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It Was A Very Good Year

It Was A Very Good Year

Max Valiquette helps companies, organizations, and brands find solutions to their problems by better understanding their employees, customers, and communities. He was named one of Canada’s “Most Influential Marketers” by Marketing magazine, and has worked with some of the biggest brands around the world. His varied expertise makes him one of the most sought-after public speakers on media, marketing, and youth culture. In a recent article for Strategy magazine, Max looks at how despite the changing global landscape, marketing has never been more innovative or interesting:

Depending on your outlook, or your network, you may have thought 2014 was another difficult year for Canadian marketers. Globalization threatens us more than ever, programmatic marketing will take away our jobs, agency services are being taken over by the least likely of sources, and budgets are shrinking like George Costanza after a cold swim.

But hasn’t it always been this way? We’ve always worked in the shadow of giants. Media dollars have always reallocated from existing channels to new ones. Brands have moved to and from new agency models for decades (in fact, it’s almost a quarter of a century since Coca-Cola moved all its work in-house, and about 15 years since it moved everything back out again). These things will never stop changing.

The fundamentally entrepreneurial, creative nature of our industry and the people who power it means we will develop new models; we will always have to respond to the dual pressures of client needs and new developments in media and technology. Canadian marketers feel all sorts of pressure; but what is pressure if not a force that turns coal into diamonds?

Great ideas are shining more brightly now, and it’s not in spite of the pressures and changes inherent in the industry – it’s because of them.

Agencies no longer view different models as a threat, but rather as inspiration. PR firms are hiring creative directors with traditional agency backgrounds (which makes me think the reverse is bound to happen, too) and it’s leading to true, idea-driven marketing that crosses all channels. Some of our best digital creative directors are taking the “digital” right out of their titles as they move into the executive ranks, and are building TV-ready campaigns that happen to get their premiere in pre-roll. We’ve always said good ideas can come from anywhere; we’re now building our structures, or eliminating them entirely, to do just that.

As consumers have become more informed about what makes a brand matter to them, we’ve also (finally!) embraced cause-related marketing as a critical element of any good brand’s DNA. Take empowered, female-directed marketing, for instance. Where Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” was once notable for the singularity of its message, today brands like Verizon, Facebook and P&G – whose “#LikeAGirl” may be the best of the lot – are all adding their voices to the mix.

We’re also living in an amazing era of new brands and new businesses, as startups grow with dizzying speed and their need for great marketing grows with it. We’ve never had so many new brands and businesses to work on.

And programmatic – maybe the most terrifying words to traditional marketers – needn’t be all that scary. At its worst, it sounds like the Skynet of marketing – machines that do the work of humans, and may eventually lead to our extinction.

In this, the most digital of ages, the tools that threaten to replace human creativity are actually the ones that most enable it when used properly. To wit: we created a terrific campaign for the Government of Ontario’s Youth Jobs Strategy in which we used the very principles that govern programmatic marketing (automation, hyper-targeting) to create a dozen executions that were served up to young people based on their search queries in YouTube. It also worked within a larger insight, in which we praised young people for spending time watching online videos, rather than admonishing them for it, and related this back to the ambition needed to find a job.

I’ve been in this industry for almost 20 years. And from day one, I’ve heard four things: budgets are shrinking, digital will kill creative marketing, agency services will be offered by non-agencies, and agency networks will swallow us all. We may never be free of these pressures, it’s true. But if necessity is the mother of invention, then this is a very inventive time to work in advertising, indeed.

By Max Valiquette/Strategy/October, 2014