Is it really the best of times and the worst of times for advertising?

Guy Phillipson

Guy Phillipson, CEO of IAB UK looks at the key themes to come out of the IAB US’s Annual Leadership Meeting.

First published on The Drum.

I can't count the number of times I've heard a keynote speaker say something like 'I've never known a more exciting time to be in advertising'. This usually follows a presentation highlighting all the shiny new digital opportunities available to progressive marketeers – and we all want to be seen to be one of those.

So it was really quite refreshing to hear Marisa Thalberg, chief marketing officer of Taco Bell, open her address at this year's IAB Annual Leadership Meeting in Palm Springs exclaiming this is "the most exciting... and horrendous time to be in advertising". Thalberg explained that the CMO's job was full of paradoxes, because in today's digitally driven world the contemporary marketer must now:

  • Be a publisher and an advertiser.
  • Be global... and local.
  • Think in campaigns... and in continuous content.
  • Integrate the art with the science.
  • Integrate the elite with the democratic.

Personally, I don't think having all these responsibilities makes for an adjective like horrendous, but to be fair to Ms Thalberg, she was actually intoning "at times it's a bit scary".

Gone indeed are the days when the CMO could completely own and communicate the brand promise with one integrated campaign across above and below the line media, neatly split between a couple of teams in the department.

The explosion of digital and sheer power of the consumer has meant a complete restructure of resources to cater for content, SEO, search, social, mobile, video and programmatic disciplines. What a formidable box of tricks; it makes me yearn to be a marketer again – and for me, it was always the new techniques that made life more interesting. Anyone remember ambient media and advertiser-funded programming?

In fact, our CMO at Taco Bell is doing rather well with her paradoxes.

To make a bold entry into the breakfast market, firmly occupied by McDonald's, Taco Bell launched a movement of 'breakfast defectors' which grew strongly as a taco revolution through social media.

When Taco Bell launched its new app, they quite rightly wanted to drive their whole digital audience to it – especially to transact and discover new products. So, bravely, they made some noise by going dark in all other digital channels including the original website and drove their customers to the new app.

And not to be outdone by a certain burger chain who could lay claim to a number of fast food emojis, they encouraged their fans to petition Apple for an unbranded taco emoji, and after some hard campaigning, the little taco duly arrived. Anybody tracked using the #tacoEmojiEngine was offered a free... err, taco.

This blog's making me hungry.

But the real hot chili in the marketing armoury of Taco Bell is The Live Más Scholarship programme, a digitally driven campaign offering $1m in sponsorships to help young creative talent across music, gaming, art and dance, realise their full potential though the Taco Bell Foundation. This is great positioning and purpose for the brand, appealing particularly to the huge Hispanic youth audience in the US.

The last little gift in Thalberg's presentation illustrated the elite versus the democratic paradox. Apparently the most expensive TV ad ever made was for Chanel No5, featuring Nicole Kidman in 2004, costing $25m (with Kidman trousering $3m of the budget). Contrast that with the rather brilliant ad for Elon Musk's Tesla cars, 'The Modern Spaceship', created by Everdream Pictures, a production company founded by a couple of recent college grads, for – wait for it – $1,500.

Well check out the ad and judge for yourself, but I don't know anyone in the post-production village who could undercut them. The fact remains, that with inspirational digital innovations like this around, we must be living in the best of advertising times.

Give those boys a free Taco.

Written by

Guy Phillipson


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