"You can't talk about the impact in general terms," Andrew Robertson, president-CEO of BBDO Worldwide, told the nearly packed PricewaterhouseCoopers Auditorium in Midtown Manhattan this morning. "You have to look at it on a client-by-client basis. But there are definitely clients where the emphasis is going to switch, and there will be clients for whom the value message is going to become a much bigger component of the overall messaging mix, because that's something that's going to be pretty motivating to consumers."
Moderated by CNBC anchor Maria Bartiromo, the panel, made up of Mr. Robertson; Nick Brien, CEO of Mediabrands; Sarah Fay, CEO of Aegis Media North America; and Irwin Gotlieb, CEO of Group M, discussed a variety of topics, but the fallout from last week's financial mess was never far from top of mind.
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"I'm not sure how consumers will react to this," Mr. Gotlieb said. "At the moment I don't think the consumer can comprehend what has just happened. The best-case scenario is that the consumer doesn't comprehend what went on and goes on merrily about their way."
He said regardless of a person's ability to fully comprehend what transpired, consumer confidence has a way of coming back. "There is quite a bit of elasticity in consumer confidence, and it does tend to bounce back, whether the situation is understandable or not," he said.
Ms. Fay said one of the questions was just how big an impact Wall Street's woes will have on ad budgets. She said her advertising media company has "just rounded down" its 2008 growth forecast, from 6% to 4.9%.
Mr. Brien said of the financial crisis: "Between natural-resource prices, the housing market, what's happening on Wall Street as well as technology and its impact on marketing, it's a more challenging environment in terms of turning suspects into prospects into buyers," he said. "It's going to challenge the professionalism of everything we do."
The panelists also discussed the evolving nature of the marketing business, the need for more integration across disciplines and the growing relevance of data such as consumer behavior when it comes to constructing a campaign.
"The nature of marketing is going to be less about the vehicles we choose to target and how we use those vehicles," Mr. Brien said. "It's going to be more about the fact that we need to refine the persuasion-based activities we have all grown up with with user influence. This balance is going to challenge agency structures."
Mr. Robertson called this the fundamental shift that people need to start recognizing in order to reach consumers.
"We have to stop thinking of media as bridges that we march messages over into people's minds and start thinking about creating experiences that change behavior and providing access to those experiences in the most relevant places," Mr. Robertson said. "That's a different language and different way of thinking from the way the business was approached even three years ago."
"Rightly or wrongly, the consumer trusts their peers more than they trust some of the most recognized publications," Mr. Gotlieb said. "And because of that the communications today are not just about talking at the consumer. It's about managing their perception and trying to get them to participate in the discussion in a way that is favorable to your client. The challenge is none of us can do all of these things. What we have to get to is a single, integrated strategy that can be implemented by multiple entities. None of us has the ability to implement all of the components of that strategy."
Mr. Robertson said the only thing that matters to him is consumer behavior, and marketers should focus on creating experiences to change consumer behavior and not so much on messaging.
"We used to think about messages that created a case for a particular behavior," Mr. Robertson said. "It's not about that now. It's about creating experiences that, by participating in them, change consumer behavior. I'm only interested in behavior. Everything else is just a proxy for it. Unless behavior changes, it's all been a waste of time and money. That's an important lens through which to look at everything, because there's a lot of interesting stuff going on, none of which is going to change behavior. And our clients can't make any money unless behavior changes."