Michael Lisboa, Havas Drive: Forget Occupiers, We Need Invaders

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 Bangkok, and its remit spans all Havas Worldwide offices in APAC.

The team’s appointed director of experience Michael Lisboa caught up with Little Black Book 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?

ML: 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 behavior, so the whole advertising thing was interesting, but realized 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 realize 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 realized that other people around the world had been doing all the things I was doing. It was formalized 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 cannibalizing itself from the inside out, the cracks are showing, and the world recognizes 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, complementary 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 in Singapore. The lack of creative thought and fear of being “different” coming out of this business is crippling.

Questionable: 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 humorous 6-hour YouTube pre-roll, and people love them for it.

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?

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.


(A version of this article was originally published by Little Black Book.)