How brands can ditch short-termism and build for long-term advertising success

From left to right: The Drum's Rebecca Stewart talks to Finola McDonnell, Zaid Al-Zaidy and Al Young

The twists and turns of the Nescafe Gold Blend couple, the homespun anecdotes from the Oxo family and Aleksandr Orlov's mammalian antics have a lot in common with each other - they're all highly successful long-term campaigns. And they were each created by marketers with an eye on the next decade, rather than the next quarter.

But as the general public become thick-skinned to brands' advances and the working cycle of marketers speeds up - the average tenure of a chief marketing officer is now just 18 months - marketers are in danger of forgetting the lessons learned from the successful campaigns of the past and turning to short-term tactics to boost their brands.

At The Drum's Future of Marketing conference, Al Young, chief creative officer at FCB Inferno, Finola McDonnell, chief communications and marketing officer at the Financial Times and Zaid Al-Zaidy, chief executive officer of The Beyond Collective discussed how marketers can practice long-term thinking and stop focusing only on the immediate future.

Say no to nostalgia

While some of the best advertising campaigns now lie in the past, McDonnell asserted that it was important for brands to look forward. Considering the 130-year history of the Financial Times, she said: "How do we marry that historical legacy - which is even reflected in the colour of our paper, compared to our rivals - and not rest on our laurels?"

Speaking from experience as a former marketer for Lynx, Al-Zaidy suggested that long-term thinking allowed brands to secure their future. Reflecting on the brand's past use of laddish humour in its adverts, he said: "Lynx built fame for itself but it had to update to fit in with modern behaviour. And it's been continually reinventing what Lynx means since those days."

Be practical about purpose

"The New York Times, The Washington Post and Nike are each selling their brand as a proxy for democratic participation," noted McDonnell, who suggested that the same approach would not suit every brand, including her own title. "That isn't what we are. This rush into the political space by brands, it's opportunistic but it's not long-term thinking. We try to think more philosophically about what we can do that others don't."

According to Al-Zaidy, "hijacking culture is great if it matches a consistent set of principles." He explained that if political expressions from brands don't match pre-existing values, they will only function as short-term statements, and that brands must "understand their value in the world" if they are to use purpose effectively.

Reject data dependency

Citing Nike's long-running "Just Do It' campaign, Young said: "It's the supreme example of a big, simple idea. It's an organising idea, a simple though that any creative can pick up on and add to. It's about creating a legacy. It's not necessarily about a line - or a meerkat. There's a point of view. 'Just Do It' is about the way the brand views the world and it's an invitation for consumers to agree with them."

He laid the decline of long-term advertising thinking at the door of data dependency. "Everyone is short-termist now. Data can tell you in seconds whether a decision was smart or not. We're measured in a more ruthless way than when I started in the industry in the 90s. And it's led to a kind of stasis where no one wants to make any big decisions".

Young suggested that all long-term campaigns - from Tony the Tiger to the Energizer bunny - revolved around a single organising thought. McDonnell agreed, but suggested that long-term campaigns could leave room for the smart use of data. She said: "You have to have consistency so that you can take advantage of new technologies, new talent, new cultural zeitgeists when they come along."

The Drum has launched a campaign encouraging advertisers and marketers to work with long-term objectives in mind. At this year's Advertising Awards, The Drum will present a special award to the best long-term ad campaign of all time, as selected by a specialist panel of industry judges. The shortlisted campaigns include 'Vorsprung Durch Technik' by Audi, 'Should've gone to Specsavers' and Nike's 'Just Do It'.

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