11 Takeaways from ANA Masters of Marketing

Why taking a stand is especially important in 2020, and more lessons from this year's virtual conference

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For this year’s ANA Masters of Marketing conference, brands gathered around the computer screen instead of down in Orlando, Florida. But the virtual event was still full of big names, from marketers like Delta, DoorDash, Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Lego, Walmart and more. Executives discussed the buzziest topics in marketing today, from brand safety issues surrounding hateful content on social media platforms to the renewed need for advertisers to take a stand on the year’s political and cultural upheaval.

On the virtual stage, top marketers from around the globe shared experiences and offered lessons and insights on the past year in advertising and how marketers can find success within their own organizations. Below, ten takeaways from the conference.

Eliminating hateful content on social platforms continues to be a priority.

But it’s not necessarily marketers’ responsibility to do so. That’s according to Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer of Procter & Gamble and ANA chairman, who said that the board had met with the platforms over the past week to “review plans and timelines for eliminating hateful content.” However, Pritchard said that the bulk of the responsibility should be on the platforms to control the content. For marketers, their job is to “spend time on creativity, innovation, doing good, and driving growth,” rather than “wasting time monitoring bad content.”

Corporate philanthropy goes hand-in-hand with financial success.

This year’s events have made taking a stand and working towards positive change a non-negotiable for brands. But what’s important for companies to realize, Manos Spanos, Danone’s SVP Brand Marketing said, is that it’s not just about being a necessary PR move, but an essential one for the success of the brand as a whole, too.”Good for business and good for the planet is not a mutually exclusive thing,” he said. “Use your brands to do more.”

Use difficult moments as learning opportunities.

Facebook is still reckoning with an advertiser boycott that led to over 1,000 companies pulling their ad dollars from the platform. But Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s vice president of global marketing solutions, said that it was a further push for the company to find solutions and make bigger moves when it came to combating hateful content on its websites and apps, like a stronger crackdown on QAnon content. “It was a very rough summer, the most difficult summer I’ve ever had professionally for sure. But sometimes, through those most difficult moments you understand what really matters, and actions matter,” she said. “I’m thankful for the push we got because I think it’s making us better.”

Having ambitions as a brand is more than just a goal, it’s about exerting influence.

For General Motors, using that influence is about more than convincing consumers to buy a GM automobile; it’s about the company leading the charge in the transition to electric vehicles. That’s the word from CMO Deborah Wahl. “In stating that mission, GM was accepting responsibility for many things that are not within our direct control, but they are within our influence,” she said. “To meet this commitment, we will need to reshape global transportation. And most importantly, we need to convince everybody that drives to switch to electric.”

Recognize the power of advertising, and how it’s been negatively wielded in the past.

Esi Eggleston Bracey, Chief Operating Officer, Unilever N.A. Beauty and Personal Care, said that it’s undeniable that advertising has been used—whether consciously or not—to perpetuate stereotypes. The Black community has been a particular victim of this form of bias. Marketers, she said, need to not only be conscious of that, but actively work to make change. One way Unilever is doing so is through The Crown Act, which stands for “Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.” The law, which Dove has supported, will prohibit race-based hair discrimination and has passed in seven states.

See the positive, and push it into the spotlight.

Ivan Pollard, CMO at General Mills, said that in today’s cultural moment, where cynicism runs rampant and negative headlines are unavoidable, it’s up to brands to focus on the positive. Great storytelling, as well as good work, can do a lot to combat societal negativity. Danone’s Spanos agreed. “Where others see a problem, we need to see an opportunity,” he said. “We need to be agents of positive change.”

Think one step ahead.

The Campbell Soup Company enjoyed an unexpected windfall during March, as Americans rushed to supermarkets and stocked up on shelf-stable items. But Campbell predicted, correctly, that the hoarding stage would pass and lockdown fatigue would set in. That is why the brand (partnering with publisher Meredith) was prepared for the next round. As Campbell’s vp of global media and marketing services Marci Raible explained, customers responded very well to Campbell ads featuring recipes and meal planners. These ads taught consumers (especially those who are not wizards in the kitchen) how to prepare simple, quick and wholesome meals—ones that just happened to include products in the Campbell’s family. “We had to really think,” Raible said, “of how we bring value into consumers’ lives.”

Go beyond products in marketing.

As Lego’s evp and global chief marketing officer Julia Goldin will tell you, the most effective marketing doesn’t have to flog a new product. Citing Lego’s “Let’s Build Together” effort kicked off in the early days of the pandemic, Goldin explained that the purpose was solely to encourage kids and their parents (who were all pretty much stuck at home at the time) to play with Legos together. “We didn’t push any products,” she said. Instead, the effort was about “encouraging families to build with the bricks they already had at home.” The result? The effort reached an estimated 83 million people worldwide and recorded a 40% increase in engagement on Lego’s social platforms.

Dig into brand roots.

Most every brand claims to be purpose-driven these days. But for legendary cognac brand Hennessey, its sense of “purpose” was set by 18th century soldier who founded the company in 1765. Mathilde Delhoume, global brand officer for parent company LVMH Holding Group, explained that Hennessey’s mantra of “Never stop, Never settle” was inspired by the life of Richard Hennessey, who left Ireland for France in the mid 18th century and fought for Louis XV. He was said to have overcame many obstacles to establish the cognac brand that bears his name. Accordingly, Hennessey’s latest campaign “celebrates those who never stop and never settle in pursuit of excellence,” Delhoume explained, citing the example of Jamaican-American chess grandmaster Maurice Ashley, who is featured in one of the brand’s current videos. The ad tells the story of how Ashley learned to play chess on the public tables in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park and his rise to becoming a champion of the game.

Allow major moments to show the way for the future.

William White, CMO of Walmart, pointed to the company’s response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 not only as an example of the retailer’s past efforts to help make the world better place, but also as an inflection point. In the aftermath of the devastating natural disaster, he talked about how Walmart coordinated its emergency response center with its logistics team to deliver critical supplies to first responders and victims when the government was unable to. He also claimed that Walmart was the first retailer to open its stores in the flood zone to ensure communities had access to essential items. That response served as a rough blueprint for how Walmart has come to the aid of communities affected by the wildfires raging out west.

@dianapearl_ diana.pearl@adweek.com Diana is the brand marketing editor at Adweek and managing editor of Brandweek.