NAPLES, FLA. The need to put people and creativity back at the core of the ad business was the theme of back-to-back CEO addresses here today at the American Association of Advertising Agencies' Management Conference.
Publicis USA chairman and CEO Susan Gianinno, in an address titled "Are We There Yet?" simultaneously lauded the creative contributions of consumers over the past year while scolding the industry for ceding ground to amateurs.
"Consumers have had more freedom to [create]," she said. "They didn't really care if they sold Mentos and Coke, they didn't have to worry about budgets, there was no waiting for media plans. They had total freedom."
She continued, "Well, there are no excuses. We have a lot of freedom and creative license in our business, and we need to reclaim" creative leadership.
Along with consumer control comes a new level of engagement, she observed—a paradigm that advertisers can use to their advantage.
These days, when consumers see ads, it "means more than ever [that] they've chosen to be there" engaged in that media, she said. "When you've opted into something, by definition you're there because you want to be. So more and more the work we do is connecting to people who want to be involved."
Gianinno cited Dove's "Real Beauty" campaign by Ogilvy & Mather and Axe's Gamekillers program, created by Bartle Bogle Hegarty, as examples of efforts from the past year that drove a dialog rather than simply speaking to consumers.
Roy Spence, CEO of Omnicom Group's GSD&M, followed Gianinno with a heartfelt and humorous presentation about gaining a "return on individuals."
Spence spoke of his agency's efforts to support its employees and their families, making them central to the business, thereby creating a culture of "collaboration and creativity."
"If you treat the employees right, they'll treat the client right," he said.
The co-founder of the 35-year-old agency—who also briefly spoke of his upcoming attempt to walk across America 25 days at a time over the next several years—shared a number of lighthearted, occasionally profane stories. But his best reaction came from an opening joke:
"If a bunch of ad people are in the forest and there's no CMO there, are we still wrong?"
He also poked fun at his agency's unsuccessful defense of its share of the $570 million Wal-Mart business. Playing off the commonly cited statistic that incumbents stand only a 10 percent chance of retaining accounts, he showed a clip from the movie Dumb and Dumber that he also screened for Wal-Mart executives during the pitch.
The clip showed Jim Carrey's character asking a woman to give him an honest assessment of his chances of "ending up" with her. When she tells him, "One in a million," Carrey cries with joy: "So you're saying I have a chance!"
"You've got to have some fun, people," quipped Spence.