The Wild & Wacky of Advertising Week

Perhaps many of the 95,000 attendees at last week’s Advertising Week 2015 show had never heard the old cliché, “50 percent of my advertising works; I just don’t know which 50 percent.” Yet there they were, gathering in New York for the industry’s annual State of the Union with every intention of improving those odds.

Most went home either energized or exhausted. Anyone claiming to have attended all the sessions is lying. It was impossible to make 246 of them; even guzzling the omnipresent AstroBoost energy drink couldn’t have propelled them to all 25 venues in time. Regardless, it’s unclear whether people succeeded in their mission for more on-the-job chops. Ad Week is not a “how-to” show but a “what-to” show. If you didn’t learn how to improve your mastery of key elements of your job, you certainly heard what to expect of them in the future.

So much of advertising, especially in the audio space, is theater of the mind. Occasionally at Ad Week, it was theater of the absurd:

  • Don’t miss the irony of one panelist asking for a show of hands among the very people who create ads for a living on whether they block their mobile ads.
  • In an industry known for “needing it yesterday,” many of those demanding souls had to slow it down, being forced to stand patiently in long lines to enter the most popular sessions.
  • I won’t make you guess the most popular selfie photo partner: Seth Godin, Adam Carolla, Ryan Seacrest, or a wax statue of the Pope in the heart of Times Square.

Creative is no longer king. WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell said the attitude toward what has long been regarded as the traditional King of All Things Marketing “has changed, and it’s time to wake up to that fact.” As proof, he referenced the news earlier this year when Ogilvy, a creative shop, was invited to pitch Coca-Cola’s media business.

So if creative is no longer king, what is? Panelists in a subsequent session took a stab:

  • Story is king, said Ed Menicheschi, CMO of Conde Nast and President of Conde Nast Media Group. “Story is the center point of every great campaign,” he said. “It’s the thread that connects everything. The enemy of ad blocking is great storytelling.”
  • Results are king, said Rick Welday, President of AT&T AdWorks. All arrows lead to results, whether it’s creative, story, or technology.
  • Moments are king, said iHeartMedia CMO Gayle Troberman. “It’s the ability to take context, from the data we have today, and adapt stories to the relevant moments for consumers.”
  • There isn’t one king, said Toby Byrne, President of Advertising Sales at Fox Network Group, noting, “We don’t live in a monarchy anymore.”

Surprisingly, no one crowned mobile as king, at least not yet. “What’s the optimal ad experience on mobile?” asked AOL President Bob Lord. “We haven’t figured it out yet. When it comes to mobile, consumers right now are way ahead of us.”

Added UM President Kasha Cacy on the status of mobile in marketing: “It’s as if we are in kindergarten and still have a lot to learn.”

iHeartMedia wasn’t the only “moment” marketer at Ad Week. Fun Fact: Margo Georgiadis, President of Americas at Google, said Google has counted 18,701 “moments” for women shoppers during the November-to-December holiday period. “That’s moment of intent, of making a decision,” she said. “People try to make the most of every moment, and we want to be there when consumers are most open. We need to put brands in the spotlight at the right moment.”

Speaking of “moments,” the audio space had its share at Ad Week, albeit not commensurate with the high praise it receives and the stats thrown around to support it. Perhaps nowhere was that praise heard more than in a session with radio/TV host and producer Ryan Seacrest entitled, “Why Millennials and Gen Z are Listening More.”

“TV is America’s hobby, and radio is America’s companion,” said Seacrest. “CMOs, if you don’t have a sound-related strategy today, then you are missing out.”

Seacrest said he is constantly in discussions with major brands. “Their biggest struggle,” he said, “is that they want to be nimble, but they really can’t be. We try to sit down with them and understand up front ‘what is a win’ for them. Then, if they give us some freedom with the copy, we can do what we do best, and create better messaging. It’s not always polished, which they like. Our job is to engage the audience every day.”

Seacrest Sidebar: Oh, to be famous. Seacrest can get away with telling the story of how, at an awards event, Taylor Swift asked him to watch her purse when she had to leave the table to perform. When Seacrest had to leave the table shortly thereafter, he asked Madonna to watch the purse. A little later, back at the table, Swift asked Seacrest “where’s my purse?” When he turned to Madonna’s seat, it was clear she had left the event and apparently taken it with her. I have anecdotes like that, but the characters in my stories are my friends Fred and Alan.

