How digital makes it easier to engage with an audience

With digital media now firmly entrenched in the marketing mix, there was no shortage of advice about how to make the best use of it throughout the festival.

New media was the hot topic at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, with speakers intent on promoting the medium to delegates as the best way to engage with consumers.

As highlighted by Marketing Week’s online coverage from the 56th festival last week, speakers from giants ranging from Google and Microsoft to President Barack Obama’s campaign manager David Plouffe, were all keen to highlight the role that new media can play in building a marketing campaign.

But is this really the year that new media – particularly digital content – will become a larger component of the marketing mix? The buzz around Cannes suggests that it is definitely part of the branding experience, but integration and customer insight to base it on are more important than simply using new media to tap into customers’ digital appetites.

Hewlett-Packard chief marketing officer Michael Mendenhall, who is dedicating 30% of his budget to digital, explains: “Marketing cannot just be a reflection of what consumers want a brand to be – it needs to be a two-way dialogue where the brand draws on consumer perceptions, but there also needs to be an element of independence and personality in order to foster a give-and-take with the audience. Digital marketing is one of the building blocks of HP’s brand renewal strategy. At the same time, it’s never been more important to invest in customer relationships, and find a cost-effective way to do it across all media.”

Also significant was the emergence of PR, included in the Cannes programme for the first time. Hill & Knowlton chief marketing officer Anthony Burgess-Webb, who hosted a seminar with Twitter founder Biz Stone, says a new generation of marketers are turning to PR agencies for an online presence. “PR is no longer just an added bolt-on.

“As the digital world gathers momentum, there is more pressure for brands to use PR for their online needs – be that social media, viral promotions or damage limitation activities. Digital isn’t going to replace traditional media, but rather the recession is introducing a new mentality among marketers and agencies keen to put the consumer first by flying the flag of their brand’s personal touch,” he says.

Microsoft Advertising says it recognises this trend and acknowledges the need for integration and consumer insight. Microsoft signed research deals with both WPP and Publicis Groupe to ensure it can offer advertisers the best brand positioning online. Gregg Albright, Microsoft Advertising’s vice-president of global accounts, consumer and online, says: “The work coming out of these collaborations will enable advertisers to get the best return on investment for their brand ads through knowing how to optimise content to be the best.”

Meanwhile Yahoo! Europe’s vice-president of sales for Europe, Christophe Parcot, says online is growing for its short-term benefits: “The market has moved towards short-term results, which are more important to marketers, and it offers rich insight.”

Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer predicts the death of newspapers and magazines and claims all content will have moved online in the next ten years, while Google chairman and chief executive Eric Schmidt told Marketing Week that he expects the number of online advertisers to rise dramatically in the same period.

The recession was, inevitably, high on the agenda at the festival where agency cutbacks saw its attendance down by 40%. Some marketers and chief executives claim the downturn is not as bad as it seems and is, in fact, a “reset” process, enabling marketers to scrap all previous activity and start afresh.

As group marketing director at News Limited, News Corporation’s Australian arm, Joe Talcott has experience of dealing with financially uncertain times and advises: “You have to increase marketing spend and work across all media to succeed and maintain brand awareness.
“Simply twittering or being online is not enough to keep sales going – there has to be a more aggressive and instantaneous approach in the areas that people will look and react.”

Volkswagen international advertising director Hartmut Seeger cautions: “Online can engage and get communities together, but TV and press can really capture the imagination. You must maintain the same brand approach across all communications and get the most positive responses possible each time you go out to the market.”

The increasing role that digital is playing is leading agencies to vie for their slice of the action. Maurice Levy, chief executive of Publicis Groupe, admits: “We want to make sure that the whole group is absorbing the digital practice and that almost everyone is literate in digital, because we can’t tell the client when it comes to digital that we are now going to call the specialists.”

Specialist digital agencies are making the most out of the opportunities. LBi worldwide client services director Laurent Ezekiel says: “What’s great at the moment is more customers are looking at getting into digital, which makes the creative challenge for us a lot tougher and pushes us to do our best. Clients are seeing the benefits of digital in new ways and it isn’t about monetising social media anymore, but generating the best return on investment.”

AKQA chief creative officer James Hilton says: “There is an immense demand for creativity online. The work we did at Fiat on eco:Drive demonstrates how this is testing new boundaries and changing consumer relationships with online formats.”

Sapient executive director and worldwide creative officer Gaston Legorburu adds: “Technology has empowered consumers and changed how and when they engage with content. This dramatic shift means that brands need intelligent, technology-savvy stewards in a world where all advertising, including television, will be interactive. Our acquisition of Nitro establishes Sapient’s leadership position in this dynamic and fast-growing segment.”

The recurring theme at Cannes underlines that an eye-catching television ad is no longer enough. Marketers and agencies are striving to engage and interact with consumers and involve them with their brands with increasing sophistication in the quest for competitive advantage.

Facts & Figures

  • Attendance was down 40%.
  • Award entries were down 20%.
  • Tribal DDB Amsterdam won the Film Grand Prix for the Philips interactive film, Carousel.
  • The Titanium Grand Prix and the Integrated Grand Prix were both won by Obama For America in Washington for the Obama/Biden Presidential campaign.
  • Advertising Agency of the Year was given to DDB Brazil, Sao Paulo.
  • The Network of the Year award was presented to BBDO.

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