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The Wild, Wacky and Worthy of Ad Week 2014

This blog was first posted by CRN International, for which I am currently Marketing Director.

“I’m a big advocate and supporter of radio; trouble is, most creative on radio is really bad.”

The head of a multibillion-dollar ad agency shared that with me between sessions at Advertising Week 2014 in New York. And as much as the show’s organizers tried to break me by instructing 960 speakers to replace every “er” or “uh” with words like content, data, engagement, storytelling, mobile, programmatic, and collaboration, the CEO’s candid comment will be the most indelible memory for me, now that I’ve washed the hand that shook Dan Rather’s.

Oh, the comment had plenty to compete with: close to 300 sessions, 100,000 attendees, and seemingly more stages than there are Broadway shows. Yet after a while, no matter the title of the session or the question from the moderator, every answer managed to include one of those seven magic words. Tolerance depended on the time of day and extent of hangover.

Radio sure had its moments. A panel of four radio personalities moderated by Radio Advertising Bureau CEO Erica Farber reminded us of the infectious intimacy that can be established between listeners and their favorite on-air personalities. That bond is accompanied by a trust that shouldn’t be violated by, say, compromising one’s integrity by endorsing a product one does not believe in. Unless, of course, you bow to the gospel of former New York Giant Amani Toomer who said, “I work for NBC Sports Radio, and I’ll pretty much sell anything.”

Getting back to the CEO’s comment, we at CRN can’t disagree. We’re big advocates and supporters of radio ourselves, with the caveat that it must be used properly. Most advertisers still insist on jamming spot messages of various creative merit down consumers’ throats. Yet CRN’s recent consumer research clearly revealed listeners’ penchant to tune out traditional commercials and indicated that they respond more favorably to other types of tactics.

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One such tactic is the use of endorsements and testimonials. While not referring specifically to radio, a panelist in a New York Times CEO Forum, Julie Bauer, President of Consumer Electronics at Panasonic, recited the three forms of this storytelling strategy—celebrity endorsements, expert endorsements, and testimonials from “real people”—and the need to match the right tactic with the right audience, the right time, and the right message. Talk about real people, it was fitting that during the week iHeartMedia guru Bob Pittman said the best form of advertising is hearing a recommendation from your best friend.

On that same CEO panel, mcgarrybowen Founder Gordon Bowen didn’t exactly scoff at the prospect of putting too much stock in data and analytics, but noted, “Marketers are led by their gut into the human condition and tapping into human emotion. That’s instinct—that’s what our industry does.”

In a separate session, Kasha Cacy, President of the U.S. division of Universal McCann, referenced emotion not only as a marketing tactic but as a selling strategy to clients. She said she usually faces “no resistance to campaigns that rely on emotion. Be passionate when you are making the case. I never feel I’m selling something if I believe in something.” Cacy said UM believes in “the power of a moment; moments consumers care about—how to find them, capture them and use them for your brand.” To help determine those moments, Cacy described a “Day in the Life of a Consumer” exercise in which UM had a number of consumers wear cameras around their foreheads all day. The result was insight into what the consumers did and saw, as seen through their very own lenses. Cacy chuckled at the consumer whose camera followed him as he watched TV and then got up during the commercial—which someone spent huge dollars for—to go to the kitchen.

*****

Thoughts on how to build an influential brand have certainly changed in recent years. Jeremy Levine, Senior Vice President of Digital Sales for Live Nation, said, “It used to be that the brand had to be the center of everything. Now, brands must be more subtle in their marketing to achieve authenticity.” Rob Horton, Vice President of Marketing at Glidden, added, “We try to talk to the consumer as if you are our neighbor.”

Mark O’Brien, President of DDB North America, said his company measures brand influence through an “Influence Index” that takes into account social buzz, price premiums, earnings multiples, and sales. Added Nancy Hill, President and CEO of 4A’s, “Influence has to translate into sales.”

*****

Brands need to clearly identify and operate in the context of an “Ambitious Purpose,” said consultant Jim Stengel, a marketing veteran who spent 25 years with Procter and Gamble. “You must have an Ambitious Purpose or it’s simply game over,” he said. “Ask yourself, does your brand come from a deeper purpose or ideal? Does it serve the world in some meaningful way? Is it inspiring teams and partners?” Stengel said brands also need to “bring humanity to life. Are you touching the hearts of your consumers in a sincere, caring, honest way? Is empathy a core value?”

To give attendees a better idea, Stengel listed the Ambitious Purpose of some popular brands:
 • Google: To make the world’s knowledge available and useful to everyone
 • Skype: To help people connect in more ways to transform and enhance their lives
 • Nivea: To proactively care for and protect people

Stengel believes a company’s Ambitious Purpose “always has to stay the same, but you must be willing to change everything else if necessary.” He gave the example of Pampers from his time at P&G: “When we went from a focus on ‘dryness’ to a focus on ‘baby development,’ we tripled the business.”

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What keeps marketing people awake at night?

 • Lauren Crampsie, Worldwide CMO, Ogilvy: “Sometimes people are afraid to take a chance. We are not necessarily having the right conversations in the creative world right now.”
 • Lisa Donohue, CEO, Starcom Mediavest Group USA: “Keeping up with the pace of people. And talent needs are so significant, constantly changing, and becoming more expansive.” 
 • Lisa Cochrane, Senior Vice President, Marketing, Allstate Insurance: “Staying on top of change and focusing on the next Big Idea.”
 • Brian Jones, Vice President, North America Commercial Marketing, Dell: “Modern marketing, and finding the right partners.”

*****

The advertising business obviously is a collaborative one with many moving parts. While speakers and panelists spent most of the week supporting that realization and offering helpful ideas to further promote such activity, one person said the solution to quality collaboration is simple: “give us credit and get us paid.” How inspiring!

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