"There never been a better time to be a marketer than now."
That phrase was uttered multiple times by chief marketing officers presenting at last week's Association of National Advertisers event in soggy Orlando that drew more than 2,600 marketing execs, agency leaders and vendors.
But the meeting, dubbed "Masters of Marketing," left the feeling that marketers are not feeling so masterful at the moment: They are wrestling with issues ranging from how to break through what ANA chief Bob Liodice called a "byzantine, non-transparent, super complex digital media supply chain," to how to strike the right balance of positioning their brands for societal good without getting too political.
In the Trump era, that's no easy task.
"In this era of political division, partisanship and misunderstanding, brands have a very important role to play to stand for the fundamental basic human truth that unites us all as human beings," Antonio Lucio, chief marketing and communications officer at HP, said in a presentation. "Politicians run every four years," he added. "They can thrive on division and short-term gains. As brands we cannot afford that. Our customers vote with their trust and their wallet every day."
Later, he was asked what advice his marketing colleagues should take back to their office. His answer: "We need to get our confidence back and kick some butt."
Below are some other highlights and lowlights from the conference that wrapped up Saturday at the Orlando World Marriott.
As expected, diversity was a major topic. Lucio touted HP's diversity challenge to its agencies. Among HP shops, women now account for 51 percent of the account managers, including creative leads, he said. That's up from 45 percent. Lane Bryant's CMO gave a rousing call for including all body types in all marketing.
But the speakers on stage weren't especially diverse. Several conference attendees lamented the lack of female presenters in the conference's general session. Kristin Lemkau, CMO of JPMorgan Chase, spoke on Thursday; Lili Tomovich, chief experience and marketing director of MGM Resorts International and Emily Callahan of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital presented on Friday; and Aria Finger of DoSomething.org took the stage Saturday. The four female speakers comprised a fraction of the 17 male presenters appearing on the main stage over the three-day event. (Two men appeared twice.)
The number of women technically on stage would double to eight if we count the four "Rising Marketing Stars" announced Thursday afternoon by ANA CEO Bob Liodice—Sarah Ingle, marketing manager of digital at Western Union, Melissa Oppenheim, creative lead at Facebook, Amanda Diaz, VP of events marketing at JPMorgan Chase and Kelly Lopez, senior manager of digital and social media at Mike's Hard Lemonade.
Even one of the most progressive organizations to present at ANA admitted it has work to do. Paul Alexander, chief marketing and communications officer at Eastern Bank, discussed the mutual bank's push to do good, including fighting for more women in senior leadership positions and on corporate boards. Eastern Bank gives an average of 10 percent of net income to charity, and has championed causes including lobbying for transgender rights in Massachusetts. But during a Saturday Q&A about diversity, he admitted the bank has more to do: only 20 percent of its own board is female.
Just how mature is digital anyway?
Procter & Gamble Co. Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard pegged the age of digital media at 21 in his speech. That should technically make it mature, since digital now gets $200 billion in annual spending and is passing TV in the industry's collective budget, even if many problems remain. Despite being legal drinking age, digital media was referred to by Clorox Co. Chief Marketing Officer Eric Reynolds as an "adolescent."
Technically, many would date the birth to 1994--making it 23--when the web browser emerged, or maybe a year later when many marketers, like P&G, launched their first "interactive" efforts. Clorox plans to spend 51 percent of media on digital this year. Reynolds said in an interview the company is getting increasing return on investment even as others such as P&G talk more about the viewability, safety and transparency issues. Better return on investment has come largely because Clorox discovered it "doesn't have to be so hyper-targeted" and can use digital to reach broad audiences, Reynolds says.
Others don't like how the digital kid grew up. Liodice decried the oft-cited statistic that only 25 percent of digital media dollars actually reach consumers, or more precisely the publishers or platforms that directly put ads in front of consumers. The rest gets consumed in the tangled presentation-staple "Lumascape" he showed, a convoluted chart of a variety of ad-tech firms and agencies.
"Sure, be digital but don't be digital just for the sake of being digital," said Walmart U.S. Chief Marketing Officer Tony Rogers, citing a pet peeve—retargeting—and specifically the ads for tuxedo shoes that have stalked him around the internet since he bought a pair to attend the Academy Awards (as part of Walmart's sponsorship) in February.
Plenty of ANA presentations highlighted big, expensive commercials. They're still being made and they can still help build brands. But there were plenty of shout-outs for campaigns were released without any traditional paid media. Cadillac CMO Uwe Ellinghaus discussed the buzz the brand built for its "Book by Cadillac" vehicle subscription service without paid media. Lemkau made similar remarks about the introduction of the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, which has a $450 annual fee.
The conference ended with a presentation by Donate Life America and The Martin Agency, which came up with the darkly humorous online "World's Biggest Asshole" video meant to get more people, particularly millennial men, to sign up to be organ, eye and tissue donors. It was released without a media buy and went on to win 10 Cannes Lions.
Jargon Watch: Defriction
The ANA failed to live up to its rich tradition of spawning and spreading industry jargon. Not that it was jargon-free. There just wasn't much new.
