Sssh. Grown-ups have spoken, and they’re worth a listen
Big-brand CMOs the world over are quietly making their voices heard on a range of media and advertising issues. Dominic Mills hears what they have to say.
Adland, by and large, is a world populated by extroverts. To get noticed in this world — and extroverts want to be noticed — they believe they have to shout, literally and sometimes figuratively — the latter usually achieved by catastrophising.
If you attended Cannes last month, you’ll know what I mean. Even following it from a distance via the headlines, as I did, can make you want to put your fingers in your ears. It’s like being surrounded by a bunch of excitable teenagers going to Glastonbury for the first time.
But in a world where everyone shouts, you can also gain attention by whispering, as Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, asserts.
While I would hesitate to classify big-brand CMOs as whispering introverts, they don’t tend to (OK, with one or two exceptions) insist on giving off in a loud voice. When they do speak, it’s usually softly and via a group. Just because they’re not shouting doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen keenly.
Which brings me to the World Federation of Advertisers State of Advertising report, launched into the hubbub of Cannes and therefore easily over-looked. It’s short and to the point, and you can download it here. It’s about a ten-minute read.
By tone and content, the best way to characterise it is this: the grown-ups have spoken and their views on the four or five big issues of the day are worth listening to.
You may say that, by definition, WFA members are an unrepresentative bunch, biased towards the establishment. This is true, but it means they speak with both experience and monetary clout. The membership combined spends about $900bn a year on marketing, while the 70 organisations that responded to this survey spend about $115bn.
And what do they say? With some unsurprising areas of concern, they are broadly committed to (and positive about) the role of traditional media and advertising, the contributions their agencies make, and their commitment to brand awareness advertising.
On the two hotter topics of the moment, purpose and in-housing, they are somewhat sceptical. No catastrophising here. It’s the equivalent of the police constable saying ‘Nothing to see here. Move on, please’.
Here are the main things I learned from it.
Not all brands are operating under budgetary pressure. More than four out of ten (43% to be precise) spent more last year than the year before. Of these, 15% increased their budgets significantly.
They are not all prioritising short-term performance over longer-term brand awareness: 55% spend more on brand awareness than performance, and 31% operate a rough 50:50 split.
However, they are happier with the perceived effectiveness of performance (72% say it has increased over the last five years versus 14% who say it has decreased) than they are with that of brand awareness (43% increase vs 37% decrease).
Nearly two thirds (62%) see no end to traditional advertising in the next five years (with 28% strongly disagreeing with the idea that it will disappear).
They are not excited by VR or AR, but 68% and 50% say point of sale and offline advertising (yes, actual old-fashioned stuff) are investment priorities. And you can take data as a given priority.
The rush towards in-housing may be over-stated. The main areas of growth for in-housing appear to be at what might you call the cheap-and-cheerful end of the market: influencer marketing; short-form content and low-cost, fast-turnaround creative executions.
By contrast, over half the respondents say they intend to spend more/significantly more with agencies in these areas: traditional media buying/planning; big-ticket creativity; creative strategy; and, a little surprisingly to me, programmatic search and display. Has the pendulum swung then? Or do they realise that there are certain skills that just will not thrive in-house?
And finally, they’ve gone cold on 'purpose', or at least fake purpose (about bleedin’ time too): 65% say most brand purpose fails to resonate because it lacks authenticity, although a nearly 30% disagree. I find this alarming. Do they therefore think most brand purpose is built on authenticity? Or that it is irrelevant?
None of this is to say they do not see problems — clutter, lack of consumer trust, ad avoidance and declining reach are among the most prominent — but the good news is that they appear to value the contribution agencies make.
At a time when agencies delight in beating themselves up, this is a message that ought to be heard, however quietly it is delivered.
Grown-Ups #2: a telling off for OOH
While the likes of Thinkbox, Newsworks, Radiocentre and Magnetic thrive and continue to make the case for their media owner stakeholders, the OOH version, Outsmart, limps along in the shadows on a narrow remit.
For those who remember, it effectively had its legs amputated when the industry applied a monetary tourniquet in 2016.
Some in the industry may argue that, as long as revenues continue to rise — overall up about 7% in 2019 to £1.209bn, and digital revenues growing twice as fast — marketing the medium isn’t a problem.
That, however, is not the view of some of the grown-ups, in this case a clutch of major advertisers operating under the umbrella of ISBA. Led by the Nationwide’s Chris Ladd, they are agitating for some changes to the industry, including a revived Outsmart.
Other than a failure to market the medium collectively — odd, you might think, given that competition for the media pound is only going to get tougher — these advertisers see a number of problems with OOH. They include the decline in large-format paper-and-paste sites generally as well as specifically outside London, and viewability issues on digital. But who do they talk to about all this? They can’t talk to all the individual media owners, and Outsmart isn’t set up for this sort of industry-wide debate.
And if they, and fellow advertisers, start taking their money away from OOH, then the need for industry marketing becomes all the more pertinent.
So, the grown-ups say, bring back Outsmart.
If you want more on this, you can read the views of industry-insider-turned-outsider Stuart Taylor, former CEO of Kinetic, exclusively here on Mediatel News later this week.