Interview with David Craik

Interview: David Craik

David leads Bright Signals team of digital creatives. They make content for brands. From words to video, from apps to interactive installations. Then they get it seen and shared, managing social media accounts that reach millions of fans.

Everything Bright Signals do is structured around an agile marketing methodology that they've designed from the ground up to be fit for the digital age. 

We caught up with David ahead of our upcoming Inspiring Creativity event which is taking place in Glasgow on 7 September.

What are the biggest challenges when it comes to using social media for business?

The biggest challenge with social is gaining attention and engagement. Newsfeeds are packed full of things that people tend to care more about than brands. So we try to create content that people actually choose to spend time with. And even more so, that they choose to share with their friends.

That tends to be something quite different from a traditional advertisement, often with less overt brand messaging. But clever content can still say something very powerful about a brand, without saying it, if that makes sense! And of course, social advocacy by my friends is much more compelling to me than something that I’ve been forced to watch.

You’ve some pretty impressive clients David! Your work with Tennent's, BBC and Beam Suntory has generated more than 200 million online video views and has been discussed everywhere from The Late Late Show to Radio 1. What’s the key to getting a campaign going viral?

A lot people think viral success is impossible to engineer. But we’ve developed a bunch of techniques designed to increase the odds. One is to place lots of bets. Another is to iterate and refine everything, rather than ‘fire and forget’.

We also put a lot of effort into spotting the winners early, then backing them with targeted amplification. We aim do that in real time and so we’ve developed in-house software, called Steffi (graph) that tracks the performance of content minute-by-minute.

So while a viral hit can’t be guaranteed, there’s lots that brands can do to give themselves an unfair advantage. These techniques help us consistently produce content than punches way above its budget, and achieve a level of impact and results that far exceed what our clients have been used to seeing with traditional methods.

You guys are nailing experiential installations. How important is the physical aspect of marketing? How do you see this developing in the future?

There’s a whole world emerging where physical machines are being combined with digital technologies, which we think is really exciting. Installations enable deeper and more memorable connections with consumers, creating greater scope to genuinely delight and move people.

That in turn generates organic social sharing, which reaches a much bigger audience than those who actually touch the experience. And because each of our installations is or does something that hasn’t been seen before, they often attract UK-wide press interest, if not global coverage.

We think this field represents such an exciting opportunity for brands that we’ve invested heavily in an in-house workshop, where our engineers prototype and build installations from the ground up. That gives us full control from concept to execution, in the same way that our designers and developers have full control over the virtual experiences that we create.

What’s been the most enjoyable experiential campaign that Bright Signals have worked on so far?

To be honest most of them are laugh-out-loud fun. If we ever come up with a concept that doesn’t provoke a strong reaction in ourselves and in consumers, then we know it probably isn’t good enough. 

But if I had to pick one I guess it’d be RoboCock(tails) – the barman of the future – who we created for last year’s Dram Awards. Don’t tell anyone, but the ‘magic’ of RoboCock was actually achieved by a half a dozen humans, franticly working behind the curtain to control movement, sound FX, lights and smoke, while also pouring cocktails. The biggest challenge we had was not looking each other in the eye, knowing if we did we’d be falling about the floor laughing at the madness of it all.

You seem to have a very spirited approach to your work. What’s the vibe like at Bright Signals HQ?

We have a sign on the wall that says: ‘Fail we may, sail we must’. It’s the title of a record by DJ Andrew Weatherhall and we use it to remind ourselves to try stuff out, embrace failure and take chances, every day.

That and to have fun doing it. There isn’t a day goes by in the Bright Signals studio when I don’t overhear something utterly ridiculous being said. Today I heard: “We almost ordered a monkey instead of a donkey” and "Don't worry, it's the right side of phallic."

We often work on ambitious ideas that haven’t been done before. That isn’t always easy, so it’s important that work with a smile on our faces and that we totally trust our team-mates to pull it off.

You recently scooped our Agency Star of the Year at the Star Awards, congrats! How important are awards like these to agencies? Do you think it boosts credibility?


I do think the marketing industry risks devaluing the idea of awards, because there are sooooo many. We struggle to find time to enter more than a handful (we actually take a wee bit of pride in having won more than we’ve entered). 

But credible awards like the Star Awards certainly do help get us noticed. We’ve had a bunch of enquires on the back of winning the digital category the past three years running, not only from Scottish clients but internationally. 

The awards are also important acknowledgement for our team. Many of them come from cultural or technical backgrounds out with the marketing industry, so to be judged as leaders by that industry reassures us that we must be doing something right.