Kudos to Bob Liodice and team for putting together the most entertaining Association of National Advertisers conference I've been to, like, ever. The presentations, the panels, everything were first rate. Jeff Charney of Progressive set the tone when he hit the stage in torn jeans, and untucked black shirt and a neck tattoo. That was the zeitgeist: Be disruptive; do the wrong thing, but the right wrong thing.
Harley-Davidson, Mondelez, Arby's, Audi, even GE were all about a kind of anti-marketing, taking a few crazy risks, but informed risks. It's marketing, Alex Honnold-style: solo climbing without ropes, but with enough data to know where the seams are, and not too weighed down by it so you can't improvise. John Costello of Dunkin' Donuts actually said you have to cut the demographic data cord.
Conferences carry a risk, though. These kinds of events, while obviously invaluable for meeting, greeting, learning, exchanging information, and camaraderie, can allow you to keep that cord nice and firmly attached. They can create the illusion that other marketers’ insights are your own.
I walked home from the second night's reception a little buzzed, to speak frankly. They were filling the plastic cups to the brim poolside, down at the Marriott. I decided to get some "fresh air," as they say, by strolling home to my hotel. It was further than I thought, about three miles away. And I found myself walking on the shoulder of what was basically a highway, in grass, with headlights beaming into my face, because Orlando isn't a walking town. Everything looked different, too. I took photos of fast-food signs, with messages like, “We now have sriracha.” Wow.
It was an “outside” experience. I knew people driving by must have been thinking, "What is that guy doing there? What's his problem?”
You should do that once a month. Something “outside” like that. It could be almost anything.
Kia's agency, David & Goliath, has this “Defy your Goliath” thing, where employees choose something, ideally for the betterment of the human race, however one defines that, that takes people outside the comfort zone, to use a cliche. The idea is that it has to be something a bit terrifying, and maybe actually impossible, with personal risk involved, possibly. But I see it as an “outside” exercise.
And you can't be in the creative business if you aren't doing something like that. Same for marketing, to the extent that it’s not all algorithm and science, but ideas, intuition, and risk. You have to find out who people really are, don’t you? Not just who they are vis à vis your brand, and your social milieu.
I think everyone who took the stage at ANA, and extolled the virtues of their work, were also suggesting that; get out of the aquarium. Stop stirring the same water. What they were saying — and this included, notably, an informal panel discussion during lunch the second day with people like Jerri DeVard, SVP and CMO at ADT, Marc de Swaan Arons at Millward Brown, and Deborah Wahl, CMO at McDonald's — was to stop taking all the data you are getting about your consumers as being, you know, your actual consumers.
Or as Dunkin’ Donuts’ Costello said during a lively presentation, “If you are too data-driven, you are looking in the rear-view mirror.” It's a disease for which de Swaan Arons had a great name: “infobesity.”
And don't get gamed by social. Every marketing presentation now has the Twitter proof point. Stop it. Imagine it's not the brand your fanboys are obsessed with but your niece. There's a fine line between brand advocates and people who need of a life. Just a thought.
And don't believe your own hype. Charney said every 18 months or so he wakes up, looks in the mirror, and fires himself. I get that, but I think the obverse holds, too. I think it's important to fire your brand at least as often. That's right, wake up, look into the mirror and say “The product I'm selling is crap. It's a commodity, a placeholder, and here's why,” and dig yourself out of that hole.
If your product really is a placeholder, then do the impossible and try to change it. That, I think, is really the marketing shift that Arby's CMO Robert Lynch talked about during his ANA prezzo. Arby’s didn’t just change their logo, they changed their entire meat freezer. If your product is great, then see if your marketing is telling the best story. If not, don't drink the poisoned juice and then tell everyone else why they should drink it, too.