Aoife Murphy, executive strategy director at Boys+Girls, on Ireland’s similarities to New Zealand, the increasing diversity in the industry there and why improving people’s lives isn’t advertising’s primary function
"As well as insights from creatives we really wanted to gain perspective from a digital strategist point of view on how Ireland is doing creatively, therefore we are thrilled to engage with Aoife Murphy who has worked on the biggest brands both at home and abroad. Aoife works at IAPI member agency Boys+Girls, Ireland’s largest independent agency, who play a significant part in shaping the future of the Irish commercial creative industry" Charley Stoney, CEO, IAPI
LBB> Where did you grow up and what were you like as a kid? Were there any signs that with hindsight suggested you might end up a planner in advertising?
Aoife> I grew up in a small town south of Dublin called Wicklow. I was always impatient and curious. I did a little bit of everything - ballet, acting, basketball, netball, hockey. I never really mastered any of them but loved trying new things. Perhaps that Jack of all trades mentality helped me a little with advertising.
I loved being in school with my friends. I was lucky in that I have a good photographic memory so once I read the material I can regurgitate it in exams so I always did okay with that kind of stuff. I did love stories and reading. I can remember going to the library with my granny from a young age to take out escapist type adventures from Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl.
LBB> What were your first steps in the industry?
Aoife> I fell into advertising through good connections and desperation for a job after college. If you asked me as a kid what I wanted to be when I grew up I would have said a lawyer or a journalist. I thought both involved lots of reading and solving mysteries - maybe they do.
I graduated college with a vague business degree during a recession. I didn’t want to be an accountant so majored in marketing, much to my Dad’s dismay.
I knew I wanted to work in digital marketing. I can remember firing off ill-fated CVs to random digital agencies and rarely even getting a ‘no thank you’ back.
A good friend worked in a media agency and she said they were looking for interns. I remember every painful moment of that interview because I was so nervous and attempted to cover it up with overconfidence and an odd throat-clearing cough. Luckily my friend vouched for me and I got the internship.
LBB> What do you think is the aspect of Irish culture or society that makes it most suited to creativity?
Aoife> Irish people’s ability to have fun is second to none. Our sense of humour is quite unique but charming so it travels quite well. At the heart of a lot of great creativity is a desire to have a bit of fun, to try things out. The Irish are well used to that.
LBB> You’ve lived and worked in New Zealand too. Like Ireland, it has one very significant, larger neighbouring country. Are there any parallels between the characters of those two countries?
Aoife> Both are relatively small island nations of 4.9 million people with significant heritage. I think the Kiwis and the Irish have a really strong sense of who they are. Native language, ancestry, and storytelling all form a really strong part of their identity. Growing up in a strongly rooted community like that breeds confidence.
The island mentality works the other way too. Being ‘trapped’ by water means there’s always a curiosity about what else is going on out in the world. Both nations value travel and adventure so there’s a wonderful mash of influences in their music and art.
The other similarity is the little sibling syndrome. Economically, New Zealand and Ireland are very small markets. Both have to shout to be heard sometimes and that kind of barrier makes you a little bold - you find unconventional ways to amplify your voice. NZ’s alt Covid strategy has put them on the world stage for all the right reasons.
LBB> And how would you say Ireland’s creative industry compares to New Zealand’s?
Aoife> If you compare creative awards NZ is winning the race. Their creative record, especially in advertising is well known. I remember MINI’s Driving Dogs coming out when I first arrived and thinking “shit that is good”.
Perhaps it’s remoteness (a four-hour flight from Oz) means it takes more risks more easily. It’s bigger brother, Australia is just far enough away so you can get away with things on both the agency and client side.
Ireland works with the same budgets, the same level of talent and the same ambition as the Kiwis do - our creativity is on par. They’ve been entering award shows longer than we have so perhaps that experience gives them an edge in the rankings.
LBB> How have things changed in terms of diversity in the Irish ad industry recently, and what impact has this had, that you can see?
Aoife> Dublin, compared to other European cities, isn't hugely diverse in population. That is changing. I think what’s really encouraging is the strength and confidence of the voices in the young generations coming up. Their social media prowess means that they’re getting more air time and creating ripples in multiple industries. We’re starting to see it come through especially in the food and music scene and people are enthralled by it.
Creativity needs diversity. As the Irish industry becomes diverse through both representation and cultural influence, I think that will unlock the next level of creativity for the country.
Advertising has a duty to reflect the society it represents so those conversations are now happening daily and through the process rather than just in casting sessions. That to me is quite exciting.
LBB> As a planner, what’s your favourite classic campaign that was driven by a clever strategic insight?
Aoife> I think the Bodyform work is phenomenal. Each iteration of their platform is based on a true insight about how women really feel about their bodies. Viva La Vulva came from the realisation that women’s lack of comfort with their bodies has resulted in a new hang-up - a very real concern about how their vulva looks - to the point that it was becoming acceptable to seek out plastic surgery to get the ‘perfect vagina’.
The resulting work is empowering, bloody gorgeous to look at and executed with a dose of humour. It has given Bodyform a clear position in the market and is opening up new routes to market with a recent launch of a feminine hygiene line of products.
LBB> A lot of advertising in recent years has claimed to be improving people’s lives for the better. How do you think brands should respond to that trend?
Aoife> I blow hot and cold on this kind of advertising. On the one hand, it’s truly inspiring to see and be involved in advertising that can positively impact people’s lives. Three’s - The Island campaign is a great example of that where an Irish telco brought 5G internet to a remote Island to reconnect it with the mainland and the world.
On the other hand, improving people’s lives isn’t what advertising does best. At its core it helps businesses drive value by making its products and services more desirable, more buyable. Successful brands will focus on that.
LBB> Ireland’s Christmas ads have definitely felt like more of a presence internationally in 2020. Why do you think that might be?
Aoife> Erm, Covid? Christmas is big in the northern hemisphere because we trudge through a couple of cold, grim months knowing the bright lights and gorging delights of Christmas are on the other side. We indulge even more because we know there’s a couple more dark months on the other side.
Covid meant those dark months started earlier and lasted longer so Christmas represented a new level of joy and escapism for most people this year. Advertising is at its most effective when it makes people happy and the best ads this year showed that.
Some of my faves were the gorgeous looking ad full of community spirit from Woodies.
This Boys+Girls piece for Skoda global that brought Christmas joy by reimagining the classic dog in the car scene.
LBB> What are some great pieces of recent Irish work that you wish the world knew more about?
Aoife> The Boys+Girls radio spot for Swim Ireland is something every parent won’t want to hear but should.
An Post is a fantastic example of an Irish based business that is turning around its fortunes and creating good work. From their eco post van fleet and Covid ‘Send Love’ postcard initiative to the Address Point piece of work, their communications strategy is an inspiring case study.