Marketers have become addicted to short-term thinking, and need to take a longer view if they want to speak to people more effectively.
That's the message that Martin Weigel, head of planning for ad agency Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam, will bring to Canada on Wednesday.
Mr. Weigel will be at the Institute of Communication Agencies' FutureFlash conference in Muskoka, speaking to an audience of agencies and marketing executives.
"Marketing and advertising are a balance between consistency and freshness," he said in an interview by phone from Amsterdam, ahead of his visit. "If you're just about freshness, you're unlikely to build a brand; if you're just about consistency, you're likely to be boring."
But that fear of being boring – exaggerated in a fast-paced digital age of short attention spans – has left marketers and their agencies out of balance on the consistency side, he argued.
"There's more information in the world, and we get it faster. That's good, because you get feedback instantaneously. But it can be corrosive," he said. "Take YouTube. You know, second by second, minute by minute, granular [viewer] details. Agencies and clients can sometimes only focus on those metrics, like how many people saw our spot, or shared it, compared to what are we doing to build long-term brand perceptions? What are our marketing efforts doing to change long-term purchase preference?"
Mr. Weigel cites some statistics to make his point: in the 1980s, company relationships with their ad agencies lasted an average of 8.5 years; now it's closer to three years.
It's not just agencies. Chief marketing officers have seen their terms in the job truncated in recent years as well: a new executive can sometimes feel the need to make his or her mark, and a new ad agency can help with that. Frequent changes in communications strategies can offer a lot of "innovation fireworks," he said, but leave a brand lacking in consistency.
"There's so much talk about big data, blah blah blah," he said. "We need to have conversations with clients about how we're going to evaluate success. … Are we going to be looking at daily YouTube reports, or the price elasticity of your brand over the next three years? The smart person would say, probably a bit of both."
A look at the work
W+K is the envy of the agency world for its longstanding relationship with Nike – its first client back in 1982, and still a client to this day.
I asked him about the latest work for Nike Women out of the agency's Portland, Ore. home base.
The ad features women's internal monologues while working out – the frustration and insecurity they feel, as well as pushing past those negative thoughts to convince themselves to push further.
The ad has its drawbacks, of course. It purports to be empowering, but still exclusively features women who are thin and beautiful. It follows a problematic trend of ads targeted to women's insecurities, but speaks to those insecurities in a productive way. (The women aren't thinking about working out to lose weight; instead they tackle the fitness world, where it's hard to feel like you belong, and they overcome their insecurities by tapping into their own strength.)
The ad is relatable for people who don't necessarily buy into the super-positive fitness junkie rhetoric about the life-changing properties of exercise, and appeals to those who want to admit that sometimes working out kind of sucks.
But any kind of gendered advertising can be dicey, particularly in an age when female viewers are more skeptical than ever (and arguably more bombarded with ads that claim to be empowering.)
"We had lots of conversations about it ourselves. … That's the response you want from work, when it sparks genuine conversation and puts its finger on a cultural nerve," Mr. Weigel said.
While he did not work on that particular Nike campaign, he added that advertising could do a lot more to speak to women effectively.
"Marketing has demonstrated over the last 50 years how bad it is at understanding women. … There is little in advertising content that makes women glad we made it, or makes them feel that it was time well spent," he said. "It spans the spectrum to the objectively banal to the downright toxic."
What might fix that?
"As a man, I'm not the first person to ask about that," he said, "but the easy answer seems to be to have more women in the industry."