An Accountant in Adland: Learnings from industry events [S1 E3]
by Siwe Thusi (@Siwe_Thusi) For many of us, attending industry events may be an awkward experience, mostly because we battle with internalised imposter syndrome and the pressure to say something smart or strike up that small-talk conversation using big words. To network or to be one with the catering table? It’s a marvel to watch. Anyway, I attended two events recently, and ruminate here on what I learnt.
The humans at an industry event
The AMASA Ignite Forum Discussion, with Gareth Cliff, Kojo Baffoe and Nedbank’s Tatiana Ndlovu on the panel, fueled my fascination with the relationship between marketing and advertising. Where does marketing start and where does it end, as marketing work continues to subtly spill onto the advertising agency’s plate?
Scope of work is probably the best place to start. One thing that sticks out for me is the undertone of frustration that must exist for a newbie in advertising. For example, writing speeches for clients is the last thing most strategists imagine they would be doing but these are the briefs that come in. Comms are comms, right, and a speech is essentially a script, which does fall into our scope of work as advertisers, if we’re reaching for a justification?
What I’ve found, though, is that we advertisers are constantly using value-adds to try and justify that original pitch win, going beyond what is stipulated (cue: proactive) to prove our worth. But what this does tend to do is blur the lines of who is supposed to do what.
A comment from an audience member at the Ignite event was quite interesting: “Distrust is a big thing that has come to the fore, where clients (marketers) and agencies don’t trust each other.”
I thought to myself: “I can see where that could come from.”
Pitch contracts are a guide to what needs to be done by both. Pitch documents are a proxy of what needs to be done to move the business’s profit-margin ability to create value, and the distrust could come from things not being clear.
I also realised that industry think-tank events or discussions are also awkward because of the callout culture that rears its head there. Marketers should be doing this; agencies should be doing this. This all ends up being a creation of smoke and mirrors, where no one can pinpoint the actual problem.
Wait, wait, wait. But this is what we BOTH are: we are business partners to businesses. Businesses that are finding their way and finding their future, a task which requires both marketers and agencies to stop answering existing questions and to figure out the new questions that we need to ask. The ‘I’m not paid to think; I’m paid to do numbers/write’ attitudes at industry events aren’t going to lead businesses into the future. (Also, when did thinking/doing numbers/writing become mutually exclusive?)
And… while the war between marketers and agencies at industry events rages on… consultancies like PWC and Accenture are doing audits for clients and showing them how ineffective communications currently are to the business bottom-line. This is how they will win in the fourth industrial revolution. Because consultants sell you on performance, and this is what matters to businesses.
The humans at a Super Bowl event
Every year at my agency, we’re treated to a really cool star-spangled banner event for clients and staff at which we freely give our South African opinions of US ads. There’s a room full of industry veterans and industry newbies alike who, without the titles, are just humans who appreciate ads and are vocal about them. This becomes very interesting in terms of resonance and is a proof-point of how advertising has made the Super Bowl a global event.
The reason that the Super Bowl is the Super Bowl is because of the ‘eyeballs of everybody’ — not just some interested in football but everybody interested in the Super Bowl property. The game, the performance, the ads. My realisation was that a sport (American football) holds US advertising accountable for the quality of work it puts out. I wondered what would happen if, in South Africa, we had a sporting event very year that held advertising to that same standard.
Maybe the last time we came close to something like that was the 2010 FIFA World Cup, but how many moons will we wait for an event of that magnitude to come around again? In addition, we still have such a split of eyeballs in this country and the one place where that is evident IS sports.
My favourite Super Bowl work in recent years has been Tide (“It’s A Tide Ad”) and Volvo. Why? Because it was highly strategic for work to literally play with our eyeballs. Either making us look for something (Tide) or look away from something (Volvo). Yes, the entertainment value is key, but what are you telling me to do and how are you holding my eyeballs captive for 30 seconds?
Super Bowl: If creativity is a muscle, shouldn’t we be working it more than once a year? is an article headline by current head of strategy of BBH LA, Agathe Guerrier; she made me realise that not having a big event like the Super Bowl in SA is a saving grace when she wrote that “keeping creative excellence, big ideas and big budgets, for just one moment in the year has led to advertising not practising those qualities more often.”
I think, in SA, we practice how we play. We don’t suddenly hide all our creative superpowers and bring them out to gear up for that one event. We are an always-on machine; every brief “is the year’s best creative opportunity”.
There was a very evident underwhelmed audience commentary at our agency event which could attest to Guerrier’s theory — this year’s Super Bowl was the worst performing in terms of good work and audience interest. We can’t work a muscle in the same way once in a while and expect it to do well.
According to an article by Net Imperative, the 2019 Super Bowl in-game expenditure number was US$382m. This would be the third-largest amount in history, trailing only the 2017 and 2018 games. There was a total of 49 minutes, 45 seconds of national commercial time from paying sponsors, the NFL and CBS-owned networks. Taking the exchange rate of around R14.44 to the US dollar at the time of writing, that’s a R5.5bn dent in the combined Super Bowl marketing budgets of the brands that were showcased. Audience size divided by media cost would give you some idea of what the value of underwhelmed eyeballs was.
Next time on An Accountant in Adland…
The past weeks have been filled with pitches at the agency I’m currently at, involvement in a music album launch and trips to Pretoria. All are a curious case of people and behaviours, and those “wow, that’s different” thoughts.
But that’s a Cannes of words for Episode 4.
Siwelile Thusi (@Siwe_Thusi) is a qualified South African chartered-accountant-turned-creative-strategist at FCB Africa and a working photographer. She has three years’ experience in strategic planning on some of South Africa’s big brands in different categories and industries in the ATL space. She contributes the monthly column “An Accountant in Adland” — exploring where, when and how the two ‘disciplines’ overlap… and why they should! — to MarkLives.com.
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