Midas Spotlight Interview: Tahaab Rais

For the 2017 competition, the Midas Awards added an additional judging component to compliment the judging round provided by Midas’ Grand Jury, The Midas Awards Executive Jury.  Midas’ Executive Jury is comprised of creative officers and executive creative directors from the world’s foremost advertising agencies as well as prominent internationally recognized experts in financial policy and communications.  Members of the Executive Jury will review all Shortlisted entries selected by the Midas Awards Grand Jury providing an even more comprehensive evaluation of global creative work and select the World’s Best Financial Advertising.

This week’s Spotlight interview is with Executive Jury member, Tahaab Rais is Regional Head of Strategy & MENA Director - Truth Central for FP7/MENA (A part of McCann Worldgroup).  Since 2012, Tahaab has led the strategy office for FP7 (A part of McCann Worldgroup) across MENA, focusing on creative marketing, brand and connections strategy. As MENA Director for Truth Central, an intelligence platform, Tahaab manages creative excellence across MENA.

Tahaab brings his creative chops and strategic skills to the 2017 Executive Jury. Throughout the years he’s racked up numerous impressive accolades. Tahaab was ranked the #1 Strategy Head in the world by the Big Won Rankings in 2016, and is the most awarded strategist in MENA having won over 300 awards across Effies, Warc, Dubai Lynx, Cannes Lions, New York Festivals, D&AD, One Show, Clios, The International ANDYs and Crestas, among others. His efforts have helped the agency drive efforts that led to FP7 being ranked the Most Effective Agency in the World at the Global Effie Index, as well winning Agency and Network of the Year four years running, from 2013 to 2016.

In the interview below, Tahaab shares his insights on judging, the challenges of working in financial advertising, industry trends and much more.

Midas Awards: What are the benefits of judging Midas and does judging the year’s creative work within your industry influence your creative process?

Tahaab Rais: The insights, the creative strategies, the content formats, the purposeful tech innovations and some of the craft across the work (film, digital and technology) - that solve real problems - are all very inspiring.

So, judging the Midas Awards is EXTREMELY useful. It makes me envious and makes want to re-educate myself and re-learn the industry.

And strangely, that feeling - of feeling not good enough - is a massive intellectual turn-on, because it opens one’s mind to new possibilities.

And personally, it makes me want us to keep besting our own best, despite us having had some pretty good work and being featured as the #1 worldwide agency in the Midas Report. Good is not good enough; our region has miles to go before we celebrate, and getting exposed to world-class work and learning from it, is the one way we can keep evolving, for an exponentially advancing category.

The one complaint I do have against the Midas Awards though, is the fact that they’ve ignored a request I’ve made over the years; for Kanye West to be added to the roster of judges to make the company we, the judges, keep, even more interesting!

Midas Awards: What are the biggest challenges you encounter when it comes to working with financial clients?

Tahaab Rais: We have to empathize with the reality that the financial organizations we work with, are operating in one of the toughest industries. It’s not easy doing their job with their responsibilities and KPIs. So, being cognizant of their challenges is crucial for us, as their creative marketing partners. And THAT is the bigger challenge most agencies face.

If we stop looking at ourselves as creative content / communication producers and quit whinging about how a financial client “isn’t brave” or “doesn’t do daring work” or “isn’t provocative enough” or “doesn’t want awards”, and instead, look at ourselves as creative marketing partners, focusing on their challenges and solving them through meaningful creativity, we’ll be better off. And we’ll start seeing more work that’s positive provocative, that influences people/culture and shapes conversations. That’d be my two cents.

The one request, I’d make, if this was an open letter to all marketers, around the world, especially in the financial industry, is to involve agency partners in the marketing problems they face and make agencies feel like a marketing partner (and value / compensate them for it); not just treat them as suppliers or only share communication/creative template/media problems with them. It’ll build trust, affinity and excitement about the actual business!

Midas Awards: In your opinion, what are the hallmarks of award-winning financial advertising?

Tahaab Rais: We live in a world where thousands of brands use thousands of channels, every day, to share millions of messages with millions of people (wow, that’s a lot of numbers!). What often gets lost in this massive sea of content is MEANING. And without people seeing what meaningful role a brand plays in their lives, all the time, effort and money that is spent, doesn’t end up being effective. When brands are more meaningful, more people accept them in their lives. So, that’s the starting point to define if a campaign is worth being awarded – has it played a meaningful role in people’s lives? And as a result of that, solved a business, brand and/or societal problem?

Then, of course, it’s worth answering ‘Yes’ to the questions that I usually use as a gauge for creativity that deserves to win.

Is it effective and has it done the job it set out to do?

Will it move marketers watching it to push for and support more creativity on the brand from their creative agencies?

Will it make competition’s marketers and agencies jealous and spur them on to do more?

And importantly, does it have what it takes move the industry forward and set new effective ways to market a brand or a product?

Midas Awards: What trends are financial marketers/advertisers using to drive engagement?

Tahaab Rais: The best ones aren’t only creating ads.

Entertainment created by brands is out-lasting advertisements. Santander’s “Beyond Money” is an excellent example of an unexpected content format to promote a banking product.

Content platforms and content-led ideas from brands are out-lasting standard campaigns. Amex’s “Open Forum” and Sanlam’s “One Rand Man” have previously been very interesting examples.

Media agility and media hacking by brands is out-impacting conventional media planning. I’d be elated to see today’s version of NAB’s “Break Up Campaign”.

When it comes to CSR, sustainability programs are outlasting donation drives.

And branded assets and properties are outscoring media bookings. The way “Priceless Table” and “Fearless Girl”, as branded assets and properties in the real world, engaged millions, were way more impactful than standard media bookings.

Midas Awards: Name your favourite financial advertising campaign and why?

Tahaab Rais: I wish I’d worked on the strategy behind ‘Small Business Saturday’! What a great strategy – “Instead of selling our products to growing our business, let’s focus on helping small businesses do more business”. I remember hearing about it as a 26-year-old when it first came out and loving it.

It’s one of my all-time favourite creative ideas from the financial industry; owing to how meaningful it was, how it made a real-world difference, how it influenced communities and culture, and importantly, how sustainable it has been over the years until today! There’s a lot more though that I reckon they could do with it, today, but I’ll keep those ideas to myself and the brands I work with.

Midas Awards: What will be the most prominent changes in financial advertising in the next few years?

Tahaab Rais: With the exponential growth of technology, the best financial brands are evolving exponentially too. We’re seeing financial brands creating digital products that are rooted in innovation meant to make people’s lives better, richer, healthier, more entertaining and adding more badge value. They’re going beyond being simply financial brands; making the shift towards being digital brands or lifestyle brands that enhance one’s life, with one’s finance and money at the core.

But, while people love technology with the exponential growth of technology and lessened human interactions, there’s an exponential growth in trust & anxiety issues, as per all the research we’ve done and seen. The trick therefore becomes is to remain human-first in a technology-enabled world. The financial industry, in any case, is one of the least trusted industries in the world. So, this makes it even more imperative for brands to have a more meaningful role in people’s lives. The agencies that do that the best, will be more meaningful to the financial industry and to financial brands.

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