Jeff Estok
Oct 28, 2015

The latest view from Madison Avenue

Jeff Estok reports from the AdForum Worldwide Summit, where client consolidation, integrated agency offerings and scientific proof for the power of creativity were among the key trends capturing attention.

Jeff Estok
Jeff Estok

The AdForum Worldwide Summit in New York is a unique and highly focused invitation-only event that Navigare has had the good fortune to attend for the last 13 years. [Estok reported on the conference for Campaign in 2013 and 2014. -Ed.]

This year, 27 leading consultants from 10 countries around the globe descended on New York in October to meet and interact with agency network CEOs and management from all disciplines. In total, we saw presentations from 23 agencies over the course of the week.

Last year was about ‘transformation’: Agencies adding new capabilities (specialisms, to use the industry’s newest buzzword) to help transform their clients’ businesses—and transform their own business models to maintain relevance, lest they be marginalised.

A year on, we saw the impact that this transformation was having. While there were no real seismic shifts or trends, here is what we observed.

Client consolidation and the ‘new era’ of the integrated agency offering

We’ve come full circle on this, it appears, but with an interesting twist. Years ago, clients sought integration with one, maybe two, agencies. But with the uncoupling of media, and the explosion in channels, many clients opted for a multiple-agency, best-of-breed roster.

But to quote Keith Weed, Unilever CMO: “There’s a real risk for brands that we end up working with individual agencies that maximise a particular channel rather than maximise the overall brand.”

This has led many clients back into consolidation, but with an important difference. Many of the RFPs are now being received at a holding-company level, with the ‘ask’ being to assemble the best of the best from within the group. But this ask comes with a mandate, as expressed by another CMO: “You need to make your complexity invisible to me.” Interesting challenge for agencies, indeed.

The three common behaviours of successful clients

To get the best from their agencies, successful marketers perform three key roles: They frame the challenge, they create a safe environment to work in and they invite the right people to join in and collaborate. Those marketers that ‘lock arms’ with their agency partners are enjoying far greater success than those with a ‘supplier’ mentality.

Collaboration has never been more important

This isn’t just an agency challenge. Collaboration starts with, and is led by, the marketer. Particularly as collaboration now extends beyond agencies to media owners, content providers, and the like.  Success here lies in picking the right people as champions for collaboration. As one holding company CEO stated: “People collaborate; agencies collide.”

The data challenge now is to turn big data into big ideas

The focus on collecting and harvesting more data has been replaced by the need to synthesise the data and turn it into meaningful services, products and experiences that deliver competitive advantage. That requires a culture built around insights and innovation. And one where failure is accepted as part of the learning and refining process.

Brand authenticity has never been more important

There used to be a saying that nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising. Well, death comes quicker these days, thanks to the power and pervasiveness of social media. The lesson for marketers is simple: Work hard to understand and relentlessly stay true to your brand truth.

Science supports emotion.

There is an emerging body of scientific proof that advertising that elicits an emotional response is far more effective than that which doesn’t. The power of emotion has long been argued by agencies, but a couple of agencies are moving beyond the ‘trust me’ argument and backing it up with science. One has gone so far as to measure the effects of dopamine and oxytocin release. Why? The answer is that while reason leads to conclusions, emotions inspire action. Recent effectiveness studies show that emotion-eliciting advertising is up to 10 times more effective. And with agencies being held more and more accountable for a single metric—sales—it is in their (and their clients) best interest to maximise the efficacy of their product.

A couple of years ago, people were questioning the value of marketing, and were predicting the demise of agencies. But with the customer taking more control over brands and messaging, marketers, and their agency partners, have an opportunity like never before to create value for their organisations, and possibly get that seat at the table that they have long been denied.

Jeff Estok is managing partner of Navigare. Follow him @JeffEstok on Twitter.

 

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