Harris Diamond, McCann World group chairman & CEO, sat down exclusively with Communicate for a wide-ranging discussion.
- Do you see specific trends emerging in this digital environment?
The biggest trend continues to be consumers’ awareness and knowledge of where information is coming from; their ability to understand that we are marketing to them. They are comfortable with receiving marketing information. They understand that trade-off – we help pay for the platforms, and they like the platforms. Television is basically paid for by advertising; newspapers were all paid for by advertising; people know that and are comfortable with recognizing that advertising is, in fact, helping to pay for the digital platforms as well.
- Industry players often complain that digital spend is almost completely absorbed by Google and Facebook. Do you agree?
It is true that digital spend is predominantly oriented at the moment to the two of them. They have a first-mover advantage. But we find lots of other platforms out there. My job is to find the place where consumers are hanging out, and we see them continuing to migrate to other platforms: Instagram in the US, TikTok in China; marketing information inside games; over-the-top… The great thing about our business is that every time a new platform is created, it’s a new opportunity for us to reach a consumer. We’re relatively agnostic to the platforms and excited about the opportunities to reach the consumers in different ways.
- For a long while, there was this discussion that consumers enjoy digital because they can skip the ads. Has digital advertising evolved to become more engaging?
I don’t think that was ever true. Advertising was always seen as a byproduct of a way by which you get your information. From our perspective though, our advertising and marketing are more engaging. We do understand the platforms better. We do understand what it takes now to make somebody interested; the difference between three seconds and 90 seconds, long-form content, short-form content… The platforms have given us a tremendous capability to reach consumers in ways that we never would have seen 15 years ago.
- Is it more fun to work in the industry, then?
We are enjoying the opportunity to show creativity in a lot of different ways. Every time you create a new platform, it gives our creatives an opportunity to think about how best to do it. It is more fun to be in the industry today because we’ve never seen so many different ways to express an idea and talk to consumers. Now, creativity as a whole has also changed. And research shows that people appreciate the information, and a lot of times, they like fun. We have to make sure we get both: appreciation for the information, and where appropriate, a little bit of fun.
- Are clients keeping up with this evolution?
This is a discussion that’s beginning to wane because digital is becoming part and parcel of what everybody does and how everybody lives. What clients are more open to now is taking the risk of certain digital programs and campaigns. Today, everybody understands that the viral nature of campaigns takes creativity, a little bit of risk-taking, a little bit of luck and a lot of understanding strategically.
Now, the other side of that is that it’s risky for a client not to do something in today’s world, because with all these platforms, all these opportunities, what are you doing to enhance your brand? To convince consumers to spend some of their money on your product? You now have to be willing to take a risk with respect to pushing product and ideas, because the nature of the medium requires that. Clients today are frankly pushing us as the agency, to make people say: I want that.
- How difficult is it for you, as an agency, to integrate data and analytics?
It’s getting easier, simpler, more understandable. We still have issues with Google and Facebook and the walled gardens; they still keep much of the data to themselves. We would like much more information and knowledge. So it is still a little too complex. I share some of the clients’ concerns there.
- What can you do about this complexity?
Pressure is being put on them economically. We do look for other opportunities. Here, at IPG, we basically take advantage of Acxiom and first-party data that we have. But at the end of the day, the pressure will be marketplace pressure. This is not that dissimilar to how TV started. When you look back in the old days, everybody always said: ‘Who’s watching this TV show? How do you know they’re watching the TV?’
- What about the technologies to gather, analyze and use data?
I still think the platforms need to do a better job of communicating to us the actual knowledge around recipient behavior. But, having said that, we’re getting better and better at understanding the ecosystem.
- How is this all impacting traditional media? We keep hearing that print is dead and yet, it’s still here.
It’s like traditional television. If you look at the latest statistics on television in the US, it’s actually the young people who are watching a lot of traditional television and looking forward to traditional television. Now, print as issues. Marketeers took a lot of budgets out of print and put that into digital. Print made a mistake in the beginning of basically having no paywalls, and it offered everything for free under the theory that they would have big audiences and that advertising would make up. That turned out not to be as true as they thought.
- The assumption was that people were getting everything for free online. But they are willing to pay, correct?
That’s my point. We are finding now that consumers understand the bargain. And when you understand the bargain, you’re willing to pay for the things that you think are valuable to you. The great thing about my businesses is that 5,000-10,000 years ago, people got around campfires and told stories. People went to markets and bought products. That’s still true: people like information; they like shopping, and they like to be together. I think we have evolved over the years in lots of different ways, but that basic truth is still there. The only thing that has changed is the platforms.