On the subject of sound, Carter Brokaw, President of Digital Revenue Strategy at iHeart, provided an interesting question. While brands are constantly reviewing their image and assessing how they look, Brokaw suggested that marketers raise the question, “How does your brand sound?”

Brands are starting to figure out the marketing model for podcasting, and Ad Week took the opportunity to roll out popular show hosts and podcast pioneers to make the case.

“We are not in the Golden Age of Podcasting, but we are taking the very first steps,” said Norm Pattiz, Founder of Westwood One and more recently Founder and CEO of PodcastOne. As a marketing vehicle and generator of loyal audiences, “podcasting is so logical. No one will ever say about podcasting ‘this is ridiculous.’ They haven’t even had time to develop their prejudices. The story makes so much sense.”

Comedian Adam Carolla, host of The Adam Carolla Show (with the distinction of being the world’s most downloaded podcast according to the Guinness World Book of Records), said, “Advertisers are getting a relationship with my audience that is a lot different than simply hanging a banner ad somewhere. It’s me and my words talking about their product. They are paying me to get my essence on their brand message. We don’t work for Madison Avenue.”

Podcaster Perez Hilton, Founder of, said, “It’s like-minded people talking about things that interest them. They get totally consumed with a subject, no matter what it is. We spent an hour talking about whether to stay in New York or move to LA. You can’t imagine the audience engagement.”

Some show hosts are selective about their advertisers; not Hilton. “We ran an advertisement for an adult website. I don’t care who the advertiser is. I’m a big whore for a paycheck.”

Some said they were nervous when they introduced advertising to their shows. “We were waiting for [listeners] to scream that we’re selling out,” said Carolla. “But they respect the fact that we have employees, studios, and bills to pay.”

The truth is, said Pattiz, “that advertisers will realize how unique this medium is, and how much control we have over something that is perceived as having no control.”

There appeared to be some confusion as to the optimum length of podcasts for maximum effectiveness and engagement. While Pattiz said there is no research to support any prescribed length, Ira Glass, Creator and Host of This American Life, countered a generally accepted belief by saying, “Attention spans are not getting shorter, regardless of what you may think. I mean, all of America is binging on watching TV series. Basically, we will watch, or listen, to something longer if it is really good.”

Glass lauded the power of sound: “Not seeing actually gives something more power, to hear just the emotion in their voices.”

“Listening is like reading,” said Molly Wood, Host and Senior Tech Correspondent of Marketplace and one of the first women to work in podcasting. “You create a mental picture.”

Guy Raz, Host and Editorial Director of Ted Radio Hour, said, “It’s plausible to fall in love with just a voice.”

Regarding advertisers, Gina Garrubbo, President and CEO of National Public Media, said, “Brands are just waking up to the fact it’s a powerful medium, for brand awareness and integrity.”

Raz added, “Podcasting is a narrative art, a journey. It’s about being human. People are really interested in ourselves, they like to examine common human behaviors. And then leave the listeners with a sense of possibility, or hope, when the show is over.”

If you’ve never heard Seth Godin, you’re missing a treat. The marketing wizard was in true form during his non-fire-burning fireside chat: “Marketing is simple but very difficult. There’s a pressure on all of us to be mediocre [based on serving clients, meeting business objectives, or the need to make money], and that’s why so many of us are.”

“We have to make a choice: be pioneers in a revolution or just be average.” It’s the people who take the risks and commit to change who are the true artists, he said.

“You can’t create art without tension, without fear it won’t work. The key is to welcome the fear and dance with it.”

One of the most memorable sound bites from the show occurred during one of the marquee keynotes—from Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. In an effort to sway TV advertisers to video ads on her social network, she quoted lofty viewership numbers for the Super Bowl, and then said, “We have a Super Bowl on mobile every day.” Sandberg said many different forms of media can work together successfully as long as “you tailor your definition to your audience.”

Ad Week certainly had its share of recurring common themes, including content (however you define it), the issue of ad blocking, whether data is trumping creative, millennials, making connections, entering the profession, technology and figuring out forms of measurement that will satisfy brand marketers. That’s to say nothing of the other 113.

And to think, we made it through an entire wrap-up of Advertising Week without once mentioning the word, “programmatic.” Whoops.

Jim Alkon
Marketing Director