In its 15th year, Advertising Week continues to serve as a useful way to take the pulse of the current state of the advertising industry (and guess about its future). Digiday’s “In and Out” panel did just that, in fact, polling marketers from Equinox, GIPHY, Gimlet Media, and GE on where they stood on hot topics ranging from artificial intelligence (in on the practical applications of the technology, out on the gimmick) and influencer marketing (a resounding rebuttal against inauthentic #ads) to brand purpose (“Every brand should do good things, but don’t hold them accountable for poor executions,” said GIPHY’s Adam Leibsohn) and Facebook (no one’s pulling advertising, but all are concerned about security breaches and the future of Instagram).
Across the four days and 290+ events at this year’s Advertising Week New York, we pinpointed a few strong themes that could be viewed as weathervanes for where the industry is headed.
Here are our top five takeaways from the conference.
1. Influencer marketing is evolving, not disappearing.
Influencer marketing has been on a journey—first about being aspirational to now about being approachable, from being a one-way relationship to now an interactive, two-way conversation. Said Vaughn Vreeland, Creator at BuzzFeed Tasty, “For food brands especially…it’s such an aspirational thing, but we also have to keep it relatable…We have to develop that trust with the audience but stay true to who we are.” Like most forms of media, influencers will likely only continue to mutate rather than disappear. What’s next? A continued trend toward more interactivity, more vividness, and applying a strategy of multidimensionality across channels.
2. Authenticity matters now more than ever.
Wendy’s is a brand that’s received plenty of buzz this year, whether from #NuggsForCater or its “We Beefin?” mixtape. The keys to its success? “Being authentic, connecting with people, and having fun along the way,” says Chief Concept & Marketing Officer Kurt Kane. As Nina Mishkin, Brand and Content Strategy Lead at Twitter noted, the fact that Wendy’s was able to get a mixtape trending on Spotify as a burger brand is a testament to its authenticity. Wendy’s fully knows who it is. “They’re the sassy brand you want to go to lunch with,” Mishkin described. Further expanding on the humanity of the brand, Kane added, “People have tweeted us for help on our homework. And we do it. We engage as real people because Wendy’s was founded by real people.”
3. Every brand needs to know what it stands for.
The words “Nike and Kaepernick” were on nearly everyone’s lips. The athletic brand’s recent ad campaign was heralded as a perfect example of a brand articulating its purpose—and being willing to stand for something. Choosing where, when, and how to take a stand matters. “We’ve seen examples of when that goes awry when it’s not authentic and there’s no truth,” Dara Treseder, Chief Marketing Officer at GE Ventures, pointed out. Jason Harris, President and CEO of Mekanism, echoed the same sentiment in another session, saying: “Every brand should have a purpose, but it has to be narrowcast and true to what the brand stands for, and it doesn’t mean the brand has the right to jump in on every conversation going on.” When it comes to marketing to Generation Z especially, which not only expects but demands brands to be vocal about what they believe in, you’ll be absolutely rewarded for taking an authentic stand.
4. Regardless of platform, storytelling wins.
There were plenty of sessions focused on the viability and best use of various marketing channels, including Facebook—home to 4.5 million moms, we learned; Instagram Stories—a useful tool for brands to demonstrate authenticity and keep customers captivated; and podcasts—a powerful storytelling tool championed by brands like Marvel and Trader Joe’s. But as Dave Maddocks, Chief Marketing Officer and GM Business Development at Cole Haan, said: “We can all fall in love with the delivery device. But it’s still about stories. It’s about emotion.”
5. The future belongs to customer-centric brands.
“Brands are co-owned nowadays between organizations and their customers,” said Interbrand’s Global CEO, Charles Trevail, before revealing the results of the company’s latest Best Global Brands study, which placed customer-centric brands like McDonald’s and Amazon in the top 10.
In another session, Kyndra Russell, Vice President of Loyalty and Partnership Marketing at Starbucks, provided a recent example of focusing on the customer. The brand’s social media team, tackling the challenge of bringing back its Pumpkin Spice Latte (or #PSL) in an exciting way, decided to celebrate its brand enthusiasts by launching a secret Facebook Group for “The Leaf Rakers Society.” The group gives 25,000 fans of fall a place to talk about what they love—which yes, includes the iconic beverage—and gives Starbucks a way to generate and support meaningful moments among its loyal customers (and all for $0).
Underpinning many of the conversations at Advertising Week this year was a question about how brands can best thrive in our ever-changing world, and in that respect, the consensus seems to be that fortune will favor the bold. We’ll give the last word on that to Interbrand’s Charles Trevail: “I’ve met many CEOs and CMOs who say, ‘I want a breakthrough.’ My question back to them nowadays is: What are you prepared to break?”