The 15th anniversary of Advertising Week looked very much like past editions, down to having change as the overarching topic of the event.
In spite of a venue change from spots around Times Square to a central location uptown, the annual festival drew from a lot of the same themes and speaker pools: advertising legends (TBWA’s Lee Clow spoke about Apple’s historic “1984” ad), movie stars (Will Smith filled the overflow room to overflowing during his creativity panel), media stars (Katie Couric, Real Housewife Bethenny Frankel) and star CMOs (MasterCard’s Raja Rajamannar and GE’s Linda Boff among others). Even wrestling stars took the stage; WWE Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon listed “part-time villain” in her job description when introducing herself before her panel.
And this year’s sessions also highlighted a challenge carried over from past years: disruption. The CMO’s remit is still in flux, every time more technologically-driven and connected to the culture—both popular and company culture—like never before. The event even featured a track of panels on the marketing issues around legalized cannabis and another on diversity and women’s empowerment in marketing.
“Professional rulebreaking is the next 21st century skill,” said author Sam Conniff. “It’s the only chance we have to create change anywhere near the pace we need to do.”
Speakers agreed the CMO is now the company’s Chief Culture Officer, in charge of keeping the brand connected to society and the employees connected to that mission.
“We are in the age of the conscious consumer, where brand reflects culture and culture reflects brand,” said Dara Treseder, CMO of GE Ventures.
CMOs will need a high emotional quotient and the ability to tell stories based on those emotions, said speakers. Perhaps the CMO’s new title should be “Chief Understanding Officer,” joked Stephen Freitas, CMO of the Outdoor Advertising Association of America.
“We have an opportunity to be that voice of truth within our organizations,” said Alicia Tillman, CMO of SAP. She noted that research shows the stock of companies that are very purpose-driven outperform by a factor of five those that aren’t. Additionally, Tillman noted surveys show purpose also affects the recruitment and retention of the workforce, especially Millennials, who are 5.3 times more likely to stay with employers who support their values.
“That’s what our product is: our people,” said Alicia Hatch, CMO of Deloitte Digital. Purpose and values make up the “corporate soul” the CMO has to oversee, said Hatch. The role of corporations is growing and changing in a connected culture, where it can serve to empower consumers, she said. The marketer’s role within the organization is to oversee that mission, she said.
“There’s an interesting dialog” between purpose and the bottom line, said MasterCard’s Rajamannar. “That is a very powerful dynamic that is sweeping the world.”
Philanthropy and profitability are not mutually exclusive, he said, citing research that shows 67% of consumers say that they will back away or boycott a brand they feel is is not taking the right stance on an issue and 83% feel it’s important to buy from a brand that does the right thing.
“You have to do something more than put the advertising out,” he told marketers.
“Focus on creating missions and visions for your companies that are really meaningful,” said Tillman, “because that is what we need today.”
Dilly Dilly and Deep Learning
Advertising is still influencing the culture—one session explored how Bud Light’s “Dilly Dilly” catchphrase became a Super Bowl-winning football play and fan rallying cry—but today, marketing is more often reacting to the street. Spotting and reacting to consumer attitudes is a large part of what marketers will have to do going forward, with the help of technology.
“Artificial intelligence is not a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have,” said Dan Rosenberg, chief marketing & strategy officer of MediaMath. Agencies and marketing departments are becoming more dependent on tools such as machine learning, deep learning and natural language processing to draw insights from reams of data and execute in real time, all in service of the experiences and engagement needed to hold on to today’s consumer.
“We’re just kind of moving down the chain with the technology,” said Rosenberg. “We’re reaching the point where all these come together.”
“The only way you are going to bridge online and offline is if your data can talk to each other,” said Marissa Freeman chief brand officer of Hewlett Packard Enterprise. “In order to truly get to where your data is going to come alive and be useful … you have to do the hard work back at the ranch.”
The data work can’t be done by the “shadow IT” in marketing departments because of compliance and permissions needed to use the data, Freeman explained, so it has to involve the IT department deeply: “Buy your IT a bottle of tequila” and put them to work, she said.
Freeman said HP had to break down silos and hire digital natives, then gathered people into cross-discipline teams because “my colleagues and I know that we can’t do it alone… Our work is never done.”
