Over the last few weeks, I’ve been lucky enough to attend several incredibly interesting and diverse events – from a Marketing Society talk by Andrew Cracknell (one of the original, English, Mad Men), through to an event that showcased the very latest in marketing innovations from around the world (the ‘Seek’ event, hosted by Essence Digital).

And what struck me most was this; advertising may well have turned into a ‘brave new world’ of digitised, converged, content, but beneath the shiny new wrapping paper, things haven’t really changed that much.

The creative revolution of the 60s was based on the realisation that to be more effective, ads needed to be more truthful (see the VW ‘Lemon’ ad) or at least portray a more realistic (if somewhat idealised) situation. Essentially, it was a move to story telling.

Or, to give it it’s new name, ‘brand engagement’.

At the Marketing Society event, I asked Andrew Cracknell if he thought Social Media heralded the final death knell for long copy ads.  He thought it might – after all, they’ve been in danger of extinction for a long time.  On reflection, I think the need for ‘long copy’ has never been greater.  Except now it’s called ‘content’ and sits in a different place.

Ironically, agencies are starting to employ journalists again – just as they did back in the late 1800s when they first moved from the media broker to the full creative service model.

At Seven’s ‘Converged Media’ event, Sarah Warby of Sainsbury’s suggested that the opportunity to provide deeper content elsewhere meant ads would get ever shorter.  I wonder.  Is there a limit to just how short ads can be?  QR codes never really took off, and Twitter hasn’t cracked it yet.

Sarah (this year’s very well deserved Marketer of the Year), showcased Sainsbury’s fantastic approach to fully connected brand engagement, although many of their activities are really just a modern take on very old channels.  Their ‘What’s Cooking’ sponsored TV programme harks back to the original 1950s ‘soap operas’ and on-pack recipe labels first appeared to help war-rationed housewives in the 1940s.

At the same event, Bruce Daisley, UK Director of Twitter, said “Twitter is the shortest distance between you and what interests you most”.  A neat soundbite, but as 40% of all tweets are about TV programmes, perhaps what interests people most hasn’t really moved on that much.

Meanwhile, at a BCMA Insight event, we discussed the relationship between brand and ‘talent’ and the rise of the ‘celebrity creative director’.  As we all know, brand ambassadors have existed since before the Milky Bar Kid, but now it’s more about relevance and skill – a move away from the ‘your face here’ random celebrity association to something more strategic.

Modern brand ambassadors are increasingly recruited for their talent in a related field, and their ‘trend hunting’ expertise.  They give the brand access to a ready made fan-base (now reached faster than ever through Social Media). As Dr Dre himself realised, “people want speakers not sneakers.”  Like good marketing directors, they understand their audience.

The Seek event opened with the bold statement that “86% of innovation is wasted”.  There were some amazing new ideas presented, but I was preoccupied by the fact that all 8 finalists were men, and much of the discussion seemed to revolve around (dare I say it, male-centric) features, not (customer-centric) benefits.

As marketing becomes ever more digitised, the industry is already attracting more men than women at the entry level.  In a few years time, how many senior women will there be to ensure the balance is maintained?  BBC ‘Click’ journalist Kate Russell tells me that less than 17% of UK tech jobs are filled by women.  A worrying trend.

So… no matter how hi-tech and new-fangled marketing gets, the old school rules still apply.  As Don Draper himself might have said;

  • Tell the story
  • Ensure it’s based on truth
  • Know your audience
  • Focus on benefits not features
  • Maintain a good gender balance in your approach.

And remember that all this is more important than ever now marketing is a conversation, not a broadcast.