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A big lesson marketers should take into 2021? People matter

'In 2021 we need to refocus, quickly, on the human element of our work' / Strategic Finance Magazine

After a difficult year, we have been reminded of the importance and value of our people, consumers and marginalised communities, says Belinda Smith, WFA diversity ambassador and incoming chief executive of m/Six for the Americas.

It’s hard to tease out big takeaways from 2020. As we faced a global health crisis, as the Black Lives Matter movement spread around the globe and into demographic and socio-economic ranks that previously seemed impenetrable, and as the world’s economies continue to flirt with disaster, what really mattered was our humanity.

I’ve spent lots of time opining that our industry has become so narrowly focused on data, technology and automation that we’ve lost the plot. The tools are only as productive as the people who employ them. For a long time, we’ve tried to commoditise ourselves, but 2020 has given us painful examples of why this approach is wrongheaded.

In 2021, we need to refocus, quickly, on the human element of our work:

Ad (un)creative

When Covid-19 closed our offices overnight in 2020, it wasn’t technology that came to the rescue. As we scrambled to figure out how to respond in real-time, most rushed to overhaul ad creative. But employing dynamic creative principles by stitching together stock video, images, music or home-shot footage turned out to be a miserable reminder of how stuck we were. It was also a parody for the world to poke fun at.

The truth was that there wasn’t huge imperative for us to overhaul creative and we lost a lot of the distinctiveness of our brands in doing so. Many times, automation is a race to the same.

Waste and effectiveness

As we navigate through recessions and recovery around the globe, brands must apply new scrutiny to every dollar spent. We have to go back and do our homework on waste and effectiveness.

Left to an algorithm, we’d all end up competing for the lowest CPMs in a programmatic marketplace.

It takes human expertise to identify the real issues. We must confront the massive amount of waste found in cheap marketplaces and question what technology and new trends would have us do.

The latest Ebiquity research shows us that TV and other older media still have a job to do. Even in this age of hyper-streaming, online video may not be as productive as we intend.

New relationships

Covid has brought non-stop remote working, and teams must be ruthlessly aligned, maintain a sharp focus on operational excellence and accurately diagnose their business challenges in order to be successful.

In some cases, remote work has expanded old cracks, taking some relationships to a breaking point. Though the only thing worse than pitching over Zoom is listening to day-long pitches over Zoom, we’ve still seen some massive accounts including T-Mobile, Coca-Cola and Sanofi go up for review, with more to come.

While some of these reviews may be cost-driven, many are performance and partnership-driven. Having a shiny dashboard or sleek offices or a large expense account won’t help if the people and relationship aren’t right.

Talent is King

And finally, there are the people themselves.

It’s decades past time that our industry became equitable and inclusive, opening up to the beautiful diversity of the world and its customers.

As the summer of Black Lives Matter put diversity back in the spotlight, at the WFA we’ve seen this become a chief concern for brands and agencies.

Diversity is a large consideration in current and coming reviews. It’s about more than demographic data: it’s about your ability to hire, support, promote and reward the best talent in this industry.

Inability to create diverse workforces is a dangerous sign that we still haven’t mastered what really matters – people.

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