What brands were excited about at Advertising Week
As Advertising Week recedes into the rearview, we take a look back at how three different companies shaped their messaging for the four-day event.
We checked in on Mastercard, agency holding company MDC Partners and Reddit, the internet's front page, to discuss what's top of mind with each as they think about marketing today. Watch the video above for more, or read on to get a deeper dive into each.
Raja Rajamannar has a message for fellow marketers out there: It's time to figure out what your brand sounds and tastes like. The chief marketing and communications officer at Mastercard was at Advertising Week New York this week to discuss the company's new sonic branding and other forays into the five senses, particularly taste.
At first blush, a financial services company does not have to do with sound or flavor apart from, say, facilitating transactions at concerts or restaurants. That said, Mastercard is leaning into the idea of creating "experiences."
The Purchase, New York-based brand (how perfect is that?) is in the midst of an overhaul of how it hits consumers' senses: Visually, it updated its famous logo of interlocking circles by dropping the word mark in January. Then, it revealed its new sonic branding, which includes everything from an audio logo to the sonic signal of a completed transaction.
"With voice commerce becoming very big, there's no visual real estate where you can show this beautiful brand. You can represent your brand with Alexa or Google, etc., only through voice," he tells Ad Age in this video shot from the lobby of the AMC Lincoln Square theater. "So we had to create a sonic identity."
On the subject of taste, Mastercard launched a restaurant in Italy and also brought pop-up restaurants that painstakingly recreate four world famous eateries in New York's Tribeca neighborhood to "launch the taste of priceless." (To be clear, though, we've been to the New York outpost and there is very much a price attached to the food on offer).
Rajamannar's takeaway from these endeavors—and his advice to other marketers—is that "they're going to have to jump on the bandwagon sooner or later. First movers in this space will always have significant advantage," he says. "Depending on whether they are a global brand or a local brand, you need to be really in tune with consumers' tastes and sensibilities."
For a brand in a seemingly stodgy space, Mastercard has been innovating in real ways recently: In June of this year the brand announced it would allow transgender customers to use their preferred names on debit and credit cards. For Pride month it renamed New York's Gay Street in Greenwich Village to "Acceptance Street."
This, says Rajamannar, is what he means when he talks about a brand's sensibility. It is the "subtle undercurrent in a person's feelings in their actions and what they care about," he says. "It's basically the why behind the how and behind the what. You need to tap into those sensibilities."
As for the senses, though, there's no word yet on what Mastercard smells like.
Read the full story here.
Mark Penn can be polarizing. The president and managing partner of Stagwell Group brings with him a big resume and a big personality. He raised industry eyebrows six months ago when he plonked $100 million into the flailing agency holding company MDC Partners. Under the terms of the investment he would become chairman and CEO of MDC, which includes agencies Anomaly, 72andSunny, CPB, Doner, The Media Kitchen and more.
“Coming out of WPP and working at Microsoft as head of advertising and chief strategy officer, I said to myself, ‘What would the holding company of the future look like and what would it have to have?’” Penn says on the latest episode of the Ad Lib podcast.
In teaming the creative assets at MDC with the tech and data flywheel at Stagwell, he says, he could see a way towards scale “and also manage costs the way they are at the other competitive holding companies. ... There are five Droga5s sitting inside MDC and that's what makes it an incredibly exciting place."
A former chief executive of the WPP-owned communications firm Burson-Marsteller, Penn was also a co-founder and CEO of Penn Schoen Berland, a global market research firm. He has also held senior corporate positions at Microsoft, and has served as a senior adviser to corporate and political leaders including Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and President Bill Clinton.
Six months into his tenure as MDC chief executive, Penn opens up on the podcast about how things have been going, surprises he’s had—and what to expect next.
He has been vocal about cutting operation costs and making MDC more collaborative across its holdings, which had previously operated independently. Toward that end, in July MDC Partners announced it was integrating media agency Assembly into a new network with Gale Partners that combines media, technology and data. Also pulled into the network were agencies EnPlay, Unique Influence, Varick and Trade X Partners.
“We are in the process of bringing together a really effective offering that will put together state-of-the-art data analysis, CRM and media buying,” he says of the network. “The advantages of bringing those together will make them very competitive in the marketplace and a marketplace looking for data and creativity at its core.”
It’s a model he plans to replicate throughout the holding company, though he says he is aware there are individual shops that will need to retain their individuality—and there are agency founders within the holding company that are approaching their earn-outs.
“My strategy with the founders: Give them a bigger job; give them a bigger future at MDC. You want to keep the founders in terms of growing the culture,” he says. “Smaller specialty companies who felt somewhat adrift, now they can be part of an organization that’s going to do more efficient marketing and help us get more clients in a way that MDC wasn’t doing. … My goal here is that there’s a class of contracts that individually these agencies, no matter how great their creativity, are not able to bid on. Companies with lesser creativity, lesser data operations, are scooping up because they’re slightly bigger at scale.”
Case in point, MDC is in a cross-holding company pitch for Kimberly-Clark led by creative agency 72andSunny, the first of its kind for the company.
We get to what’s next for MDC, a publicly traded company, and how he simultaneously operates at Stagwell, a private equity firm. We also talk a bit about his background. The former political advisor hasn’t been shy about offering commentary on Fox News in recent months in defense of President Trump at the end of the Mueller hearings on the Hill. (Asked if he's actively providing counsel to the president or any candidate currently declared for the 2020 election, he says, emphatically, no.)
“I did a little commentary because I spent some time—a year of my life—defending president Clinton on impeachment,” he says. “I’m pretty busy now. My commentary is trending down.”
The interview was recorded just hours before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry into the president on Tuesday, Penn doesn’t go there. But he shares what he learned from working with leaders including Ballmer and President Clinton. And he explains how running a business is like running a political campaign.
“You need to have five things: A slogan people can remember; you need to have a bio, people need to know who you are; you need to have a target; you need to have issues; you need to have a pushback against the competition,” he says of running a political campaign. “I don’t think it’s any different running a business.”
“It turned out no one had ever really done an MDC pitch before,” says Penn. “Win or lose, we are learning we can get to be a true holding company by working together.”
Listen to the podcast here.
Reddit is increasingly leaning into the idea of community as it pitches itself to marketers.
In the past, the internet's self-styled "front page" developed a reputation as a risky space for brands to attempt to get their messaging out. In some cases, that reputation was well-earned: the Reddit community has been historically hostile to brands that bigfoot their way into topic-specific subreddits without understanding their internal rules; or to executives who attempt an "Ask Me Anything" discussion without fully playing ball.
Brands have, as a result, grown somewhat wary of Reddit. In a small May 2019 Digiday poll, 34 percent of the marketers surveyed said they avoid Reddit due to brand safety concerns.
But Reddit has a survey of their own to point to: A YPulse study commissioned by Reddit released earlier this month included the surprising stat that 72 percent of Reddit users, or Redditors, say brands are welcome to join the conversation.
"There's a myth that communities don't want brands. That's actually not true," says Reddit's Chief Operating Officer Jen Wong in this episode of Ad Age Remotely, shot during Advertising Week.
"When advertisers think about community today, they think of it as followers on their social media accounts. And, first thing, I would open their aperture to think about working with communities as about both finding new customers as well as engaging avid customers."
There are potential riches in niches. And Reddit is nothing if not a collection of avid fan bases collected under one roof. Watch the video above for more from Wong.
Listen to the podcast episode here.