Winning friends and influencing Greeks: the art of great content

If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere – not New York, but Athens. An award-winning Greek duo tell Amy Wilson how they make stellar content for brands including L’Oreal and Famous Grouse.

Vagelis Davitidis and Mark Aris don’t mince their words. “You have to know your shit or you’ll be found out at once,” says the former. “When we launch a new campaign or video we’re refreshing every ten minutes to see how many people are watching it and sharing it. You can see the effect of your work from day one and that’s what we love. But I can understand some people being afraid of that if their content is crap,” says Aris.

In Greece, the economic crisis has destroyed trust in almost everything and made many of the old marketing messages obsolete. Persuading the punch-drunk public to pay the slightest bit of attention to advertising, far less absorb it and share it with friends, has required the wholesale rebuilding of relationships with consumers.

In the midst of all this turmoil, the pair set up the Athens-based marketing agency 4 Wise Monkeys in late 2013, and have since run campaigns for household names including Dentyne chewing gum, L’Oreal beauty products and whisky brands Famous Grouse and Cutty Sark. They now have nine members of staff and use every communication tool available, from digital video to beach parties.

Both come from the traditional publishing and marketing worlds, Davitidis as editor-in-chief of Submarine, Greece’s biggest youth culture magazine, and Aris as a marketing director for Diageo in southern Europe. However both felt the most creative space was at the periphery, where readers started creating content and brands handed over control of the message to the consumer.

“Submarine was a free-press magazine for university students but it became a kind of non-digital social media,” says Davitidis. “We had a lot of people at the universities running events alongside the magazine; different projects and parties. To sustain the business we brought brands along. The events were funded by the brands, who got to reach the student audience they were targeting, and what happened at the events became part of the content of the magazine.

“Our speciality was content creation, because we were running a magazine. It has taken me a few years to think of ‘consumers’ rather than ‘readers’, but really the change [into marketing] was a simple one – engaging people on social media means having interesting stories to tell. The ideal thing for a brand is to do its own storytelling, with content which has all the values of the brand.”

Now that consumer engagement with a campaign can be measured in views or likes, it has to be one of the main criteria for judging success, says Aris.

“In the past, brands ran TV campaigns and consumers were simply recipients – once they had seen it 12 times, you had got your message across. Now, even if your brand is on the TV screen the consumer can be on their phone at the same time, searching for a rival. So brands have to treat consumers as people they have a dialogue with rather just direct a message at.”

He points to 4 Wise Monkeys’ campaign for Dentyne as a successful example of this. The marketing message was that the chewing gum gives you the confidence to try lots of different things. So the agency shot videos of 10 different kissing techniques, from the outlandish (the Spiderman Kiss: being dropped in from above to plant an upside-down kiss on the object of your desire) to the gross (the Dog Kiss: enthusiastic face licking). Consumers responded so positively to the videos that they started sending their own suggestions, such as the Hipster Kiss, which the team went on to shoot and add to the campaign.

Authenticity is crucial to achieving this kind of engagement, say Davitidis and Aris. A current campaign for Cutty Sark, intended to make the 90-year-old whisky brand appealing to young Greeks, is called Urban Adventures and showcases the coolest art, music and graffiti being created by the different urban “tribes” of Athens. The agency made a documentary which received more than 200,000 views and hosts free alternative tours of Athens on Sundays, for locals and tourists who want to take in the latest graffiti projects and the hippest bars, instead of the Acropolis.

“For the Urban Adventures campaign we had the graffiti artists on the spot, talking about their work,” says Aris. “We were able to do that because Vagelis knows them and can call them up. They trust him and knew the work would be tasteful and aligned to their values. If a big agency calls up people like that, they either refuse or ask for a lot of money because they’re putting their reputation with their own, alternative, community at risk.”

“The people we hire are out every day going to the bars, the restaurants, the concerts, the galleries. They are taking the pulse of the city,” he adds.

As important as the content itself is finding the right audience for it, particularly when you are using social media as the distribution channel. Intruding on someone’s Facebook news feed with irrelevant and boring messages is the best way to kill the appeal of your brand, says Davitidis.

“Compared to TV years ago, we now have much more accurate tools in the digital world – somebody who has liked your Facebook page has done so for a reason,” he says. “You have a fan there, so when you post content, it is to a relevant audience.”

4 Wise Monkeys has been in business throughout an extraordinary period for Greece, and it has played its part in changing marketing. “Politicians have made a lot of false promises and now consumers want to focus on the real, the everyday – they have a lot of problems and it’s no longer ‘aspirational’ to show them something that is impossible,” says Aris. “Brands here are trying to create a more down-to-earth approach and international brands have struggled because they have not taken account of the reality here. So they’re being forced to create local ads.”

4 Wise Monkeys has run a campaign for L’Oreal adapting the long-standing “because you’re worth it” line to make it applicable to Greek shoppers reeling from every fresh blow to the country’s economy. Its female stars are ordinary women working, caring for their families and dying their own hair.

“L’Oreal has always used celebrities and glamorous women, so we wanted to create a campaign to boost the confidence of Greek women, to say ‘you’re going through all this and that is why you’re worth it’,” says Aris.

“The needs of brands are totally different from what the mainstream agencies thought they knew,” adds Davitidis. “People now expect brands to have something meaningful to say, not just offer a tagline that means nothing.”

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