Global dispatches: US culture crisis and the ad model of tomorrow

The key issues that dominated the global ad scene over the first half of this year and how the industry is responding to them.

Nike: shows that polarisation pays
Nike: shows that polarisation pays

There is no going back. The cultural tsunamis of MeToo and Time’sUp, which have crashed down on US adland in the past few years, have given way to unprecedented (and long overdue) transparency.

Those who hide in the shadows are called out. And those who abolish opaqueness are celebrated. This is the new norm.

As positive metamorphosis slowly sweeps the industry, agency and brand leaders look to leverage this transparency to fill all of advertising’s cracks and crevices: from powerful creativity to greater diversity and inclusion.

Here are some key trends shaping the future of US adland – the state of which has never been more transformative.

Diversity and inclusion

By Oliver McAteer

A nationwide call for greater diversity and inclusion is no longer something US brands and agencies can afford to ignore.

It’s been this way for some time now. But over the past 12 months, goodwill, empty promises and conference-stage pontification surrounding gender equality and diversity of talent have finally turned into meaningful action.

Procter & Gamble, one of the US’s biggest advertisers, has been leading the charge for years with its "My black is beautiful" movement to improve the way African American women are portrayed in popular culture.

One of the campaign’s landmark moments came with "The talk" – a powerful and eyeopening spot about the difficult conversations people of colour have been forced to have with their children because of the way society has viewed them.

Today, P&G’s chief brand officer, Marc Pritchard, sits at the head of numerous cultural movements as he helps steer adland to a place of earnest diversity and inclusion growth, with slow – but palpable – success.

It’s estimated that around 40% of women say ads are not an accurate reflection of who they are, while 29% go as far to say that women are either stereotyped or objectified. When you look behind the camera, it’s no wonder why. Only 7% of commercials are directed by women. And even fewer are directed by women of colour.

Free The Bid is a huge driving force of change in this area. The organisation is giving a voice to women in advertising and film, and more agencies and production companies are pledging to tap into its diverse talent pool than ever before.

Then there’s the burning issue of pay equality.

Women in the US still only make 80.7 cents for every dollar a man earns. But at ad agency Forsman & Bodenfors, female employees actually outearn men by two cents per dollar, significantly outpacing the industry and national average. F&B now has 100% pay parity – something that typically only happens in the military, where pay is based on rank and tenure.

The 3% Movement is working hard to solve the disconnect in equal pay by encouraging agencies to sign up to its 3% Pledge for Pay Equity. Traction is gaining. Fast.

The US is not in the grips of a diversity crisis in terms of talent, despite what the wrong leaders say. It is, however, in the grips of a culture crisis. Agency heads are sincerely searching for a more eclectic workforce and are throwing themselves wholeheartedly into the process without a tick-box mentality. But shops are continually tripping over their own feet when they expect diverse talent to assimilate to a legacy culture.

In other words, agencies hire for talent only to beat it out of them. This is the challenge adland must overcome before more positive transformation is seen.

The new golden age of creativity

By Oliver McAteer

We’re living in the year when digital adspend will finally overtake traditional adspend in the US.

US digital adspend will increase 19.1% this year to $129.3bn, according to eMarketer. Meanwhile, traditional adspend will fall 19%, to $109.5bn. So, for the first time, digital will account for 54.2% of overall spend.

The modern marketer has woken up to the fact that TV is no longer the silver bullet it once was.

The solution is more nuanced: it isn’t just highly targeted content, or to ditch TV, or innovate products, or the perform-stunt-andpray-for-media-attention approach. There’s a happy medium and all can do a great job of breaking through, building awareness and brand affinity. Ultimately, it’s forcing brands to show up in places they normally wouldn’t. Which is good.

Take Wendy’s, for example. VMLY&R helped the maverick fast-food brand find an original way to successfully insert itself into online craze Fortnite when other companies have continually failed. The team dropped in a character with those iconic red pigtails and spent hours upon hours destroying freezers in burger joints to push its non-frozen patty agenda.

