Commentary

Radical Marketing In A Post-Advertising World

This past April, something extraordinary but seriously under-reported happened in the world of global brand marketing. At the end of a Proctor & Gamble quarterly earnings call, P&G’s chief financial officer, Jon Moeller, revealed a striking shift in a core business strategy. Moeller announced that the company “thinks it can impress consumers who buy household products such as Head & Shoulders shampoo more effectively by ramping up marketing via social media, mobile, search engines and digital content on the Internet.”

It’s worth noting Mr. Moeller’s title and the context for his remarks. This isn’t P&G’s chief marketing officer and the audience isn’t a marketing conference or ad geeks like us scrolling through our daily dose of trades. This was the ad giant’s CFO tipping that they were rethinking their marketing and business profitability from the product bottom-line up. We assume P&G’s brand managers have been testing marketing mix against in-market sales and decided there might be another, better way to market and sell soap, a way that doesn’t rely so heavily on the CPMs and GRPS of “measured media.” His comments imply they will be moving towards one focusing on brand content; content meant for organic distribution resulting in richer audience brand experiences. What Proctor & Gamble sees is what many of us have been seeing: critical consumer behavior around brands has changed forever. Accordingly, P&G is making a fundamental business adjustment in aiming their brand production cannons towards the consumer-fueled media so prevalent in today’s disrupted economy of humans and brands.

Moeller was most telling when he elaborated on their marketing investment strategy, saying P&G plans to realize this investment shift by cuts in spending to come from “productivity improvements in non-working marketing and advertising cost [by] spending less on the advertising agencies which help create content for TV commercials.”

I’ve spent the majority of my career in marketing services agencies, from direct to digital; from social, search, mobile to above-the-line advertising agencies. I’ve been in small shops, my own shops and in big global networks like Omnicom and WPP. Experience tells me that when a Proctor & Gamble CFO takes the mic to publicly announce a strategic re-alignment of their marketing investment across their product portfolio, radical change in the advertising ecosystem is well underway.

As I write this, many of our colleagues are in Cannes, France, elbowing each other towards coveted awards granted by our peers for their winning commercials. This year, the flood of touching, gorgeous, and hilarious spots flowing from the south of France continues to reinforce an uncomfortable sense that too many of us remain painfully blind to the Rome which is burning around us. Yet, if we look a little more carefully at what’s going around us, there is ample and growing evidence of brands solving for new ways into the heads, hearts and hands of their customers. You’ll know these brands by the distinctive and curious feel of their marketing which acts a lot less like what is being celebrated in Cannes and lot more like the kinds of stuff P&G is contemplating making and doing.

I suggest that our industry has already entered a post-advertising era of brand and product marketing. We are in its infancy and barely edging out across its shifting frontier, but what’s emerging is a radically responsive brand marketing based upon a provocative new reality: the consumer is the new currency of brand marketing in the 21st century. In this post-advertising world, the untethered human has taken control over all of the content they consume, along with the where, when and what they do with it. In a very real sense, they’ve become not just the consumers of brands but the essential receivers, containers and transmitters of them too.

The brand marketers acting strategically upon this insight are founding the science of a new marketing. This radical new marketing and its media is extraordinarily organic: more content than advertising, more human than machine, more active than passive, more pulled and a lot less pushed. I choose the term science carefully since, like the advertising media models it replaces, it must be replicable, engineerable, scalable and optimizeable. Most of all it must demonstrate sustainable and efficient return-on-advertising-investment, so that a compelling business case can be made for its adoption and embrace by brand and product marketers, whether they are selling soap or insurance; whether they are marketing in the heaving cities of the Middle East or deep within the heartland DMAs of the United States. It’s exciting to observe pockets of rigorous innovation where an advance guard of practitioners are developing and refining a new set of organic models, tools and operational frameworks to support this new marketing where humans are the new media. 

