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November 23, 2017

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Ad tuning: ‘you can’t drive a boat on a road’

MCCANN Worldgroup, a global advertising agency that coined the famous “it’s the real thing” slogan for Coca-Cola in the 1970s and once counted Theodor Seuss Geisel, best known as Dr. Seuss, among its staff isn’t resting on its laurels in a highly competitive marketing world.

Its own current slogan — “brands play a meaningful role in people’s lives” — pretty much sums up the vision of the US-based company across the more than 100 countries where it operates. One of those countries is China.

Shanghai Daily recently interviewed Suzanne Powers, global chief strategy officer of McCann, who is responsible for development of the company and its clients across all brands and regions. She shared her views on the shifting sands in the advertising industry.

Q: What kind of changes does technology bring to the advertising industry?

A: Data, technology, artificial intelligence — the effects of these things are big discussion points. It’s interesting because they do change the way we find out about people, but they don’t necessarily change what we do once we understand people. We still have to make things that are meaningful to them. We still have to use creativity to solve clients’ problems. It’s just that we have to come up with solutions much faster and have more solutions. It doesn’t change what we do but just changes how we do it.

Q: With diversification in access to information, is it more difficult to deliver your message to the public?

A: You can certainly go into micro targeting — more specific messaging on more specific efforts for specific people in a smaller audience. But we still have the philosophy that once we figure out a brand’s universal meaning, we just use all of the different channels to reinforce that image. Although that might be with a smaller audience in a particular medium, it’s still carrying the same message.

But you do have to be a bit more precise and figure out what’s the right content for a particular form of media. You can’t drive a boat on a road.

Q: How have the requirements of clients changed? How does that influence your work?

A: I think it’s very difficult to be a client. They have to keep up with the latest technologies, and it becomes more complex if they are offering more than one product or service. They have to deal with changes in distribution systems, changes in shopping behavior and changes in the way that they are functioning as companies, such as whether they are local, regional or global.

It’s our job to help make it less complex for them. We have to help simplify and work on decision-making with them. That requires their trust in us. We try to help them figure out how to spend their money wisely and identify what they see as their major goals and problems.

Q: You mention the trend of “globality” in your report “Truth about Global Brands.” Could you explain that a bit?

A: We did our first wave of this research in 2014 and the second in 2017.

In those three years, we found differences. The 2017 data show more nationalism and more desire for local brands over global brands in certain markets. But in China, particularly, the data show a lot more optimism and positivity toward global ideas, which really amazed us to some extent compared with our findings in 2014.

Q: Do you think it’s necessary for local companies to go global?

A: We are very fascinated by local brands because they are moving fast, and many of our global clients ask us for help in learning about them. Our advice to local brands as they go into other markets depends on each brand. Sometimes, if a local brand has its value in being very driven by local culture, we would advise them not to lose their special characteristics. For other brands that can be applicable in various markets, it can be a great choice for them to develop globalization.

Q: What role does social media play in advertising?

A: I think social media will always be popular but I do think their power of influence in promotion will not be as strong as before because people are now able to discern promotion from other content and may get tired of it. Social media is not going away. We just have to figure out its role within a broader scope in marketing and in humanity, and how it will change.

Q: Do you think big data is becoming more important than creativity itself?

A: You can get very detailed data with technology nowadays, and it can bring lots of theoretical basis for marketing. But we should never forget that advertising is about helping a brand find a meaningful role in someone’s life. One of our highest data points from the study showed that 86 percent of people in China believe that brands can make the world a better place. We could never live up to that without having interesting solutions. So creativity is still at the core of advertising and is probably becoming even more important.


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