The only way to manage all these conflicting priorities is to focus on strategy, the speakers agreed. Having systems and structures in place to respond in real time, a focus on the brand purpose and mission and technology tools in place to execute with agility will carry the day, they said.
“If you set up goals you’re bound to fail. You have to set up systems…. You almost have to build a machine,” said Ty Shay CMO of Norton Consumer Business.
Advertising is going through a “major deconstruction,” said Rob Greenberg, founder and CEO of agency R/GA. “Agencies today should be having really tough conversations in their board rooms,” he said.
“The elephant in the room is what’s happened to the advertising industry,” said Barry Wacksman, global chief strategy officer of R/GA. “It’s this little simple fact: the audiences for advertising-supported media are shrinking.”
Forget traditional models; one need not look far for examples of business that are too shortsighted for this new reality and were rendered obsolete, said Greenberg. They don’t just have to transform themselves, they have to guide clients to do the same, he said.
“In the past it was comfortable for us, because we could buy a lot of media” Marcel Marcondes, U.S. CMO of Anheuser-Busch. But now, consumers’ attention is so fragmented, even a mass media message like Bud Light’s can get lost, which is why the success of brand’s “Dilly Dilly” campaign was so notable.
“We were really trying to find out way back to culture,” said Marcondes. Even then, A-B leaned into the campaign with experiential promotions like free beer to Philadelphia football fans after their team won the Super Bowl.
“It’s a cliche, but it’s true: We used to belong to an industry of interruption, but now we have to adjust what we do to become relevant,” he said.
Marketers have moved from building reach to building relevance in their communications, and from communicating brand attributes to building communities of consumers around their brands. That involves a complete change in the operating models for marketers, they said.
“Gone are the days of CMOS who were entirely responsible for building brand awareness and brand advertising. it’s all about customer experience,” said Aditi Javeri Gokhale, CMO at Northwestern Mutual.
“People don´t want to buy products anymore, they want to have rich experiences,” said Jason Levine, CMO, North America of Mondelez. The challenge to marketers is managing marketing “ecosystems” to create those experiences, he said. “We try to think of everything more from content to commerce: How does everything that we do in content becomes commerce-able and how does all our commerce become content?”
The CMOs need to have a handle on the big picture and build teams around the organization that can scale at speed, speakers said. The role has evolved and “they have a seat at the table with the CEO and CFO,” said Mark Howard, chief revenue officer of Forbes Media.
Publishers “have opportunity to create strong partnerships for them, but it has to fit in with this bigger strategy role that they are taking on,” said Howard. “It’s a really dynamic role in the organization these days”
In fact, partnerships will be a big part of the future for most, especially in the media world, speakers agreed. “The publisher of the future is the biggest host you’ve ever seen,” said Sabah Ashraf, CEO North America of SuperUnion, the consulting arm of WPP Group.
“Gone are the days of buying four networks. We have to find our audiences,” said Heather Gundry SVP, director of integrated local buying at Carat. “But more importantly, find the right consumers.”
About 3 years ago Carat buyers went through a “massive retraining” about how to buy digital videos and other online media to teach them how to go to market, she explained: “Look at context. Look at intent. There are other ways,” she said. “Now it’s more about strategy.”
Strategy is indeed the challenge on the brand side, said Julie Anson, associate director, partner innovation, advanced TV, at Magna Global. “Clients don’t always understand what they want,” she said “There’s very little strategy.”
Additionally, marketers face internal challenges from a staffing perspective, she said: “There’s a lot of struggle over who handles what.” And besides the silos, there is also an educational challenge, she concluded; a buyer handling an omnichannel strategy may have a hard time with programmatic platforms and “that whole acronym soup I deal with every day,” Anson said.
Even TV networks and cable carriers, traditional antagonists, are having to embrace partnerships, said media experts.
“I think you’re going to see much more cooperation than you’ve seen before. Because we need each other,” said David Kline, EVP of cable operator Charter & president of Spectrum Reach.
“If Mars attacked Earth we’d all need each other on earth… We may not get along, but if we all wanted to survive we would learn to get along,” he said. “Mars did attack in the form of Amazon and Google.”