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Traditional Ads Meet Content Marketing at Ad Week 2016

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

This blog first appeared on the website of  CRN International, where I am the company's Marketing Director.

Hold on. We’ve heard some 300 sessions X 13 years at Advertising Week preaching the glory of content marketing. Yet there was the moderator of a radio industry panel asking her CMO panelists what final message they’d like to leave for a room full of potential radio advertisers.

It was the invitation for a blatant “pitch” – if that word is even in the marketing lexicon anymore. Their answers came in the form of live “spot ads”— much like radio ads often buried within long commercial stop sets but in this case buried within four days of nonstop presentations.

And so it was at this consummate industry tailgate party, once again taking possession of New York’s Times Square with some 100,000 attendees. The event is not so much a “Guide to Effective Marketing” as it is “A History of the World as We Know It”– tackling social, political, cultural and psychological issues as thoroughly as programmatic, data, digital and the like. There were enough maxims to put Confucius to shame. So imagine how light-hearted it was to hear Cosmopolitan Editor in Chief (and now also Hearst Chief Content Officer) Joanna Coles point out the diamond “as big as a baby” on her fellow panelist to the left and the lack of a bra on her panelist to the right.

You know, maybe Radio Advertising Bureau CEO Erica Farber wasn’t so off track with her “pitch” question to radio CMOs. In our offices here at CRN, we’ve committed to memory radio’s weekly reach of some 247 million Americans, its favorable showing both locally and nationally vs. other media, and its incredible appeal to Millennials. In a nutshell, brands can be part of a great story on radio.

What’s more, if nothing else, Advertising Week 2016 woke us up to the reality that content marketing, while a nice idea, is so omnipresent that only a sliver of what’s offered up to us every waking moment gets any traction. Said Jennifer Zeszut, CEO of marketing analytics firm Beckon, “We are creating content faster than we can measure the quality control of it.”

In a presentation, Zeszut cited company research based on some $16 billion in client spending that just 5 percent of all content generated 90 percent of consumer interactions. “In other words, 19 of 20 pieces of content get little to no engagement.” Conclusion: Companies churning out content just for the sake of it (she noted two clients that developed 29, 000 and 50,000 pieces of original content) will only go so far, and not necessarily far enough given the effort.

Lack of engagement, Beckon says, is the best-case scenario; the worst case is that low-quality content will actually hurt the perception of a brand and, ultimately, sales. Recommendation: Don’t make “number of pieces published” a main KPI but rather make those KPIs more outcome-focused.

Another key learning from Beckon: Don’t confuse “total brand mentions” with “total consumer-initiated brand mentions.” It is much more effective to have consumers touting your story.

As Venky Balakrishnan, Global Vice President, Digital Innovation, of Diageo agreed on a separate panel, “Being #7 on somebody’s Top Ten list is better than having to shout out, ‘Buy me.’ ”

Then there’s the question of the right content delivered in the right manner. Randy Freer, President of Fox Networks Group, said we have to get away from our obsession with chasing the latest hot platforms and instead focus on what we’re trying to say and how we’re saying it. The proper platform will follow.

Makes sense. In fact, Gayle Fuguitt, President and CEO of the Advertising Research Foundation, cited a statistic indicating, “Seventy-five percent of the impact of any campaign is dependent on the creative.”

In order to get that creative right, a lot of discussion revolved around the need to have a diverse team within your creative departments to represent a realistic cross-section of opinion and synergy with the appropriate target demographics. “Diversity is a big strategy for us,” said Brad Jakeman, President, Global Beverage Group, PepsiCo. “We need different approaches to problem-solving.”

Echoed Kristin Lemkau, CMO of JPMorgan Chase, “We need to get a cross-section of consumers on our marketing team.”

Jakeman also noted the importance of company culture in getting a message across and growing a business. “Culture is almost impossible to change,” he said. “But what can you identify to change within a culture? People don’t just want to know what the company makes, but what makes the company.”

For an enormous marketing organization like Procter & Gamble, it naturally has to engage with consumers across all platforms. And the messaging is critical. “We have to tailor our creative so that we still look like one brand,” said Marc Pritchard, Chief Brand Officer. “We have to communicate the features and personality of the product, and figure out how to express it in 30 seconds. We need to think of the idea first.”

In the end, it’s all about driving growth. So consider the statement from Catharine Hays, Executive Director of Wharton’s Future of Advertising Program: “Marketers are becoming the new Chief Growth Officers in a world that is not growing.”

“Traditional mindsets about advertising and marketing must be challenged,” she said. “The rise of the attention economy requires a new marketing model.”

As such, she said it is important for companies to put aside significant dollars to fund internal learning. “Marketers need experimentation without the fear of failure,” she said.

To that point, Anna Fieler, Executive VP of Marketing for POPSUGAR, said, “We are minding the core but experimenting vigorously in new channels.”

Ok, and now on to the other 243 sessions….

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