Shawn Lim
Apr 11, 2023

‘Most marketers don’t believe in their work; they just don’t want to get fired’: Gary Vee on state of the industry

Not the one to shy away from shooting sharp one-liners, Campaign sat with marketing guru Gary Vaynerchuk on his recent trip to Singapore to discuss the changing industry landscape, winning the attention game, and why AI is not taking center stage at VaynerMedia.

Gary Vaynerchuk at VaynerMedia's town hall in Singapore.
Gary Vaynerchuk at VaynerMedia's town hall in Singapore.

A well-known entrepreneur and media expert, Gary Vaynerchuk's insights on emerging technology like NFTs, standing out on social media, and addressing concerns around data privacy are always in demand. 

However, the VaynerMedia chief executive's true passion lies in educating the next generation of marketers and entrepreneurs because he believes too many people are in meetings right now "saying yes to things they do not believe in," because that's what their company requires. 

"My advice is to not conform to something you don't believe in. That doesn't mean quitting, and that doesn't mean getting fired. That means respectfully and appropriately communicating your truth, not what you think your boss wants to hear," Vaynerchuk tells Campaign Asia-Pacific on a recent trip to Singapore. 

"It is the biggest issue in marketing. Most marketers, both on the agency and brand side, do not believe in the marketing they're doing. They just don't want to get fired." 

While generally opinionated and sometimes controversial on social media, Vaynerchuk is somewhat mellow when speaking to Campaign. However, that does not mean the abrasive personality has disappeared.  

Vaynerchuk says his passion for marketing come from his desire to be in the industry as he proclaims, "There are not many people like me in it." 

"I don't mean like I'm fancy or cool. I mean that there are not many people who care. I do not think the industry is happy. I don't feel it, especially on the agency side," explains Vaynerchuk. 

"You probably know better than I do. I am almost asking you more than saying it, but it seems like people are not happy enough. It is because they do not believe in the work. I do not believe that. I do not think people are nice enough in this industry." 

So how exactly do marketers need to create the work they believe in? 

Vaynerchuk argues that creativity and media should be held accountable for business results by marketers rather than relying on proxies like brand lift studies. 

"When you hold media and creativity together accountable, you measure it through business results, which is the point of marketing," says Vaynerchuk. 

"What we do with underpriced attention is a strategic and intuitive understanding of what's happening with human beings. Everyone should understand that social media is a growing market share. Everybody should also understand that streaming services and connected TV are growing in market share. Everyone should know that KOLs (key opinion leaders) are increasing attention over celebrities." 

Vaynerchuk says it is not hard to hypothesise where underpriced attention is. For example, in the USA, he points to how Super Bowl ads are underpriced at $7 million even though there are 100 million Americans paying attention to a 30-second video.  

"The problem is if the video is not compelling, it won't work. We do well because we believe in our hypotheses and execute those hypotheses. Then we hold the actual business result accountable," says Vaynerchuk. 

"At enough scale, we can start making assumptions grounded in the truth of what is underpriced and what is not. While respecting that creativity will always be the variable of success." 

Competing for attention

TikTok has become a sought-after advertising platform, with brands and agencies testing the waters and seeing promising results. Advertisers who typically use Facebook and Google find that TikTok charges a lower cost per thousand impressions (CPMs) and spend more on the platform.    

Lower CPMs have led to significant growth in US ad spending on TikTok, with Disney's ad spend on the platform increasing from just under $3 million in the first quarter of 2022 to $17.9 million. 

Vaynerchuk opines the thought that any contemporary brand is interested in people aged 15 to 45 who are not wholly committed to Instagram and TikTok "seems insane". But, true to form, he questions why marketers are still spending so much time running (ads) on television, radio, or out-of-home.

"The way they can figure it out is a couple of things. First, the most challenging thing about your question is that humans, small businesses, and big businesses can always be naturally better at creative on different platforms," says Vaynerchuk. 

"Some brands will naturally be better at TikTok versus Instagram or vice versa. It doesn't mean that Tiktok or Instagram is better or not better; it means their creative strategy lends itself to one another." 

Vaynerchuk wants the industry to understand that they need to find a way to be great with their omnichannel strategy. He explains television was the same distribution in the past, and marketers had to decide which TV show to run the commercial on, but the creative format now is a 30-second video.  

