This offshoot of respected French agency Buzzman helps brands on the journey before advertising. Managing director Loïc Cessot and creative partner Sébastien Partika explain.
How many times have you been lured by an advertisement, only to find that the retail experience and the product are disappointing? (Yes – I’m talking about you, 99% of clothing brands.) The agency Productman, an offshoot of respected French agency Buzzman, is here to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Originally a design-led agency, Productman now takes care of the entire brand experience, to ensure that whenever and wherever consumers interact with a brand, the result is satisfying. (The agency recently won business from DailyMotion and the luggage brand Bande à part, with the first projects due in 2022.)
We talked about the concept with Productman’s leadership team: managing director and co-founder Loïc Cessot, who comes from an engineering and entrepreneurial background, and creative partner Sébastien Partika, who actually worked at Buzzman 15 years ago before departing to broaden his experience at agencies in France and the Netherlands.Let the experience begin.
When I last wrote about Productman back in 2017, the focus was very much on design. Why did the approach change?
Loïc: I was already here then as one of the founders of Productman. I just re-read the article and much of what you wrote at the time is still true. Our agency started with the observation that many clients who came to Buzzman had a product or a service that was not yet in line with the ambitions of their advertising. We realized that we could use our creativity to improve the product first and avoid disappointing consumers who were attracted by the advertising later. Today we apply our expertise in creative marketing to ensure the whole brand experience – the product, the service, the store, digital and so on – is hyper-coherent.
Sébastien: A major difference compared to a conventional advertising agency is that we’re more deeply involved in an organisation. When we talk to our clients we’re not solely dealing with the marketing team, but also with executives. We intervene earlier in the process. But as we have a creative expertise, we bring a different perspective to the table.
Who would be a typical client for you?
Loïc: Our clients range from start-ups who want to ensure that their product or service is in tune with the needs of their customers, to organisations – sometimes start-ups, sometimes bigger groups – who ask us to develop a new customer offering from zero. We can put the advertising skill of creating emotion into the foundations of a product or service.
Sébastien, you were the first creative to join Buzzman 15 years ago. What’s changed since then?
Sébastien: Even in those days, when Buzzman was just me and Georges [Mohammed-Chérif, agency founder], we took a different approach to advertising. We were among the first to use digital media, which made some of the traditional agencies look down on us, as if we were just playing around. But you know what happened after that!
What’s interesting here today is the ability to bring a creative point of view to the beginning of the process. Some companies struggle for years to come up with a functional business model. They learn from their mistakes. But we bring strategic rigour to their offering. We do the research up front. When we propose a strategy it’s based on genuine customer insights.
Loïc: I’m essentially an engineer, and I’ve seen with my own eyes the damage that can be done when a company uses as an innovation or a new technology as a starting point, without first studying what people want. They end up trying to package and sell something without even knowing if anyone wants it!
Where do you think France sits in the evolution of the brand experience concept compared to other markets?
Loïc: In France I’d say we’re a little behind the times in our marketing culture. That’s because there’s a slight contempt of marketing. There’s a feeling that a business should be led by innovation, technology or design. I have exactly the opposite conviction, which is that marketing and consumer understanding should come before technology and design – before you even pick up the pen, you should be asking yourself, “Who am I talking to? And how am I going to touch those people emotionally in order to create desire?”
Marketing and consumer understanding should come before technology and design
You need to find out where you fit in the story of your customers' lives
The approach seems evident when you explain it. So how come more agencies aren’t functioning that way?
Sébastien: Good news for us! But seriously, I think it’s because of the different skills required. There aren’t many agencies run by an engineer. And equally there aren’t many product-focused companies who hire pure creatives capable of telling stories. They might say, “Why do I need to tell stories when I’m making car tires?” But in fact you do need that skill, because you need to find out where you fit in the story of your customers’ lives, and the role you’re going to play that makes your product relevant.
Loïc: I think the two jobs are essentially different. That’s why Buzzman and Productman are separate, by the way. They’re an advertising agency – and they do that very well. But we have a different goal. The fact that we’re quite unique has its advantages, in that it appeals to clients. But the disadvantage is that we’re working in a market that isn’t really structured for our offer, in terms of the pitch process for example.
Sébastien, what observations did you bring back with you from the Netherlands that you’ve been able to apply here?
Sébastien: Over there you’re not obliged to put yourself in a box as an “advertising” creative. You can define yourself as “creative” in a broader sense, which gives you the right to make music, to paint, to write, to invent digital tools. So you find multitalented creative people who can bring a lot to an agency. One of my goals here is to encourage people to experiment, to break out. As I have a foot in both camps – Buzzman and Productman – I like to show people that their creative spirit can bring joy and emotion not just to ads, but to products, services and the whole brand experience.
How many people work for Productman specifically? Do you work with other people from Buzzman too?
Loïc: At the beginning I relied quite a lot on Buzzman, but I slowly increased our autonomy by recruiting people with a very hybrid profile: not just creatives but project managers, strategists, even architects. The multidisciplinary aspect of Productman is very important to me, because we need people who are curious and open to new ideas. An engineer who appreciates marketing, for example. There are now 20 of us at Productman, with five who divide their time between the two agencies. But we’re growing.
How has the pandemic changed consumers’ relationships with brands?
Loïc: One thing that’s evident is that while a digital transformation was taking place before the pandemic, there was a certain resistance, particularly among retail brands, to transforming their digital experience and making it an effective touchpoint. Since Covid, everyone has understood that digital is indispensable. Which is unfortunately obvious when you see what’s happened to companies who weren’t able to transform digitally. Alongside that trend, there’s a growing ecological consciousness.
Sébastien: We have to be aware of that ourselves, as an agency. There’s always an economic reality – we can’t impose systems for making products or running a business on our clients, because it may impact their bottom line and force them to cut jobs. So we simply try not to worsen the situation, to move in the right direction.
Loïc: And it’s true that we’re getting more requests from our clients to help them become sustainable – partly, it has to be said, because of new laws. But the situation is changing for the better and I’m convinced the pandemic has contributed to that.