Miles Nadal is the chairman and CEO of MDC, which has stakes in advertising agencies such as Crispin Porter + Bogusky, Zyman Group, Kirshenbaum Bond+Partners. He sat down with us to talk about the advertising business and how his firm’s biggest clients—BMW, Burger King and Microsoft among them—are grappling with new ways to reach their customers.
Q: What’s the biggest change in what advertisers expect from the changes in the media landscape?
Nadal: Accountability is presenting the biggest change, the biggest challenge, but also the greatest opportunity. Something interesting we’ve seen in past year or two is the transformation of media from essentially just a delivery vehicle to a platform for community participation. Media is now social, so the model is no longer unidirectional – from advertiser to audience – but multilevel and multilateral. Advertising is now about dialogue since the audience is no longer mute but can respond to the campaign and, even more importantly, participate and even alter the campaign. This is an enormous change. With the audience directly involved in campaigns, accountability will be not just an expectation but a condition for advertisers who will look beyond the simplistic, and now outdated, correlation between media dollars and reach.
Q: What’s driving social media?
Nadal: The success of social media is due to the rise in the culture of celebrity. The definition of true fame is visibility. There is an intimate emotional attachment that people feel with that. Even if social media represents a conceptual transformation, its core — this emotional attachment — is the core of all advertising. If you go back to the advent to what made advertising successful, it was the ability to tell a story that made consumers have an emotional attachment with brands. This is what social media does in today’s celebrity focused cultural environment.
Q: How do agencies do that now?
Nadal: The smart agencies are working to create a new set of rules because at critical times the only thing that really resonates is a drastic but very bold break from convention. That is exactly what happened with the Burger King Whopper Freakout and Coke Zero Lawyers campaigns – convention was broken in creative, not destructive, ways and the campaigns were wildly successful.
There’s an epiphany arising in the industry as people are really realising that not challenging conventional wisdom means taking on a very serious risk of ending up creatively calcified and financially stagnant.
As we’re all bombarded with messaging these days, an idea that resonates emotionally has to be much more powerful, personal, and distinct. Raising eyebrows is not enough. Campaigns needs to instill a sense of wonder in the audience.
Q: Is that what the Microsoft campaign is about?
Nadal: There’s a new campaign breaking that’s focusing on price competitiveness of PC vs. a Mac.
It started with the Bill Gates-Jerry Seinfeld spots. As we were measuring impact, it did humanize the brand. It made people look at the brand differently. You can’t look at brand building as a point in time; all of this stuff has been additive. The “I’m a PC” campaign continued that. Now, they are hitting on affordability of brands and cost effectiveness, which is what resonates with consumers.
Q: Is that what clients want?
Nadal: Clients want big ideas that are measurable, accountable, and drive performance. They’re asking, “What work are we doing that’s really working? Let’s invest more in that. What are we doing that is not working? Let’s eliminate that.”
In the case of the Whopper Freak Out campaign, the reason it was a success is not that it became viral. It was successful, and we can even say it went viral, because it was a big idea that could provide accountability but could also drive performance. The key, the thing that clients want and need, are big, accountable, performance-driving ideas that can use virality and social media as tools to extend reach and engagement
The old rule was that you could buy a certain level of exposure. Today, the creative department makes more of the impact. Money by itself won’t bring success since you can’t just go out and buy a critical mass of exposure in social media.
The Whopper Freakout showed, if the idea is good enough the social media will actually pay you back with exposure and participation. This is exactly what happened when all the Whopper Freakout parodies popped up on YouTube and made the campaign huge without anyone spending an extra dime. It was priceless.
For the BMW Mini work, we didn’t have the budget to do conventional car advertising, so we put Minis in stadiums, shopping centres and mounted them on Ford Expeditions. The people from BMW in Germany came and wanted to see impact. There was no conclusion of measured impact. But they saw that everywhere there was a stoplight, people would whip out their cameras.
Q: What’s the outlook for next year?
Nadal: We’ll be seeing low-to-mid single-digit declines in the overall ad spend. People are being much tougher on getting greater value for their money, some sectors hit harder. Clearly agencies will be working harder for the revenue.
MDC, however is a market share gainer, and we think we will be able to grow even if the industry continues to decline. We’re bullish on digital and integrated media, but we’re also looking forward to seeing a groundswell of innovation coming out of the pressures of this market.
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