4 min read

VMLY&R CCO On Using “Creative Ninjutsu” Tactics In Advertising

On the first episode of season four of The Rough Cut, Storyhunter co-founder Alex Ragir went to Advertising Week New York and met up with…
VMLY&R CCO On Using “Creative Ninjutsu” Tactics In Advertising

On the first episode of season four of The Rough Cut, Storyhunter co-founder Alex Ragir went to Advertising Week New York and met up with VMLY&R New York’s CEO & North American Chief Creative Officer Jason Xenopoulos, a creative entrepreneur whose media ventures have spanned from film and television to music, advertising and technology.

Jason began in advertising in South Africa as an entrepreneur and now represents brands such as Ford, Dell and Wendy’s at VMLY&R. He talks to Alex from their New York headquarters about digital content strategy, why paid media can be dangerous and how adopting unconventional, guerrilla tactics from ninjutsu and jiu-jitsu can help you succeed in entrepreneurship and digital advertising.

On the go? You can listen to the full interview on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play and anywhere else you listen to your shows!

Below are edited highlights of the conversation:

Never Lose Your Entrepreneurial Spirit

“I think what’s super important to me as someone who believes in creative ninjutsu or jiu-jitsu, is that I never want to lose my entrepreneurial spirit. To not allow our scale to get in the way of our ability to be nimble and take risks and look for new opportunities. That’s a huge fear of mine: that the scale will make us corporate and lose that edge. I think it’s just about keeping the entrepreneurial spirit, keeping that desire to rebel against the status quo and engendering that in everyone else and getting them to believe that they have permission. We don’t come to work to make ads. We come to work to reinvent the future of business, and that’s everyone’s job in this agency.”

Like In Jiu-Jitsu, Make Competitors’ Weaknesses A Strength

“Being under the radar is a big advantage when you’re in a small market. You can use the smallness and underdeveloped nature of your market as a force, like jiu-jitsu. Use your opponent’s energy against them. In smaller markets, or maybe when an agency is working on a smaller brief, rather than seeing these things as small and feeling limited by them, be grateful for the fact that you have some shadows to cover you. You can use that to do some really interesting work.”

Make Content People Would Be Willing To Pay For

“If you’re making branded anything, branded content, branded experiences, ads, whatever they are, make them good enough that the audience will be prepared to pay for them. Don’t make an ad thinking that someone’s going to watch it because they have to. The same way that a Hollywood studio or anyone else would make a piece of content that is good enough for people to pay for it. If it’s a piece of music, something they’d be willing to buy. If it’s an experience, something they’d be willing to pay for a ticket for. It’s the same for film because ultimately, people are paying for this content. They’re paying with their attention, and that’s the most valuable commodity.”

Bought Media Is Making People Lazy

“The fact that you are guaranteed a certain amount of eyeballs just because you paid for that media spot makes you lazy in terms of the content that you are creating. When you’re making a video that has to travel through earned media to get shares based on its innate goodness, that makes you work so much harder. I think what’s happening with video now with all the different forms in which you can watch it is rather exciting and I think the principles stay the same. You either have to tell a great story, have a great idea or an insight that allows people to connect in an emotional and relevant way.”

Real Human Insight Transcends Format

“All of the different formats whether it’s vertical video, horizontal video, long-form, short-form, contextual or dynamically optimized: none of that’s very interesting to me. What’s interesting to me is real human insight. What is the real human truth behind this and how is it articulated in order to connect with people? What makes them want to watch? That transcends format. I think that all of these things change, but that’s not going to change… The truth is that every single true connection is born out of a true human insight.”

AI Can Irritate The Consumer

“I’m not a huge fan of what’s happening at the moment in terms of AI being applied to the creation and distribution of content. I don’t not believe it has potential. I believe there’s massive potential, but I don’t want to be hounded by a pair of fucking sneakers. I just bought a pair of sneakers, and now it’s following me around Instagram and Facebook, and that stuff is super annoying. I think the same way that interruption marketing is annoying people, programmatic marketing is becoming even more irritating. And that approach to programmatic is now being put into dynamic content optimization and contextual marketing. We think we’re so clever with this stuff, but actually, I think we’re at a state where we’re just irritating people.”

Previous episodes of The Rough Cut:

Season Three:

Riyaad Minty, Director of Digital, TRT

Stacey Grier, Chief Marketing Officer, The Clorox Company

Alan Schulman, Chief Creative Officer, Deloitte Digital

Jeffrey Wisenbaugh, Head of Content, Instagram (Part 2)

Jeffrey Wisenbaugh, Head of Content, Instagram (Part 1)

Kate Whitney, Director of Digital, Pernod Ricard

Charlie Chappell, Head of Integrated Media, The Hershey Company

Season Two:

David Weinstock, Chief Creative Officer, RF|Binder

Bonin Bough, Founder & CEO, Bonin Ventures

Mary Kate McGrath, Chief Content Officer, Gallery Media Group

Barri Rafferty, President & CEO, Ketchum

Stacy Minero, Global Head of Content Creation, Twitter

Ari Halper, Chief Creative Officer, FCB New York

Mickey Meyer, President of Network, Group Nine Media

Season One:

Courtney Coupe, VP of Content, Great Big Story

Stone Roberts, VP of Global Video Strategy, Refinery29

Jason Beauregard, Head of Studio, VaynerMedia

Zahra Rasool, Editorial Lead, Contrast VR

Warren Cohen, Head of Video, New York Post

Greg Gilderman, Global Head of Video and Editor-in-Chief, Weather Channel

Jamie Bolding, Founder and CEO, Jungle Creations

Craig Duff, Video Journalism Professor, Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism

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By Jake Watkins, Content Marketing Manager