FFWD 2016: FCB, Leo Burnett and Publicis execs talk change

Advertising Week kicks off in Toronto with a discussion on business transformation

It has become the standard answer people like Carter Murray hear when, over the course of discussing a brief, they ask the client to identify their target audience.

“The answer was, ‘The U.S. Census,’” recalled Murray, president of FCB Global, who was in Toronto Monday to help kick off FFWD: Advertising Week 2016.

The theme of the event is “Don’t Let Change Leave You Behind,” which suggests agencies and their clients need to work faster on transforming what they do than ever before. Yet Murray and others suggested there must be some caution and greater deliberation in what kind of stories brands tell.

“Change does not always go the way we want it to go. Change isn’t always a good thing,” he said. “Mass marketing needs to find the things that unify us, not divide us.”

Murray cited Coca-Cola’s classic “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” campaign as an example of what he’s talking about. Striving for those ideas that resonate widely may be a better use of agencies and brands’ time, he said, than some of the things that were once predicted to take over the way companies reach consumers. This includes virtual worlds such as Second Life, which was once so hyped that Murray recalled a client who wanted to invest 50% of their spend on the platform.

On the other hand, you can’t really blame marketers and agencies for chasing the next big thing, given the challenge in front of them. Mark Tutssel, chief creative officer at Leo Burnett Worldwide, said the best use of digital technology involves tools that give people something useful or fun to do.

“Transformation is an effect, and what we’re transforming is human behaviour,” he said. “We do not have a divine right to people’s attention. In fact, we intrude on people’s lives. That’s why it’s important to give them something in return for their time and investment.”

That can’t happen without many agencies significantly changing the kind of people they hire and the way they organize their workforce, added Andrew Bruce, president and CEO of Publicis Worldwide’s North American region.

“We never respect authority, we respect intelligence,” he said. “We need to let the biggest voice belong to those who have the ideas, not those who occupy the corner office.”

In other words, Bruce said, coming up with a compelling idea is not as important as making everyone — consumers and employees alike — feel like they’re central to the idea, rather than on the periphery.

If agencies truly think “clients first,” Murray said, they will focus on four key areas. These include offering services to help firms drowning in data make sense of it (or help others catch up), creating an architecture for their brand in terms of winning ideas and managing their portfolio, ad strategies and creating content.

“You have to look at what’s happening around you and study what’s behind it as an agency, as a client,” he said. “Too often you retrofit your strategy, and then it’s impossible to come up with great work.”

FFWD: Advertising Week 2016 continues all week.

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