Visual Storytelling as Advertising’s Universal Language, with BETC’s Vice President, Alasdhair Macgregor

Visual Storytelling as Advertising’s Universal Language, with BETC’s Vice President, Alasdhair Macgregor

Interview by Ricardo Esteves
Published: February 03, 2023

Who Is Alasdhair Macgregor

Alasdhair Macgregor is the current Executive Creative Director and Vice President of BETC Paris, in addition to teaching at SciencesPo University in Paris and serving as a Counselor for the Conseil Parisien de Européens. Considering his skills lie in the "ability to manage many client relationships on any project" and "knowing what it takes to deliver famous creativity," Macgregor says he feels "at home" in all of these responsibilities.

Storytelling has emerged as a powerful tool for brands and businesses to connect with their target audience in a meaningful and impactful way. With a firm belief in the power of storytelling and a passion for pushing the boundaries of creativity, Paris-based advertising agency BETC has become a powerhouse in the industry.

In this interview, we will talk to Alasdhair Macgregor, Vice President of BETC, about the importance of incorporating visual storytelling in every advertising campaign, how artificial intelligence can change the creative landscape and business tips for any upcoming start-ups.

Spotlight: Let’s talk about visual storytelling. Why do you think it is essential that brands create visual content to tell their brand stories?

Alasdhair Macgregor: I would like to refer you to a blog by photographer Joe Lenton, on the “Language of Images”, and how it pushed us towards a unique visual ‘language’.

Take an advertising festival like Cannes, for example. How could a Chinese juror with limited understanding of English, or any other language, appreciate the finer points of a radio commercial in English.

However, an image Is universal.

I think, the more you expand globally into different territories, the language has to become visual, has to be linked to an idea, and the idea has to be universal. Otherwise, you are going to lose people.

The great thing about BETC, and what gives us a certain edge, is that we are French and we don’t think like Anglo-Saxons. That, linked to a care for the craft, and to the detail of the imagery we use, is a new way of looking at it.

Quality of imagery and quality of story-telling.

Could you tell us why visual content is the best way to reach and engage brands’ target audiences?

Let’s remember that branding is essentially visual. When I was in Spain, I had a client called Gallina Blanca (White Hen), founded in 1937. At the time the company was founded, a large part of the Spanish population, especially in rural areas, was illiterate.

As such, consumers who couldn’t read would ask their local storekeeper for the soup of the White Hen. We have gone from ‘people can’t read’ to ‘people don’t read’, which as a copywriter, its painful to hear. Therefore, by definition visual content is fundamental.

Although the progressive popularity of podcasts and other audio content gives me hope.

A woman near a tree bending to the wind.
The highlight of BETC's campaign for Aigle, a French outdoor clothing brand.

How does BETC assist brands in discovering and telling their unique stories to customers?

We have a proprietary global research called Prosumer. Each year, the planning team selects three or four broad topics and creates provocative questions to better understand emerging trends in these areas.

A Prosumer is someone leading-edge 15-20% of consumers, Prosumers are usually 6-18 months ahead of the mainstream, forward thinking plus socially and environmentally conscious.

This gives us a head start on messaging in our creativity. Evian 'Live Young' tapped into a Prosumer trend towards longevity and a healthier lifestyle, when the competition was focused of refreshment and purity.

You’ve previously managed advertising campaigns for big names like Air France, Evian, Lacoste and Canal+. What sets you apart from the competition that you’re able to work with these brands?

We are French and International at the same time. I like to think of us as the Hermes of Advertising. Imagination, style, craft, appeal. You also need to be staffed with people that understand international. It’s not something you come into naturally, you have to experience it.

That does not mean ‘someone that was born abroad’. You need an understanding of the people you are telling the story to. You won’t do a campaign in Japan if you don’t understand the way the Japanese people think.

That requires a certain element of talent, and talent is obviously fundamental in this business. You need an international mindset, and the company itself needs to be appealing to clients... people often know our work, but they don’t know us.

You’ve been voted as the most creative agency for eight consecutive years. Is there something more you plan to develop and grow within the agency to become the best? What are they?

Out international reach. We have non-French clients like Coca-Cola, Budweiser, and Cisco, who come to us for something different. We need more of them.

The people that sell our work and sell ourselves, like Michael Boamah [International Communications Manager], have to be internationally minded and understand the need of the international clients. So you have to hire the right people, you have to let them get on with it, and you need a certain amount of risk.

There’s a certain entrepreneurship that needs to be done when pitching for clients that don’t know you – you have to offer them things, you have to guarantee them things.

We done a campaign for Procter & Gamble, two years ago, for a fabric conditioner, which was only for the English market, but was done entirely in Paris, with people that understood the English market.

BETC's black logo in a white background.

What is your advice for startup advertising agencies looking to grow as a powerhouse in the industry like BETC is today?

Rigor. It's very easy to lose you sense of perspective when you start winning pitches and awards. We are very down to earth (starting from our founders Mercedes Erra and Remi Babinet). We are obsessed with the finer points, but we don’t think of ourselves as better than anyone else.

When we go for pitches, we respect the people we are up against, even if they are smaller or less well-known companies than us. So, respect the people you work with and the people you go up against.

It's easy to be greedy when you are hungry, and obviously all start-ups are hungry. Be a bit greedy, but don’t over-do-it.

As new tools and AI programs become more prominent, how relevant will human creativity and imagination be in the equation?

I would argue that now, in the age of ChatGPT and Midjourney, creativity and imagination are even more important. All these instruments can do most of the leg-work of producing content, but you have to give them the idea in the first place.

For example, we had a presentation with a storyboard, but we had to change a few of them in short-notice. So, we went to Midjourney and the program made the image for us, but the idea had to come from us.

It’s a tool, it won’t replace the creative mind, or at least not in the near future – hopefully never.

Thank you for your time, Alasdhair Macgregor. Best of luck to you and BETC!

Keep up with BETC on LinkedIn and read about other successful businesses here.

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