The challenge of claiming a brand’s space in this post-advertising age raises fairly existential questions for the brand manager. If we’re re-aligning our brands around the human consumer what does such a newly nimble brand platform look like? Importantly, will this entail rethinking “whose job” it is to design, build and operate our radical marketing machine — the internal brand and product marketing teams or outsourced partner agencies? 

The nature and make-up of this new brand operating system might suggest service agencies as the most likely choice. We’ve seen some early examples of shops rethinking their service deliver models to lead the way. We’ve also seen innovative brands embedding these integrated new marketing disciplines and processes into their brand, product and marketing teams with demonstrable business success. 

Whether this new brand platform lives and breathes within the brand, its agencies or some smartly integrated in-between, it certainly doesn’t look or behave like traditional brand marketing service teams, digital or otherwise. In many cases we’re seeing always-on models built around an integrated brand marketing pod, populated with a mix of generalists and specialists. These empowered and elastic teams often include a listening specialist and a planning head, a content specialist and asset producer, one or more channel specialists and, perhaps the most essential team member, a response analyst feeding ongoing intelligence back from the wild into the pod’s insights generating team — where learnings can be optimized into brand results, and brand value can be translated into not simply product sales but a more efficient and profitable marketing machine than any before it.

These changes are fundamental and they are structural. We are talking about re-imagining the essential operating system for brands themselves, including a new way to think about product value. A new briefing, creative, production and service delivery model for brand product marketing is required. 

We are not simply suggesting a radical new approach to a brand’s marketing. We are suggesting a radicalization of the brand itself. This radicalization of the brand could often entail revisiting the traditional brand-agency relationship. In many cases, brand managers will be building new types of teams from within — new insights analysts, content teams and integrated channel specialists. What’s becoming clear is that the agency partner required to make this new mix work looks little like the digital, creative or media agency of the past century. Responsive agencies are acting more like extensions of the brand teams, delivering and sometimes even charging for actual value instead of hours. We see cases of embedding and what our UK colleagues call “seconding.” Often, they are not forming service teams in stacked, badly connected silos but as smart collaborative horizontal partners. 

I recently spoke at STRIKE! in Ulyanovsk, Russia, one of the largest and most integrated digital media conferences outside of the U.S. I was asked back to update the market exactly four years after I had first shared my original post-digital manifesto. Back in April 2010, I was surprised that my thesis and diagnosis were received with some incredulity by our Russian marketing colleagues. At the time, the Russian market was still utterly dominated by TV advertising with digital representing only a small fraction of overall media investment by brands. When I landed in Moscow this past spring, I was struck by a page one story in the Moscow Times trumpeting the news that Yandex, the Russian search and digital media giant, had overtaken Channel One, Russia’s dominant broadcast channel in share of overall brand media spend. That’s an extraordinary shift in such a short period of time in such a large and once-homogenous marketplace. 

My career journey has afforded me an amazing opportunity to witness and contribute to the evolution of the brand marketing industry from a traditional push media ecosystem towards the predominantly pull world we now all live in. My belief in the power of the consumer to control and manage brand experiences in this brave new world of always-on channels informs my passionate evangelism for a radical new marketing, custom-built for the 21st century brand.

It’s exhilarating to see the accelerating shift in brand media investment finally following the consumer off their increasingly abandoned couches out into the 24/7 connected world, where they now spend almost every waking moment glancing down at their networked devices. When I hear the CFO of one of the companies most responsible for the advertising model based upon the weight of GRPs announce that they are fundamentally changing the way they invest in marketing, I am encouraged to believe we’ve reached a startling but exciting inflection point. When the people who once bet and built their brands on traditional and interruptive paid media say they’re shifting to an engagement content marketing focused on where their current and prospective customers actually are – right now – it becomes clear to me that we’ve already entered a post-advertising world. This presents massive opportunity to the bold brand innovators who respond to this new reality with an appropriately radicalized brand marketing science. The game is afoot. Let’s be sure to ask the last remaining mad man to please turn off the old advertising lights when he leaves.

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