Advertising Week New York: The Dynamic, the Dead and the Dangerous

Notoriously overwhelming, this week’s AWNY ramped activities up even further, expanding the number of stages from 8 to 12. A disorientating amount of content to navigate and a somewhat amusing metaphor for today’s digital consumer. Leaving my choice paralysis to one side, I opted for a schedule that would hopefully keep me abreast of the good, the bad and the ugly of the industry. I succeeded.

The dynamic: R/GA put it down

In contrast to so many conversations in advertising, that are underpinned by fear and over-compensation, the R/GA presentation (“Transformation At Speed” – the agency tag line) was honest, bold and, frankly, exciting.

Rather than shy away from the big threats to the advertising industry, R/GA took them head on. These threats centre around: fragmented audiences (which for many parts of the industry means shrinking audiences); shrinking budgets (cheaper, sometimes even in-house produced, social media campaigns can beat the results of expensive TV campaigns); and falling ROI and trust in digital advertising.

In light of all of this, R/GA’s central thesis was: we need to “go beyond advertising to help companies transform”. This denotes two important acknowledgements: firstly, even advertising done well cannot fix the problems many businesses are facing and secondly, creative agencies need to learn how to solve those problems (to survive, too).

R/GA operationalises this for their clients in three ways: business transformation, experience transformation and marketing transformation. Guiding the audience through a case study in each area, R/GA also illustrated that a concept like the ‘marketing funnel’ itself, is obsolete. As with their presentation, measurable engagement can now occur at all stages of the customer journey – if the execution is done well.

The dead: linear TV sellers

At the ‘Ready, Set, TV’ panel New York Interconnect’s COO reitereated the well known adage, “Content is King”. Without more nuance around relevance and context, this statement offers only a partial explanation about the best ways to drive audience engagement with advertising.

“Content is King”, does not take account of the fact that audiences increasingly stop paying attention to ads during TV shows and that time spent with exceptional content, that sits behind a paywall, is on the rise. Consumers are open to ads, but at times and in contexts of their choosing.

The Interconnect COO then went on to say, “Sometimes the content isn’t even that good! We just care that people are watching it”. The logic of reach, that underpins the arguments TV advertising sellers use, is becoming increasingly challenged in the digital age. In an age where audiences are becoming accustomed to seeing ads that meet their interests and needs, reach for the sake of higher numbers, without further relevance, is becoming a less compelling argument.

TV companies like Hulu and Tivo are investing heavily in sophisticated advertising technology to serve different audiences, watching the same programme. However, some other parts of the TV ad industry are not adapting to the evolving consumer trends and preferences quickly enough.

The dangerous: activism by numbers (but not the right numbers)

Smirnoff formed a partnership with Spotify to amplify and execute aspects of their Smirnoff Equaliser campaign, orchestrated by media agency Carat. The panel discussion around this used male representatives from both Smirnoff and Spotify to discuss the ambitions and successes of the campaign.

The representative from Spotify made the ‘white, male’ acknowledgement and spoke at length about Spotify’s ongoing commitment to gender equality at Spotify via various initiatives they are progressing with internally. Smirnoff’s representative was less able, when asked, to speak about the ways that Smirnoff looks at the issue of gender equality within the company. He was, however, very well versed in explaining how important it is for a brand choosing to take an activist role to ensure the issue goes to the heart of their beliefs as a brand.

When measuring the success of the campaign, the Smirnoff representative commented that had their approach to the Equaliser campaign been more radical, citing Nike’s Kaepernick campaign as an example, their social engagement metrics would probably have been even better than what they had achieved.

This raises considerable concerns for ‘success’ in activist brand executions being conflated with genuine success in raising the profile of the issue at hand. In the same worrying way that social media businesses live and die by the engagement – or controversy – of what is shared, it is concerning to consider how this new wave of activist brands may end up escalating, rather than healing (even if inadvertently), conflict – to drive their businesses too.


Tagged in: Activist Brands, Advertising, Brand Values, Colin Kaepernick, Customer Journey, Digital Consumers, Disruption, Hulu, Linear Tv, Marketing Funnel, Nike, R/ga, Smirnoff, Spotify, Tivo, TV Audiences, Tv Campaigns

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