McCann's Harris Diamond urges marketers to rethink definition of success in ads

Harris Diamond, chairman and chief executive of McCann Worldgroup, has urged marketers to rethink what is portrayed as a successful life in their ad campaigns in order to better engage with the public.

Diamond: ‘we have to understand what people’s aspirations are’
Diamond: ‘we have to understand what people’s aspirations are’

Speaking to Campaign about Donald Trump’s US presidential victory, Diamond stressed it was too early to know what Trump's impact will be.

But he believes the result of both the US election and Brexit raises questions for marketers about whether their comms activity is too narrowly focused on metropolitan life.

"When you think about popular culture – movies, music or our marketing programmes – there has been a bias over the past 15 to 20 years towards the major metropolitan areas as examples of where success is found," he says. 

This is a shift from the 1980s and '90s when many movies, such as Field of Dreams, were about people living in middle America, or British TV programmes featured people living in towns or villages, like The Darling Buds of May.

Shifting aspirations

"Behind the vote is this question of how does one gauge what is going to be defined as success? We sell aspirations most of the time. We sell things – and most of the time we don’t sell them on a utilitarian basis but an emotional one. So we have to understand what people’s aspirations are.

"Not everyone thinks their child is going to go to college. Not everybody at college thinks they are going to get a job in a major metropolitan area. Not everybody in the metropolitan area thinks they are going to be the success that the movies point out. We have to recognize that in our marketing programmes.

"I wouldn't want to leave a whole section of folks out because I wasn’t necessarily putting on marketing programmes that appealed to them," he says. 

At the start of the year, McCann released an in-depth research study (29,000 respondents across 30 countries) called "Truth about global brands."

Diamond explains: "The number one finding was that people were afraid globally of the loss of their local culture."

He believes this sentiment was behind the "protest" vote of Brexit and Trump – "it had more to do with this sense of loss of identity," he says.

Trump not a business concern 

But Diamond, who began his career as a political strategist and has worked on US gubernatorial and senatorial campaigns, is not too worried about Trump’s potential impact on business.

The key area of concern is what Trump’s plans are for global trade. But aside from this, "on a business level our government, unlike most governments around the world, are slightly tangential to the dynamism of the American market."

If the American economy continues as it is, with low unemployment, inflation and interest rates, Diamond's sense is that Trump will be neutral to the business market. 

He also doesn’t believe that Trump’s unusual rise to power holds any lessons for the process of political campaigning or marketing, because ultimately he generated fewer votes than both Hillary Clinton and the previous election’s Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

"Trump didn’t have a more engaged public. Yes, he did less advertising and more social media, but he got fewer votes. We’re marketers. We’re not trying to win 51% or 48% of the vote, we’re trying to get more people to buy from our clients than they would we would if we weren’t involved. I don’t want one more vote than the other side, I want to reach the largest group of people possible and to sell more products," he says.

On the UK’s place in the global network

Diamond says the UK is a "centre of excellence" globally, and believes it has always been at the "cutting edge" of marketing ideas. "It’s a place our global clients truly see as an important place for their best work to be displayed," he says.

But he says he is concerned about Brexit because the UK’s major trading partners are in Europe.

In 2017, he believes there are two major opportunities for McCann’s growth – experiential marketing and relationship marketing (CRM, direct mail etc). 

"There’s still a huge opportunity here in the UK to take advantage of the capabilities that now exist in the relationship marketing business. There’s more opportunity than frankly we’ve been able to exploit so far. I think our marketing programmes here have a lot more room to run," he says.

Partly, he believes realtionship marketing is an area that has suffered because, "it looks old-school to a lot of people who are putting more money into the social digital space."

But while social media can be powerful, he believes the best marketing programmes use a multidisciplinary approach across many platforms. "That’s why I’m so in favour of CRM, which in some ways is the opposite of social," he says, adding that sometimes people can act faster on personalised emails because they feel like they have received something.

Data privacy a growing concern

He also believes that one of the biggest challenges facing the industry is data privacy, and it’s an area on which he believes Europe will lead the way. "By 2020, privacy is going to be an even more significant issue. It’s going to continue to evolve and be of more interest to regulators and politicians and therefore is something we have to keep focused on."

He adds: "I’m much more comfortable believing sunlight is the best thing here – as long as people understand how and why we’re using it and what they are getting out of it, my sense is that people will be comfortable with that, but the important things is to make sure they do understand."

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