"These (social) platforms are entirely different from that. They have so many nuances of creative variables, and their culture is very different. So for every brand, it's a different journey. But the more exciting thing for me is having the passion for being good at all of them," says Vaynerchuk. 

"I am equally passionate about Gary Vee and my businesses being good at LinkedIn as being good on TikTok as I am of being good at Twitter." 

The need to compete for attention will become more crucial as brands and agencies try to remain competitive and profitable in an uncertain economic climate. 

Vaynerchuk believes there are two campsa camp that does not think much and is just willing to read headlines and allow fear to guide their decisions and another that sees this as a huge opportunity and recognises that during times of change, there is always opportunity.  

He claims VaynerMedia has a mixed bag of clients and is in a unique spot because it has a more cost-effective creative agency of record for many of its clients. In addition, the agency has added above-the-line advertising, data analytics, consulting, media planning and buying to its roots of social creative. 

"We are that option for many people who have not started working with us. So we may be a big beneficiary of this moment. People realise that we are not just socially creative but fully creative AOR," says Vaynerchuk. 

"We are fueling a lot of demand because people are trying to save money, and they are starting to realise that there are other alternatives to the classic creative AOR." 

Navigating new tech

Alternatives to the classic creative AOR include using emerging technologies such as generative AI, which have overtaken the advertising and marketing industry as brands and agencies increasingly use AI-generated art in their campaigns.

As an advocate for entrepreneurship and innovation, Vaynerchuk says generative AI is "one of the most profound technologies humans have seen." However, he suggests what we are seeing is just the beginning and says he cannot wait to see how the tech will progress in five years.  

Vaynerchuk believes generative AI will not replace people creatively but will replace the least essential parts as creatives still have to ideate. 

"It is the person that can't think of a good idea but is good at Photoshop vulnerable? Yes. But is the person capable of critically thinking and coming up with an idea being replaced by AI? Not so fast. And even if AI gets remarkable on it, there is a forever appetite for it," explains Vaynerchuk. 

"We still need critical thinking to prompt AI, which will impact every industry, not just ours, but there is still a long way to go." 

However, Vaynerchuk has not approved the usage of generative AI in VaynerMedia because he is concerned about copyright and trademark. Vaynerchuk has cause for concern.  

Several ongoing lawsuits have raised legal concerns about using these AI-generated images. In addition, the rapidly blurry line between reality and fiction compounds questions such as who owns these images and whether they might infringe on existing copyrighted works. 

Getty Images, known for its historical and stock photos, has sued AI image generation Stability AI, the maker of Stable Diffusion, for copyright infringement. Getty alleges that the company copied over 12 million images to train its AI model "without permission or compensation." 

To avoid replaying such a scenario, software companies like Adobe are addressing the issue with the rollout of Firefly, a generative AI tool that comes with a "Do Not Train" tag for creators who do not want their content used in AI training model.  
"I pay very close attention (to generative AI), but I have not approved VaynerMedia to use it because I don't know the source of the creative. However, we are on the hook when we work with clients, so there's a long way to go," says Vaynerchuk. 

"The problem is that while there are platforms like Adobe, the overall market can do anything they want. It is like social media. Some people do good things on social media, and others do bad things." 

Aside from copyright issues, the increased usage of generative AI also increases the danger of creating deep fakes.  

Vaynerchuk argues that brands and agencies must advocate for responsible data usage and privacy protection. In addition, in the era of fake news and misinformation, he says they must ensure the content they produce and promote is factually sound, unbiased and ethical. 

For example, he says if the Nike CEO feels that Nike should be an advocate for privacy, they should be allowed to do that.  

"There will be videos of me saying things I have never said, and you will be unable to tell if it is true. That is one of the most challenging technological and societal issues ever," explains Vaynerchuk. 

"My intuition is that the private entrepreneurial sector will be the one that solves it. Deepfake videos, to me, are the scariest thing happening in the world. Videos have been the police of our society. If it's on video, it's true. If we watch tanks roll through Tiananmen Square on video, and it looks like that happened. We won’t believe what we see on video in 10 years.”

He adds: "There is a huge chance that we will create an affirmation infrastructure that will not happen from the government but from the private sector, whether it is Google, Microsoft, Tesla, WeChat, or whoever. That's how it will play out over the next 30 years." 

Campaign Asia

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