Ad Week Social Media Panel: ‘This Isn’t Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’

With the first day of Advertising Week drawing to a close, lots of people gathered for one of the final panel discussions of Monday afternoon: “The New Customer Engagement Model.”

On the panel: Stephanie Agresta, EVP of strategy and social media at Porter Novelli; Bonin Bough, director of digital and social media at PepsiCo; founder of Marc Ecko Clothing, Marc Ecko; and Garth Holsinger, business and global sales director of, a site that measures and ranks online influencers. The discussion was moderated by Coltrane Curtis, CEO of Team Epiphany.

The long and short of the discussion was that the new customer engagement model is social media. There was mention at the beginning of specifically targeting millennials, but that quickly went away and the discussion turned into a broader Q&A about how to successfully use the Web to engage with audiences.

Marc Ecko saw commonalities between communications now and when he started in the 1990s: he was trying to do something viral (stickers with the Marc Ecko logo were a fixture around the city for a little while) and the “consumer’s desire to connect in a countercultural way.” And he focused on the emotional connection that consumers have to feel in order to be inspired to talk about a brand. “There’s something you can’t measure in that,” he remarked at one point.

At other points, he veered off on a tangent  mid-response with the American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten and the Declaration of Independence somehow figuring into one of his responses. Ultimately he was of the mind that “this isn’t Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” and brands need to “snap the hell out of it. It’s not that deep.” OK.

Stephanie Agresta brought a more traditional PR point of view to the table, focused on the integration of digital and traditional media. As an example, she used a popular blogger meet-up event she organized at SXSW. “Relationships only go so far in just digital,” she said.

Bonin Bough tied social media back to PepsiCo’s business. A Gatorade program, “Mission Control,” specifically targeted “athletes, athlete influencers, and sideline moms,” for instance. Interestingly, even the choice of a celebrity spokesperson was tied to the business. “We’re looking for celebrities with a good digital footprint,” he said, emphasizing that it should be someone who’s actually interacting with audiences and enjoying it, like Shaquille O’Neal. Stephanie Agresta said Alyssa Milano was a top social media media celeb, and Garth Holsinger, Lady Gaga.

Finally, Holsinger focused on what it is that does – provide a scientific measurement online influencers. That doesn’t just include celebrities. Rather, his focus is on real people. Echoing recent research, he doesn’t tie the number of followers to influence. “We’re interested in when people tweet, something happens,” he said. An interesting factoid that made the audience gasp: Holsinger said that Las Vegas casinos The Palms and The Venetian tie guests to their scores and will upgrade influential guests. To be a high roller in Vegas, you have to get your social media on.

Also interesting, Holsinger was of the opinion that paying people to tweet is “a dead end.” Add your thoughts to that discussion after the comments.