‘The only way we retain our sanity is to step back and look at the higher purpose’ | M&M Global

‘The only way we retain our sanity is to step back and look at the higher purpose’

A group of senior clients joined M&M Global and Maxus to discuss whether the Festival of Media’s name needed to be updated to represent that technology-forward stance of media and marketing.

Huawei global director of digital marketing and media Nick Graham starts the discussion by saying that, although he feels there is a place for more technology angles, the overarching media “wrapper” has never been more relevant.

“It’s about ideas, it’s about using technology to integrate with other channels effectively, using that in a very clever way that differentiates itself from the standard platforms that are out there in the market,” Graham says. “There’s a lot of standardisation if you look across the mar-tech landscape, so media for me is the driver of differentiation. That’s where the value is.”

Boehringer head of global media Mark Butterfield discusses the so-called march of the machines: “Three years ago we were sitting there going ‘this is not particularly real’ – this is now becoming real,” he comments.

However, a human brain is needed to make decisions as to what is right for a brand. “They’re not televisions any more, they’re communicators, they’ve got apps on them, you can put pretty much anything on them – it’s a box in the corner that communicates,” Butterfield adds. “It’s then about understanding what you’re trying to do and finding the right way of communicating it.”

New behaviours

Technology is really an enabler, according to Johnson & Johnson global head of media and connections Nate Swenberg, but what concerns the industry is the new behaviours it unleashes in consumers.

“I think what’s really interesting is just how to connect in that technology enabled environment, whether you’re talking about how you create content, whether you’re talking about how you plan and place media,” says Swenberg.

“This is music to my ears,” agrees Maxus worldwide head of planning Nick Vale. However, he argues that the industry is splitting in two, with the tech/data section growing at the expense of creativity. “The implication of that is that we’re going to end up in a world where there are no brands, because we’ve been so busy selling things on a month-to-month week-to-week basis.”

“The value that I want to pay for and that I’m prepared to pay for is that human intelligence to simplify the courses and enable quicker decision making”

Vale adds that there are solutions, but he doesn’t believe we have quite reached the stage where everything works together yet.

Luxottica marketing vice president Jee Moon feels that there is no doubt that consumer media choices have proliferated, with agencies required to simplify the virtually infinite options available to clients. However, she thinks that sometimes agencies are their own worst enemy.

“The value that I want to pay for and that I’m prepared to pay for is that human intelligence to simplify the courses and enable quicker decision making,” Moon adds.

“We media people, we live in a bubble and we really need to get out of that bubble, our god is the brand,” says Butterfield, discussing the importance of thinking long-term. “If we don’t sell the brand, we’re all doomed.”

Role of technology

Mondelez media director Gerry D’Angelo questions the validity of the discussion’s subject, whilst prompting a broader debate on the role of technology, with regards to what is possible.

“I think the only way that we retain our sanity is by stepping back and looking at what the higher purpose is,” he adds. “Can you imagine a group of white goods manufacturers sitting somewhere going ‘should we change the name of our conference from ‘white goods blah blah blah’ to the technology one?”

However, he feels that it’s a wakeup call to acknowledge that technology has disrupted a huge number of industries

“What we’re starting to see is technology is a very real,” he adds. “We thought we were a bit immune to it for a while, as a big CPG company, but I think that technology is beginning to disrupt our industries but in a more subtle way.

“If digital technology is going to be a disruptor to our industry, then let’s identify where those points of disruption are going to be and lets embrace those and move forward with them. I think the only way you can make strategic decisions is to step back and say fundamentally we need to understand how people buy stuff, let’s not forget that, and an integral part of that is building brands for the long-term.”

Work together

Maxus chief strategy officer Damian Blackden calls for everyone to work together. “It’s very easy to use technology as an antidote to some of the challenges and it’s really easy to apply new products, but every dollar you spend on tech you can’t spend on media and media is the thing that makes the connection with the audience, so any time any tech is layered in, it needs to have a return on investment for that specific technology,” he adds.

“Having spent some time trying to drive these processes through,” adds Butterfield, “unless you’ve got the guy at the top going ‘this is a great idea’, you are going to struggle.”

D’Angelo argues that the moment that Sheryl Sandberg walked in to Facebook and turned it into a money making operation by making it an advertising platform, there was a switch in the digital media business.

“The level of trust that we have in agencies to do the right thing for us is different now I think than it was 20 years ago”

“I think that the rise of these new singular high volume, extremely powerful players [Google, Facebook] has meant that we’re having to do more top-to-tops and ultimately what’s the currency and lifeblood of this system – it’s our dollars, right? So I think that clients need to own it. The days of going, you know what I’m going to call my agency, I’m going to let them figure it out, I think those days are gone really,” he says.

“Not because they don’t have the capability but because we can speak from a greater position of strength, quite often we can negotiate better deals directly. It pains me to say it, having worked in agencies for half my career, but the level of trust that we have in agencies to do the right thing for us is different now I think than it was 20 years ago, and it’s not because agencies are deliberately trying to mislead us but you’ve got demands of shareholders.”

Strengthening partnerships

Graham claims that disruption has only just started with the explosion of ad tech logos on the Lumascape, and therein lies the opportunity for strengthening partnerships between clients and agencies.

“There’s all these intermediaries trying to take their cut for better management of that value chain, and there’s opportunity for better management of that value chain, and again, being a client that’s an area of expertise in and unto itself,” he says. “The requirement for a trusting relationship is very high.”

Moon feels that in a fast-changing world, there is a role for the basics, while Graham stresses the importance of not falling down the tech “rabbit hole”.

“I would like to see very much less hype,” says Blackden. “I would also like to see a rationalisation of the number of companies that are out there, these tech companies should be evaluated based on their business contribution, and I think that will show up which ones actually make a difference and which ones don’t.”

D’Angelo predicts that by this time next year, people will realise they don’t need to panic and to keep their eyes on the prize and to focus on what sort of operator they want to be.

“I think in order to do that, like anything else in life really, really be clear about what sort of operator you want to be in that space. Do you want to be a purveyor of fantastic creativity or technology or build brands or stay true to who you are? I think that will allow you to navigate the complexity of this landscape.”

The Festival of Media’s name isn’t looking likely to change any time soon, but the discussion has revealed how many different issues the media umbrella incorporates, as well as technology.

Anna Dobbie


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