Brands can’t sit on the fence anymore, but can’t take a fake stand on issues either, said speakers at a meeting of advertisers. In this time of polarization, brands that remain silent quickly become irrelevant, and those that just fake it see an immediate backlash, said speakers at the Association of National Advertisers’s annual Masters of Marketing meeting.
“Don’t let a crisis go to waste” was a quote often repeated and rephrased during three days of meetings. Business as usual won’t work at a time when business is slowing markedly and being disrupted by technology and demographic change.
“When we have a tailwind it masks a whole lot of things you need to be doing,” said Crane Kennedy, president, business operations of the Chicago Cubs. “When you have a crisis… you really have to inspect your business.”
The impact of digital channels, the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence are completely remaking the operational landscape just as the rise of the Millennial demographic is changing the consumer mindset at its core, said speakers. Many advertisers have jumped on digital advertising, programmatic buying and other technologies without fully grasping how it affects their messages and connection to consumers and are now paying for it with deteriorating brand image and sales, said speakers.
“If brands die, it is because we killed them with the best of intentions,” said Eric Reynolds, CMO of Clorox Co.
Reynolds noted that one of the original Clorox buildings in San Francisco now houses a Whole Foods supermarket “and if you’re wondering, the irony is not lost on us.” Clorox had to change the way it conceived advertising to focus on technology and data to solve “that existential crisis we felt we were suffering on CPG.”
Clorox invested in programmatic and display ads and found sales grew at double-digit rates, but it was still ranked as 153th among brands considered “modern”‘ and 278th in innovation—and dropping.
“We got a huge case of ‘shorttermitis.’ … We got so fixated in the data and the technology we lost the bigger picture,” said Reynolds. Clorox had to go back to the consumers and figure out what its brand essence was, then translate that into its current “Clean Matters” campaign, he said.
No ISIS, no cat videos
“Our industry needs to do better,” said ANA CEO Bob Liodice. “Marketers, we need to take our industry back.” Marketing chiefs must take the lead in righting this situation, said Liodice: “CMOS must not let others do the heavy lifting.”
Marketing “got a wakeup call this year” as digital media turned 21, said Marc Pritchard, chief marketing officer of Procter & Gamble and president of the ANA board of directors. Pritchard said P&G, one of the country’s biggest spenders in advertising, took a pause this year to reassess how it handles marketing and improve the content and placement of its messages.
P&G recently took a look at its media after its ads were found running along YouTube videos posted by ISIS. P&G like others advertisers, took the “head fake” of cheap media and now is being more careful, he said.
“We’re not going to spend money on a crappy media supply chain,” Pritchard said. “We don’t want to be on an ISIS video, but how many cat videos should we be advertising on?”
Many speakers echoed the call to step up measurement and monitor the quality of ads. Kristin Lemkau, CMO of JPMorgan Chase stressed the need to police brand safety; Chase can’t say the bank is helping people be smarter about money while wasting its money advertising on hate sites, she said.
But this doesn’t mean advertising won’t take a stand, even on a controversial issue. Most speakers agreed that consumers want brands to spell out what they stand for and share some sense of purpose.
“We avoid pop culture at our peril. Eighty-four percent of consumers agree brands have a responsibility to make the world better,” said Arvind Raman, senior brand journalist at McCann Truth Central. The agency’s Truth About America study noted while only 19% of consumers said brands should make political statements in their marketing, the number among Millennials goes up to 30%.
“It’s a subtle line between purpose and politics,” said Raman. Brands must decide whether to speak to the flare points that appeal and retain their core audience or speak to the common ground all consumers share to avoid turning off potential audiences, he said.
Speakers did not shy away from current events. MGM Resorts CMO Lili Tomovich opened her speech acknowledging the toll of the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas and said MGM had paused its new ad campaign in light of the events. Lane Bryant CMO Bryan Beitler took the stage wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the word “FEMENIST” to talk about the plus-size retailer’s body image campaign. Antonio Lucio, CMO of HP, danced onto stage to the reggaeton hit “Despacito” and waved a Puerto Rican flag as a shout-out to Hurricane Maria victims in his homeland.
Complacency and Courage
Brands in crisis have to throw away the playbook and go back to their origin story, said speakers: “The only thing that stands for change is courage,” said Beitler.
Brand purpose gives creatives inspiration when coming back from a crisis, said Pio Schunker, head of global marketing mobile communications business at Samsung, sharing the lessons from Samsung’s comeback after the Note 7 fire crisis nearly tanked its sales.
“It will see you through the bad, the horrible and the absolutely horrendous times,” he said.
The company also needs to be aligned to act based on that brand purpose, not just talk about it. Tomovich noted that MGM spent 18 months working with its people to fine-tune its brand positioning as an entertainment company before unveiling the new campaign.
“Before you declare your brand proposition to the world, you’d damn better be ready to deliver it,” she said.
“Complacency has a way of settling in” for brands, said Rand Herbert, chief agency, sales and marketing officer for State Farm, a 78-year-old brand recently went through an update.
Leaders must be ready to take a bold step, but also do something that’s authentic for the brand, said Herbert: “We’re going to be the best us.”
KFC confronted the issue with its new campaign, going back to its Kentucky Fried Chicken name and the figure of Colonel Sanders after ditching both for KFC and an appeal at younger diners that backfired. KFC had lost its way and to “find its true north to right this ship” it went back to its origin story, said Kevin Hochman, president & chief content officer, KFC US.
The real Col. Sanders was “a Jedi master of marketing” said Eric Baldwin, executive creative director at KFC’s agency, Weiden + Kennedy. Looking back at his efforts inspired ideas such as a friend-chicken scented sunscreen stunt and using multiple actors to portray the colonel in ads, he said.
Marketers must modernize brands every day to keep up, but “the hard part is not sounding like the sky is falling” said Paul Gunning, CEO of State Farm’s agency, DDB Chicago. “I know the plane is flying, but at some point you have to decide to do something bold,” said Gunning.
That can be the toughest part of the job, said Scott Hagedorn, CEO of agency Hearts & Science. Agencies have to fight against “muscle memory” on the part of their clients that keeps them from trying, he said.
“All too often we get into those things of ‘I have to scale things before we understand what it is,’” he said. “This fear of failure or just blatant not-even-trying is something we have to break from. ”
Brands have to be bold and “kick butt,” but at the same time, they must remember marketing’s mission is to help sales, said Lucio. “If we want to be at the business table, we have to talk as businesspersons first and marketing artisans second,” he said.
Marketers should be “culturally ambidextrous” he said: “They will speak on all issues that affect the business… they will be able to demonstrate the value of marketing in every action.”
Doing that and standing up for something are not mutually exclusive, said Lucio. He noted HP has challenged its agencies on diversity issues and gotten results; women’s participation in account management has increased in the last 12 months and now 51% of its account managers are women.
“There’s never been a greater time for marketing; there’s never been a greater need for brands, but marketing has to find its voice,” said Lucio. “In this world we live in, there’s no brand without product and there’s no product without brand.”