Our in-house education arm, 360iU, recently welcomed former New York Times “Mad Man” Stuart Elliot to the agency to discuss his storied career as a journalist following and covering the advertising industry for over 35 years. During a Q&A with 360i CEO Sarah Hofstetter, Stuart shared his perspective on following advertising through two decades of transformation – from analog to digital – and talked about how to create succinct content and headlines that resonate.
As one of the founding fathers of USA Today’s Super Bowl Ad Meter in the late 1980’s, Stuart helped pave the way for the Super Bowl to become the advertising event of the year, driving huge buzz for marketers. And as digital grew in relevance and importance to marketers, Stuart was an essential industry voice, covering how marketing was being fundamentally changed by the rise of the Internet, digital and social media. Along the way, Stuart played witness to countless marketing pioneer’s efforts like Absolut (client) “getting it right from the beginning” by working with publishing houses to ideate disruptive print ads that would turn Absolut into a sexy lifestyle brand. While ad journalism was being increasingly disrupted by digital forces, Stuart’s own responsibilities were changing as he began to publish stories about digital ad campaigns. Stuart himself had to work to optimize content for the New York Times website and social channels and adapt to the faster, shorter and timelier publishing schedules readers expected.
Although Stuart recognizes that the technology available to advertisers today has aided in making campaigns more efficient, he notes that the underpinning of the ideas has fundamentally remained the same. For example, while 360i recently tapped into flight cancellation APIs to trigger targeted search ads for client Red Roof Inn, weather-based advertising isn’t new. Years ago, marketers like Campbell’s soup would fax insertion orders to specific local radio stations that would only run if the temperature dropped below a certain threshold or snow accumulated over a certain number of inches.
Stuart’s experience in covering our industry offers valuable perspective for today’s digitally-centric marketers about how to create campaigns that are authentic and relevant. Below are a few things we learned from the “Mad Man” himself:
Stick to the Fundamentals: While the industry has changed throughout the years, the building blocks remain the same. There is still the same purpose to advertising – agencies and clients must remember this when developing campaigns. Advertising at its core is a method of sharing product information and driving interest among consumers – advertisers these days are just using different methodology in building their plans, and have new resources to share their creative vision.
Rethink Sponsored Content: According to Stuart, “sponsored content” should not be a dirty concept in the industry. In fact, brands have been creating similar content including the original commercials for radio and TV programs for years, and it’s been an incredibly successful marketing platform. Early on, advertisers helped develop on-air content, as well as the advertisements, allowing the ads to feel more connected and authentic. It wasn’t an accident when a car advertisement was placed adjacent to a travel article within a magazine or a newspaper. With native advertising, there has been a return to sponsored content models, and this is good news. The stigma of poorly-written advertorials is disappearing as sponsored content becomes more premium, and more opportunities emerge.
Don’t Take Your Job Too Seriously: The fast moving news cycle and round-the-clock reporting have a tendency to blow up smaller issues into much larger problems – and sometimes crises. Human error and mistakes will happen, and sometimes the recovery is the most important part of the process. Consumers on social media will pick at you if you take yourself or your brand too seriously. As Stuart said, “you’re not curing cancer unless you are.”
Take Advantage of Change: The industry is changing daily, and while this can seem scary, it provides brands and marketers a wealth of opportunities. With updates to platform capabilities and technologies, there are tons of changes that can be utilized to create interesting and transformative campaigns. And with consistent shifts, concepts don’t have to be re-envisioned every time.
Know Your Brand: Everyone wants to be deemed authentic. Brands should focus on the opportunities that make the most sense. While it’s recommended to test out new ways of communicating to consumers, communications should still ladder back to brand strategy and planning. No one wants to swipe right for Clorox in Tinder fashion, but they could be interested in a content series on Instagram about the “clean life.” If you know your brand, you can easily identify its consumers and where they are – which is essential in order to properly market to them.
Stuart’s parting words were about how “Mad Men” was originally concepted to be part dramatic programing and part product placement engine – which would make total sense – but no network wanted to touch it. The networks didn’t understand how the concept could come to life, and didn’t want to give up creative control to advertisers – which is interesting considering the digital buys that are taking place currently.
It was illuminating for all of us at 360i to hear from such a tenured expert within the industry open up about campaigns that moved him, what drove him to cover stories and how he’s excited about the changes ahead. Special thanks to Stuart for joining us and for enlightening our agency.