Conversations with Four Thought Leaders

January 21, 2013

by Bruce Nickson

On January 31st, the BCAMA will be holding the next Breakfast Speaker Series (BSS) event – the ever-popular Annual Ad Agency Panel. This year, speakers from Wasserman, Station X, DDB and Cossette will share their insights on the top advertising trends for 2013.

Below, in the first of four conversations with the panel participants, Bruce Nickson chats with Lance Saunders, Executive Vice-President and Managing Director of the DDB Vancouver office.

BN: Last week, I had the great pleasure of meeting Lance Neale,one of the panellists at the upcoming BBS event. Based on our discussion, the event should be more than interesting! Lance was very generous with his time and the conversation ranged far and wide, so I have to distil 75 minutes into a very brief space. Here goes:

Lance Saunders
Lance Saunders

Lance: When it comes to social media marketing, it’s a ‘glass half full vs. half empty’situation. In the end, social media is just another pipe. Some marketers are having failures of imagination, by offering discount coupons etc., to get people to “like” their Facebook page. And consumers are using Facebook to clip coupons, electronically speaking. What are you going to do with the “likes”?

What many marketers are missing is the power of friends. People don’t value content. People value friends. People will pass content along because of this – no other reason.

BN: I’m struggling – although that’s perhaps too strong a word – with the younger demographics. My son is 19…

Lance: Mine too.

BN: …and he and his friends are more than skeptical – even hostile – about pretty much all marketing activity. How are agencies to cope with this?

Lance: Young people are huge consumers of digital information. They pass along content not because of product, but because of friendships, whether online or, as they say, in “real life”. So a brand has to create communication that is honest and authentic.

We had great success with the McDonald’s “Why doesn’t my Big Mac look like the one in the pictures?” spot. In the end, the viewers of the piece were able to say “Ah, that makes sense.” Because it was real.

BN: So it’s possible to crack the code of “viral-ity”? I’ve seen mathematical formulas for that…

Lance: There’s an organization out there called “Brain Juicer” specializing in that, and they are apparently getting close to cracking the code. But in the end, it’s about emotion. The Cadbury gorilla is an example. A drum-playing gorilla? It makes people feel good, one way or another.

BN: DDB is a large agency. What are the challenges of being global and staying local at the same time?

Lance: We apply global values and philosophies and, in the Lower Mainland, we keep our hands on the social pulse and our eyes on the local values of the society. There are marketing campaigns that have been massively successful, such as Lululemon’s, and other high-profile campaigns that have been complete failures (I don’t want to say which). However, remember that Kokanee beer was marketed as being a BC company. That was their message. Buy locally. Then people found out that the beer was brewed in Ontario. Poof, there goes the brand!

BN: What challenges are marketers experiencing or going to experience, going forward?

Lance: If we look at the huge FMCGs (fast-moving consumer goods) companies such Unilever and P&G, they are generally still marketing from a playbook written in the 50s – this same book is still being used in universities too, I think. However, this is changing. Actually, P&G is a good example, as even they are challenging traditional marketing practice.

BN: What about you? What inspired you to go into the ad business?

Lance: When I was in university, I really liked sociology and psychology. And marketing and advertising is sort of the business side of that. When we’re doing a project targeting young women, I have to read what they read and watch what they watch to understand them. The same for a campaign targeting young men.

BN: What challenges do you experience personally?

Lance: It’s like the 50% rule – not knowing which 50% of your money is wasted, for example. For me, it’s about knowledge; recently, I have had to figure out which 50% of my knowledge and insight has little value, and which 50% I have to constantly improve, to keep my value and DDB’s value. The challenge never stops.

But here’s the thing. The society changes, marketing changes, the brand expectation changes, but people don’t. People always will want love, security, belonging, cachet…the emotions are the same. Tap into what people want on this basis. We have to tap into what is constant and what is timeless.

Get more details here and buy your tickets now for the January 31st BSS event. It is sure to sell out, and it will definitely reconfirm the “Come hungry. Leave full.” BSS maxim.

Bruce Nickson (@brucenix), who is a member of the BCAMA Marketline Committee, observes the local marketing scene and once held the fancy job title of Executive Director.