Aired September 30, 2015
This week on “Marketing Matters”, Executive Director Catharine Hays travelled to New York to take part in Advertising Week. The industry event, now in its twelfth year, runs for four days with over 290 events, 500 speakers, and 95,000 attendees. Four attendees took time out to discuss the overall themes of the event and to offer insight from their participation on stage: Steven Rosenblatt, Chief Revenue Officer at Foursquare; Michael Lebowitz, CEO at Big Spaceship; Howard Homonoff, Senior Vice President at MediaLink; and Martin Cass CEO at MDC Media Partners and Assembly.
“Foursquare was built six years ago for a mobile world; it is designed to help consumers find things that are relevant to them—be it craft beer, or sushi, or pizza,” explains Steven Rosenblatt, Catharine’s first guest. “The co-founder of Foursquare, Denis Crowley, has always believed that the software in your pocket should make the world more interesting and fun. Most of us are creatures of habit, and Foursquare is designed to get you to go and find that hidden gem.”
To connect the digital and the physical world so closely, Foursquare has built up an extensive
information database, created by people checking in at locations. “We’ve built this 65 million place database that spans the world,” Rosenblatt explains. “At Foursquare, we understand that the places people go is the best indicator of who they are, and that’s how we help marketers really connect with them.”
Having been designed for a mobile world, Foursquare is ahead of the curve on what Rosenblatt saw as a major theme at Advertising Week. “I think we are seeing a freak out moment,” he says. “Marketers are realizing that they need to do things differently in a mobile environment, that they need to build content differently, to really understand consumer experience, and to work out how creative and data play together.” The power of the smart phone to not just generate but contextualize data was, for Rosenblatt, essential. “Our phones know a lot about us, and we should use that properly. They are location and contextually aware, and they’ve learned a lot of our habits,” he explains. “My Facebook page may say that I love working out, but maybe I actually haven’t been to the gym in five years—my phone knows that. Which is what makes it so interesting.”
Rosenblatt’s panel at Advertising Week, titled ‘Bridging Online and Offline,’ explored how to measure the transition from a digital campaign to a physical response, something that has always been a challenge for marketers. “In the digital world, marketers are struggling with things like ad fraud and bot traffic—they don’t know who or what is watching their ads,” he explains. “But at the end of the day if you’re exposed to an ad and have physically walked in and purchased the item, that’s what needs to be measured. Mobile devices allow us to connect, to track, and measure that.” And, despite the seemingly unabated rise in online shopping, Rosenblatt reminded listeners that 90 percent of commerce still happens in brick and mortar. “There are certain categories—like eating—that you just have to do that in real life,” he laughs.
The future of Foursquare is an exciting one. “One of our newest resources is a product called Place Insights,” explains Rosenblatt. “Say you want to know where to open a new restaurant; using Place Insights, you can get the social pulse of a neighborhood. Think about companies that have sales forces, like beer businesses. They want to know what’s trending, what’s hot in a specific place—are they talking about craft beer or bud? Place Insights can help determine that.” Rosenblatt’s advice to marketers stems from such clever and careful uses of data. “Its really important to dig through the noise, and once you do that, its amazing what you can do,” he explains. “With all the advances in and connections between devices, technology, and understanding, it’s the greatest time to be a marketer.”
Catharine’s next guest, Michael Lebowitz, CEO of Big Spaceship, was part of the large agency presence at Advertising Week. Big Spaceship, which Lebowitz founded, is “ostensibly a digital agency, but we’re also 15.5 years old, which in digital years is 3,047 or something,” he laughs. “We’ve been here through all the dramatic advertising change, and now we’re less a digital agency, we’re more just a modern agency, an agency that has things built such that they’re in the right place for the modern communication landscape, where digital is at the center of everything.”
As well as being on the ‘OPS QUAKE: The Seismic Shift in How Agencies Work’ panel, Lebowitz was the Chair of the Jury for the IAB MIXX Awards, which met during Advertising Week.
Catharine took the opportunity to ask him what had really impressed. “A lot of what you do now has to have resilience over time, which is sort of the opposite of a campaign,” says Lebowitz. “There were two that really stood out—Taco Bell and the Ice Bucket Challenge.” The Taco Bell campaign was centered around the introduction of their app, which was launched in a very daring manner—a complete social media black out. “By shutting off social media and directing everyone to the app, they got huge initial downloads,” says Lebowitz. “We have so much to learn from being effectively quiet—how to do less, but be effective and contextual.”
The app design was equally as impressive. “It is incredibly beautifully designed, but not just from a user experience perspective,” explains Lebowitz. “Modern marketing is about the coalescing of systems and stories, and you can’t have one exist in isolation from the other. You can think of an app as a tiny piece of communication, and they really nailed it.” Taco Bell won Gold for the Branded Utility category.
Lebowitz’s panel looked at how agencies are responding to—or need to really start responding to—the dramatic changes that are well underway in the advertising (and wider) world. “The way agencies have been running themselves is incredibly antiquated,” he explains. “Our operating models were defined in an industrial economy, focused on manufacturing. Not only are have we never been in the manufacturing business, we’re in a completely different economy now, one based around information and innovation, But these deeply entrenched structures aren’t changing.”
Big Spaceship’s solution is to focus intently on the things you can control in an ever-changing world. “Tech changes around you, the economy changes around you, cultural events happen, weather happens, and client organizations change,” says Lebowitz. “What you have to do from our perspective is look at the things you can control—your values and your organization design—put strong stakes in the ground, and really hold yourselves accountable to those things.” This approach has allowed Big Spaceship to navigate the momentous changes that have taken place since its inception 15 years ago.
