BEVERLY HILLS, CALIF. JWT worldwide chairman and CEO Bob Jeffrey opened Nielsen Business Media's Next Big Idea Conference here yesterday with a broadside against current industry practices, declaring that in stressing "execution over ideas" agencies were responsible for "dumbing down" brands.
In a separate presentation, Pete Blackshaw, evp of strategic services at Nielsen Online, also focused on brand intelligence as he explained how companies can "defensively" market their wares by turning negative trends in the marketplace to their advantage.
Blackshaw showed how the demonstrable surge in the percentage of blog traffic surrounding consumer crises such as the Mattel toy and pet-food recalls represent opportunities for brands to talk to consumers. "What do you do with a spike of negative buzz?" he asked. "Are you accountable for the solution?"
Companies should learn to "manage around the spikes, listen, react" and move money online—allocating more resources to buying defensive keyword searches, for example—and "put as much energy into the angry buzz as fostering the happy buzz."
For his part, Jeffrey challenged the notion that consumer choice and consumer-generated content equate to being in "greater control." Instead, Jeffrey said, consumers are cast in a "constant decision-making" mode about everything from who represents an authority to who is more entertaining.
"The relationship between the brands and their core truths are crumbling," Jeffrey said. "And we are all responsible for these trends."
In a talk called "21st Century Brand Building: Swimming Against the Current," Jeffrey said that the industry has entered an era of "rampant promiscuity" in which client, consumer and agency had all become "brand sluts" without loyalty to one another.
Showing how the agency had turned a Domino's Pizza $9.99 promotion into a successful viral Internet video with eBay featuring a "spoiled brat" unhappy with her car, Jeffrey said the effort exploited the deal but did not build the brand.
He cited as "iconic brands swimming against the current" companies such as Apple, Whole Foods and Harley-Davison as well as "non-brand slut" JWT clients De Beers and JetBlue. "They have reignited the primacy of the brand," he said. "In talking about the brands, the conversations get more interesting."
Quoting a 100-year-old motto from the archives of JWT, Jeffrey said the modern agency had to learn how to mingle the "good old things and the good new things."
Jeffrey called for an end to what he called "idea racism." He said the new brand-building model is "not authoritative, not status-quo driven, more multicultural, more fluid and more open minded."
"Checking all the boxes is not equal to doing the right thing," Jeffrey said. "To become masters of collaboration, we need to adopt a different point of view."
The Next Big Idea Conference continues through today at the Beverly Hilton. Adweek is a unit of Nielsen Business Media.