Deborah Malone's Commentary

COMMENTARY: Marketing 2014 at Half Time- World Cup & Cannes Coincide to Shape Attitudes about the Industry’s Future...

By Deborah Malone, The Internationalist

As we approach the year’s midpoint, particularly amid the advertising frenzy of FIFA World Cup Brazil and in the wake of a celebrity-studded Cannes Ad Festival, it makes sense to assess where the business of marketing is headed, to consider the future of advertising, and to acknowledge undeniable shifts in an interconnected world where every message can have instant global impact. These considerations also come at a time of positive industry news as ZenithOptimedia announced in its mid-year Advertising Expenditure Forecasts that the World Cup would boost an already healthy global advertising market by US $1.5 billion, representing a 5.4% increase in 2014, up from 3.9% in 2013.

Given the pace and complexity of these times, the World Cup and Cannes were not the only events occurring last week to influence thoughts about advertising’s evolving role in business: Amazon launched its smart phone with ecommerce potential to further disrupt brick and mortar retailers, YouTube confirmed its new premium music-subscription service which will be uninterrupted by advertising, DreamWorks Animation talked of extraordinary high-end merchandising deals and new high-tech projections to help kids meet Santa via DreamHouse—without waiting in line and scheduled by an app, while a niche company, Mike’s Hard Lemonade, changed its name for a day to Paul’s Hard Lemonade in celebration of its 1 millionth Facebook fan--a small event that just might speak volumes about what is or isn’t sacred to brands. ("Rebranding as 'Paul's Hard Lemonade' this week is our unique way of creating a personal connection with our fans and rewarding one passionate consumer with the flavors he loves," said Sanjiv Gajiwala, the company’s marketing director in a press release.)

Remarkably, the website Business Insider reported Thursday that World Cup ads are four-times more popular than Super Bowl ads, when calculated by the time spent actually viewing the ads. The statistics are from YouTube. Already, people worldwide have watched more than 1.2 billion minutes of World Cup ads, or currently 4x as many minutes as people have spent watching Super Bowl ads. No doubt the numbers will continue to soar as the Finals approach in July, and may be a testament to a game loved by devotees worldwide instead of just fans of a US sport—no matter how compelling or influential the ads. Note, too, that in Brazil, commercial breaks do not interrupt the game, and only occur at half time. Ads are also longer—on average 3 minutes, not 60 seconds, and are created to be elaborate online films with huge viral appeal.

Some of the best ads are truly heroic and of an Olympic spirit like Banco Itaú’s “The Great Transformation” by Agency Africa which stirs the pride of a nation. The most-viewed ad, “La La La,” features Shakira and Activia partnering to support the World Food Program’s School Meals initiative. Eight out of the ten top-watched World Cup ads feature football stars-- Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney, Neymar, Tim Howard, Gerard Pique, Landon Donovan, David Beckham, Zinedine Zidane, Luis Suarez, and Dani Alves.

Speaking of Celebrity.... Cannes may not have been strong on appearances by advertising’s latest football sensations, but the Festival was certainly awash with the likes of Kanye West, Sarah Jessica Parker, Bono, Patrick Stewart, Ralph Fiennes Gisele Bündchen, among others. Of course, stars are often among the first to use every new form of social media to promote their “brand,” or perhaps better said, their “persona.” Celebs have always added a frisson of excitement and glamour to Cannes, and Madison Avenue has long looked to Hollywood for inspiration, particularly as cultural influence affects television and global brands alike. Today, with renewed emphasis on content and storytelling, a creative festival should stimulate new thinking.

However, should Cannes simply be considered a creative festival any longer? There is no question that the industry needs a global creative forum. And despite the inevitable changes brought about by “big data,” “mathmen,” and marketing’s overall espousal of “accountability” in all forms, advertising is only engaging or effective with great creative. Whether you made the pilgrimage to the Croisette this year or not, you can’t miss the headlines describing the effects of technology’s arrival to the Riveria... en masse.

Of course, the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity has been changing dramatically over the last decade, as has the business itself. This annual June soiree now features more awards, more programs in the Palais, more attendees, more sponsors with deep pockets largely from Silicon Valley, more yachts for entertainment, and more cost to be seen and heard. Sir Martin Sorrell has commented in the UK trade press that Mad Men’s Don Draper wouldn’t recognize the industry today given the number of disciplines that now comprise the marketing mix. Unilever’s CMO Keith Weed acknowledges that the industry has changed more in the last five years than in the past twenty-five.

Martin Sorrell has also asserted that Cannes is too big. Ogilvy’s CEO Miles Young summed up a growing Cannes sentiment best with his comments in the Wall Street Journal: "It's become like a Consumer Electronics Show sur mer; a sales exchange" as he described the new influx of companies that have little to do with the creation of advertising, but are using a Creative Festival to pitch technology that is changing the way ads are targeted, bought, and delivered. Yet, many would argue how today’s uber-fractionalized media world now dictates that getting ads in front of the right consumers at the right time is as important as developing captivating creative. Still others argue that Cannes is important to the advertising industry, but less so to clients who often see results as a priority over award-winning ads.

Interestingly, a relevant study released at Cannes, looked at client-agency relationships to better understand perceptions around creativity. Among the conclusions, was the finding that 56% of marketing executives surveyed believe that agencies are more interested in selling their work than solving a client’s problem. Called “The Naked Truth,” the research was conducted by California-based agency RPA, in partnership with USA Today, as an anonymous online survey of 140+ ad agency and brand marketing executives.

The survey highlights different tolerance levels for creative risk, a lack of honest and open communication between agencies and marketers, disagreement about the role of creativity, and misunderstanding of each other’s businesses. Agencies have greater faith that their creative work will deliver business results; agency execs agree that “the best creative work” could move business by 48%, while marketers gauge it as 26%. The Naked Truth concludes there is an agency-client trust deficit, but with greater understanding of the “art of business” and the “art of advertising,” it can be overcome.

In addition to a myriad of issues regarding agency communications, it’s clear that the increased responsibilities of 21st century marketing leaders are now exceedingly complex. Their footprints are instantly global and carry far greater levels of accountability than ever before—especially when played on a very public stage fraught with immediate customer reaction that directly affects a brand’s potential for success.

And now, as the World Cup is in full swing, despite protesters in Rio, Brazil is on the mind of every marketing executive. The country enjoys an international reputation for producing some of the world's most creative advertising, and largely continues with a full-service agency structure. Ad Executives also achieve celebrity status in Brazil, while the Brazilian public enjoys and admires advertising, especially when it is entertaining. More importantly, though, global business will be watching how Brand Brazil takes its image and capabilities as a nation beyond soccer and samba as it moves forward to becoming the world’s 5th largest economy and a market with a world class reputation for advertising and marketing innovation.

Let’s not forget that two years ago it was Brazilian Nizan Guanaes, one of the world’s top agency creatives, who brought President Bill Clinton to the Cannes Ad Festival. Clinton urged the advertising industry to use its extraordinary power of communications to help the world better understand and ultimately solve some of its most complex problems. Guanaes has been involved with the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), which the President founded in 2005 as a non-partisan organization to inspire global leaders to find solutions to the world's most pressing challenges.

Perhaps it’s this kind of thinking that can pave a way forward for Cannes, extol the virtues of the World Cup, and remind us all about the power of global marketing and the people who move it forward.