Gamers tuned in to Twitch to watch more than 1.5 million minutes of destruction. The stunt earned Wendy’s a 119% increase in mentions across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. And Fortnite ended up erasing all freezers from the game.

Then there’s the cultural push that US-based New Balance nailed in London. In the lead-up to the city’s marathon, runners’ miles were recorded through a fitness app and converted to currency using a "Runaway Card" that they added to their Apple and Google Wallet Passes and cashed in for pints. It was an incredible puzzle of experiential, data-driven work that married technology and creativity in the most authentic way.

US consumer frustration with hard-of-hearing brands that continue to thrust messaging upon us over a 60-second digital spot mid-Hulu episode has reached breaking point.

The brands listening are now pushing creative boundaries with major encouragement from agency partners that are gung-ho about greater risk-taking and bravery.

Couple this with the growing intersectionality of technology and imagination, and it’s easy to see how US adland is on the verge of a new golden age of creativity.

The power of purpose

By Oliver McAteer

Marketers need to take a page out of Colin Kaepernick’s book: "Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything."

Nike’s campaign, which featured the NFL player famous for kneeling during the national anthem in protest of society’s treatment of people of colour, is proof that polarisation pays. Hugely.

Crossing into politics can be a death sentence for brands, if done poorly. But the US’s most effective advertiser knew the spot would draw criticism and ran with it full force because of the (well-earned) confidence it has in its own brand DNA and authenticity. Nike did it again this year with "Dream crazier", which features Serena Williams and celebrates female athletes who have broken barriers.

Wieden & Kennedy pushes its client (so successfully) to lead the charge with purposedriven messaging because Nike has built the "Just do it" platform that allows it to preach. Few brands wield this clout. And poor advertising comes from those who reach for purpose to jump on the cultural bandwagon but forget what they stand for – or, worse, don’t stand for anything.

The future of all ad models

By Oliver McAteer

There’s a huge question mark hanging over the way in which the US’s marketing ecosystem should operate. Those sculpting the future landscape are reviewing four models: outsourcing (the traditional agency model), insourcing (bringing agency resources to sit inside an advertiser location), in-housing (bringing skills in-house, hired by the advertiser) and offshoring (work done in a different geographic location).

There is value in all and there is no one blanket answer for the entire industry.

In-housing’s "threat" to adland is nothing more than an urban myth. Yes, brands are experimenting with the hire of internal marketing talent, but most are doing so in a way that compliments their agency partners.

It’s easy for shops serving Heineken, for example, to grimace at news it’s building an in-house agency at its New York headquarters. But scratch beneath the surface and you’ll find it’s no more than around 10 people working out of a small studio to versionalise and personalise bigger concept creative by Publicis and Droga5 as part of a locally targeted media buy across the US.

Then there are the nightmarish tales of in-housing teams collapsing under the guise of never-well-explained "business decisions". Late last year, Intel shut its award-winning internal group that launched in 2015 and had grown to more than 85 people. The majority were laid off and some were absorbed back into the company.

Around the same time, Thomson Reuters’ in-house agency GCS was disbanded as the company announced a mammoth internal overhaul that will wipe out 3,200 employees and close dozens of offices around the world over the next two years.

Meanwhile, offshoring is quietly gaining momentum among agencies, production companies and brands which see the value in 24/7 service that can cut costs and deliver the same quality. Sapient has 3,000 people in India for coding, creative, production and analytics. Ogilvy also has a creative hub in India. And WPP’s Hogarth has multiple offshore locations for content creation.

The advertising model of tomorrow will be a combination of everything. But expect teething issues for the coming years as leaders try – and fail – to figure this out.

Whatever model is decided on, it must drive efficiency and save wedge as advertisers show no sign of abating the warrior cry of more bang for your buck.

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