Advertising Week 2015: How brands can remain relevant today


There has been no dearth of posts and prophecies in recent months declaring that brands are, at best, becoming irrelevant and, at worst, dying. This topic also seemed to be on the minds of brands and marketers on Monday, the opening day of Advertising Week 2015.

Ogilvy & Mather shared the stage with Coca-Cola and Facebook at Liberty Theater Monday to unveil new, multinational research suggesting brands do indeed still matter — just in radically different ways than before. Meanwhile, Dentsu Aegis and MasterCard jointly discussed what legacy brands could do to “ride the digital tsunami” to relevance.

A few takeaways: Competition is fiercer than ever and consumers are making more-informed choices, but as long as a brand is engaged and providing some sort of value to them, they can thrive. Here’s advice from marketers from both the agency and brand side on how to remain relevant as a brand:

Make service a global strategy
According to Ogilvy’s study, brands are not only expected to offer valuable products, but also valuable services to consumers. It is no longer enough to take some kind of ideological stand, brands are now expected to walk the walk as well.

“It’s like an archaeological dig, image attributes like brand personality are being crushed by purpose and service,” said Colin Mitchell, worldwide head of planning at Ogilvy & Mather. “Purpose needs more purpose, service and marketing are merging.”

He pointed to UPS as an example, which sought to serve its customers and make their wishes come true through its #wishesdelivered campaign last holiday season.

Be contextually relevant
“We talk about it as a buzzword, but being contextually relevant is more important now than it’s been ever before,” said Mari Kim Novak, CMO at the Rubicon Project. With a proliferation of platforms that facilitate engagement, it’s tempting for brands to get carried away. But, cautioned Novak, brands need to be deliberate with their messaging.

Novak added that the great brands have learned how to combine social responsibility with customer service and innovation. She pointed at Amazon, which is as much an entertainment and service brand today as it is an ecommerce brand.

Have a point of view and be present in the moments that matter
At 129, Coca-Cola has managed to remain relevant. At the Ogilvy panel, Jennifer Healan, Coke’s group director attributed it to the brand being present in “the moments that matter the most in people’s lives.”

She explained how both “America is beautiful” from the 2014 Super Bowl and “Share a Coke” — one of its most successful campaigns in recent times — were tied to celebration and stood for positivity and optimism.

“It’s about having a point of view and being present in the moments that matter in people’s lives,” she said.

Focus on internal organization
MasterCard completely overhauled its brand positioning a year-and-a-half ago — shifting its focus from “things” to “experiences” as a part of its long-running “Priceless” campaign. Whereas once the company might have offered deals while shopping at a department store, now you might just get the chance to greet your favorite pop star. The most important factor in this transformation, according to Raja Rajamannar, MasterCard’s CMO, was internal organization.

“When you embark on a transformational journey, it cannot happen through mandates — you need to get the emotional buy-in of everyone on the team and the organization,” he said. “The agenda needs to be absorbed and internalized by everyone, because the employees, first and foremost, need to be brand ambassadors themselves.”

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