Old Navy CMO: TV upfronts are like ‘Victorian tea dances’

Ivan Wicksteed offers some candid comments about moving towards video

When Ivan Wicksteed was invited to speak at an upfronts event a while back, his audience working in the TV sector might not have been prepared for the way he characterized the strength of the medium.

“The channels are sitting around waiting for someone to fill in their dance card in the hopes that nine months from now, this audience might miraculously appear,” Wicksteed, global CMO for Old Navy, recalled during a panel discussion at the Transformational CMO Assembly in Miami last month, comparing the upfronts to a Victorian tea dance. “There’s a lot of ‘ifs’ in that sentence.”

Wicksteed said when he joined Old Navy about three years ago, approximately 75% of his total budget was spent on traditional media like TV commercials. Now it’s just under 40%. Though it may continue to decline somewhat, he said it’s “where it needs to be right now.” That money is now being reallocated to social and video channels, which he said are now at a sufficient scale and more measurable.

“The idea that you can deliver video or preroll to a qualified audience and measure whether or not they watched it, or how much of it they watched, and if they bought from it, is a lot more compelling,” he said.

Old Navy did a back-to-school campaign, for example, in partnership with AwesomenessTV, which brought in YouTube stars to create a music video. Within five days it had amassed more than 10 million views. “It’s actually really hard to buy 10 million views on TV,” he said.

Wicksteed is also interested in the idea of “addressable creative,” or ads that can be more personalized and targeted to a specific potential customer. This is where social plays a huge role, he said, because the customers there tend to be highly engaged and predisposed to sharing content they like.

“It might seem odd for me to say I want an intermediary between me and my audience, but in social media it actually makes a lot of sense,” he said.

While Old Navy works with a number of influencers as part of its work in social media, Wicksteed said the metrics to evaluate those relationships is changing. Where pure reach might have been the most critical factor in the past, for example, and audience engagement has become more talked about, he now says influencers should be looked at how they can directly connect with an audience who has an intention to purchase.

“The link between the content and the commerce is more direct as these channels learn to deal more with that,” he said. “Attribution to sale is what it’s all about.”

Despite shaky audio and a camera that zooms around haphazardly, the hour-long panel is worth listening to in its entirety and also features CMOs from media brands including Sports Illustrated and Variety.

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