led to righting wrongs in digital communications as he soon realised his true calling – becoming an ad man.

A couple of decades on, Michael has proven himself a creative strategist – having planned and executed digital campaigns for some of the most influential brands in the world including Oreo, Citigroup, Singapore Airlines, Justin Timberlake and Pepsi. With expertise in both the creative and business aspects of digital marketing and UX design, today Michael helps brands develop engaging experiences across the multi-channel landscape.