Next up on Marketing Matters, Catharine welcomed Howard Homonoff, Senior Vice President at MediaLink, a strategic advisory firm. “We sit at the convergence of a number of different sectors—media marketing, adverting, entertainment, and finance,” explains Homonoff. “Our role is to help people navigate and succeed in a chaotic, complex, rapidly changing world.” When asked what was the major theme at Advertising Week, Homonoff, like his fellow guests, pointed to the promise and complexity of technology, in particular ad blocking. Ad blocking has migrated from computers onto mobile devices,” he explains. “The question is what will that mean? Generically it sounds like ‘the death of advertising,’ but it could also be considered a means to force innovation.”
The innovation Homonoff anticipates resonate strongly with the aspirations of the Future of Advertising Program. “If people can take charge to a greater extent, it will drive greater creativity in ads, and will also drive change around addressable advertising, ensuring people get ads that are relevant and more engaging,” he says. “That would diminish that pressure to block everything out; ads would offer a value you don’t want to miss.”
As part of Advertising Week, Homonoff’s MediaLink CEO and WFoA Board member, Michael Kassan interviewed Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP, where they discussed media measurement. “Just yesterday we had the announcement of comScore buying Rentrak, which has energized a lot of people for a number of reasons,” explained Homonoff. comScore is one of the world’s leading Internet analytics company, and Rentrak is, in Homonoff’s words, “the Neilson of the motion picture business.” The acquisition creates more competition in the world of media measurement, and will help innovate the entire area of cross-platform media measurement. “This is something I think advertisers and agencies are really hungering for,” says Homonoff. “As Sir Martin explained, the point is not just measurement, but the creation of another respected, certified, third party to do the measuring. I mean do you really want Google to be the source of all information about who is using Google?”
Kassan and Sir Martin also discussed the rise of branded content, a significant shift in the advertising world. “Branded content is really an opportunity to break down the barrier, to say that the content you’re looking at is the promotion of a brand,” he explains. “Branded content may be producing an affinity with the brand, and it might be trying to sell a product, but it does so in a more entertaining, engaging way for the viewer, consumer, or listener. As commercial advertising loses traction, branded content allows brands to partner more creatively with the right people.”
Recognizing the potential for such partnerships is a very specific skill set that needs to be cultivated in today’s workspaces. “Marketing today is a very different process, so the skills you need to make the ecosystem work is shifting,” explains Homonoff. “We need to train people to understand the business and the business of their clients better. The challenge for companies is that today, peoples traditional skills might not line up with the newer skills you need. Getting people well-trained and filtering that into organizations is the challenge.”
Catharine’s last guest for Advertising Week was Martin Cass, CEO of Assembly. “We’re in the media buying business,” explains Cass. “Historically that involved the placement of advertising, but increasingly it’s becoming a question of building brands in media. We’re all about making ideas bigger.” A British ex-pat and rugby-player-turned-advertiser, Cass sees something unique about the American ad landscape. “The States is blessed, and it’s cursed,” he explains. “There is so much money and so much innovation, but the risks are huge—if you mess up here, where everyone is watching, you mess up big.”
For Cass, fraud was a big topic of conversation during AdWeek—he had also recently written an article on the topic for The Huffington Post. “If you look at some of the stats around trust, advertising comes out pretty low—just before cars salesmen,” explains Cass. “We’re at 10 percent and used car salesmen are at 8 percent. News anchors are at 23 percent, and we should aspire to that at least!” As Cass notes, transparency—another WFoA tenet—is crucial to building up trust in the industry. The flipside to trust is fraud: “With the mass of bot-viewing, you’re building an audience, but human is actually seeing your campaign,” he says. Attempts to combat this trend are appearing in the form of companies like Am I A Human?, which try to evaluate what is real ad viewing, and what isn’t. Battling digital fraud is certainly a pressing concern for the industry.
Cass came to the studio straight from his on-stage discussion with Charlie Collier, president and GM of AMC and Sundance T.V. Their discussion had focused on content. “AMC is a massive player in content—they broadcast some of the most viewed shows in America,” explains Collier. The Walking Dead is the highest-rated basic cable program in the history of television. In the era of Netflix, where shows are launched in entire seasons, “we were discussing how difficult it is to operate as a commercial player when you require people to come and watch you at a certain time and place,” explains Cass. “How do you do this, and how does it get in to culture?” The Walking Dead has certainly done this successfully. “Charlie said they filled New York’s Madison Square Garden on a Friday night for Walking Dead event, there were ‘Dead Heads’ everywhere,” he says.
Part of having a brand—be it an object, a service, or a piece of content—become part of a culture is, according to Cass, having the guts to let go. “Brands have historically tried to adamantly control the message, but today, you can’t,” he says. “You’re one click away from oblivion, one tweet away from someone dissing your brand or making it less relevant.” But letting go doesn’t just mean accepting the power of social media—it can happen in the real world, too. “With The Walking Dead, AMC is allowing the fans to get really involved,” says Cass. “They’re obviously not writing the script, but they’re heavily involved in the way the show gets promoted and pushed through.” This kind of diffusion of control—of a shared, interconnected, responsibility to a brand that exceeds the company who created it—is a challenging move to accept. “Being prepared to let go is a pretty brave and big skill,” says Cass. “But the old idea that marketing can still control the movement from A to B to C is just plain wrong.”
WFoA Program Assistant
PhD Student, History and Sociology of Science
University of Pennsylvania
With research support from:
WFoA Research Assistant
University of Pennsylvania, Class of 2017