Jim Lecinski, VP-customer solutions at Google, did his part. He helped add "Age of Assistance" (Google's current catch-phrase) to the lexicon. It was also pushed heavily at Advertising Week last month, joining a rich Google tradition that includes "micro moments" and "zero moment of truth." He also threw the term "defriction" around extensively at Google's sponsored lunch on Thursday. Defriction is what someone (i.e. Google) can do to the "customer experience" by making life easier, say, by having Google voice search work properly.
Adam Kleinberg, CEO of agency Traction, noted later that he believes "defriction" stems from one of the hottest current marketing books: "Friction: Passion Brands in the Age of Disruption." May we suggest, for next year's ANA, "digital viscosity?"
Agencies feeling the love
The ANA has had a contentious relationship with agencies of late after issuing reports accusing media shops of unfairly pocketing rebates and creative agencies of running non-transparent ad-production practices. But on stage last week it was one big love-fest, as marketer after marketer gave props to their agencies, even throwing their names up on slides giving them valuable exposure to the client execs in the crowd.
State Farm and long-time agency DDB portrayed their relationship as a well-oiled machine. No viscosity here! Rand Harbert, executive VP and chief agency sales and marketing officer of State Farm and Paul Gunning, CEO of DDB Chicago, took turns speaking about recent branding efforts in their 77-year history. "DDB really always went out of their way to say our brand is really important," said Harbert. "They had other clients but they made us feel like what we were doing was the most important in the world." Cue the heart-eye emojis.
Maurice Herrera, head of marketing at Weight Watchers, highlighted five agencies on a slide in his presentation. Among them: the weight loss company's creative agency DiMiassimo Goldstein and Remezcla, a Williamsburg-based shop started by Herrera's brother.
Questions and non-answers
Not all questions were answered, especially those posed by attendees on ANA's conference app. After MGM Resort International's presentation, many in the audience wondered when the brand would resume its new corporate branding campaign, recently pulled off the air in the wake of the mass shooting Las Vegas, the deadliest in U.S. history. The question was disregarded in Liodice's wrap-up.
Among other more interesting audience questions not asked for the audience was for St. Jude: "How do you balance spending so much money in order to raise money?" Meanwhile, Walmart's Rogers didn't get asked why Walmart doesn't stop selling cigarettes like CVS has. And KFC wasn't asked whether it feels any sense of responsibility for the obesity problem in America. We'll report back when we do get those answers.
What's the message on multicultural marketing?
"We have to stop thinking in these silos that divide us. It's time to take an inclusive approach to multicultural advertising," Walmart's Rogers said in his presentation. "We know that media habits are blending."
His words, which riffed off an ad from Hispanic shop Lopez Negrete, later got a mixed reaction from multicultural marketers, who count Rogers as a longtime supporter. One said Rogers' words will be construed by some to justify not having dedicated multicultural agencies, media or budgets, but this person expects Rogers to clarify and expand his remarks in a planned talk at the ANA Multicultural Marketing & Diversity Conference next month.
All hands on deck
Everyone's a marketer, even if you don't work in the marketing department, as more companies expect every employee to help grow brands. Callahan, the CMO for the St. Jude's fundraising and awareness arm, said the hospital ties pay for all employees to brand health, from the receptionist to the CEO. "We made every single employee accountable for the brand," she said.
MGM reorganized its staff training programs and internal branding message to empower its employees. "We wanted to make sure we aligned our culture with our brand, and trained employees for our brand purpose," Tomovich said, noting that such efforts helped staffers carry through last week's mass shooting, which occurred at an MGM property.
The joke is on the Germans
Ellinghaus drew laughs for several self-deprecating jokes about his German heritage. After throwing a data-packed slide on screen he quipped, "Like all Germans I was born with a PhD, and mine was in consumer behavior." As he described how Cadillac is trying to infuse optimism into its branding, he contrasted the American brand with German luxury competitors like BMW: "Germans will never ever claim they are optimistic. I have not seen Angela Merkel smile in easily 12 years," he said.
Clorox's Reynolds repeatedly referred to his boss, Chairman-CEO Benno Dorer as "The German," drawing laughs. The idea is that the German heritage helps Dorer get to the point quickly. "He's exceptionally focused," Reynolds said. "He said we are going to transform Clorox. He said there is an existential crisis in CPG. We are essentially moribund unless we radically change how we see things and work."
Part of Dorer's plan was to look West to Silicon Valley for inspiration rather than to the East Coast, as Clorox traditionally has. "How often do you get to change everything? And work for the German?" Reynolds asked. "He brought this enormous sense of urgency and clarity about what we need to do, and then gave us the freedom to do it."
Compiled from reports by Jack Neff, Adrianne Pasquarelli, E.J. Schultz and Jessica Wohl
Update: An earlier version of this article said women had increased to 51 percent of HP agencies' account managers from "zero," as HP exec Antonio Lucio told the crowd at the ANA annual meeting. HP had previously reported that women had comprised 45 percent of its agency account managers, not zero, although many shops had 10 percent or even no women in leadership roles on its account.