The Power We All Hold

For the last decade or so, the dominant narrative in the marketing industry has focused on following, not leading. Catching up and keeping pace as technology re-shapes the world.

The story is grounded in truth but it misses something crucial. It underplays the power we marketers hold. And the responsibility that comes with this power. Now, with tech facing a rising backlash on multiple fronts, there are signs that this story is changing and our industry is rediscovering its voice—and its conscience. Let’s take a moment to pause and reflect.

  • At the IAB’s recent leadership meeting, Unilever CMO Keith Weed took leading social platforms to task, vowing to stop spending on platforms that “breed division in society”.

  • This marks a significant shift. Previous criticisms from Weed and other top CMO’s have focused on issues like ad viewability and brand safety. This new stance reflects a broader view of our industry’s accountability. As Weed says, “This has moved from being from an industry issue to a societal issue.”
  • Weed is particularly worried about safeguarding public trust in advertising and media. He’s right to be concerned. Edelman’s 2018 Trust Barometer shows that trust is on the decline, especially in the US. Other relevant findings: 70% of people around the world are worried about fake news. And 60% are concerned about the state of the media industry.
  • YouTube have promised to act on Weed’s concerns. But Mark Ritson thinks the impact of the CMO’s public stance will likely be minimal. When compared to the might of the duopoly, he argues, “Unilever is just a mosquito on the back of two elephants”.
  • Ritson may be right. But it would be a mistake to think of marketers as powerless. Maybe the platforms have grown too powerful for us to influence. But let’s remember—we gave them much of that power in the first place.
  • The real question: now that we have (re)awoken to our power to shape our industry—and our responsibility to use that power well—what will we do next? Umair Haque has a suggestion: “The time has come for ads to be allies and partners in people’s quest for better lives — not just little predators, looking to attack them, whenever they are vulnerable.”
  • If re-inventing advertising feels like a tall order, here’s a simpler suggestion—redouble your efforts to embrace real customer-centricity. After all, the best way to serve society as a whole is to serve the individuals that make it up. And here’s some more good news—research from Bain shows makes clear what we should already know: customer-centricity is also great for business.


John Ounpuu
Issue #38
Feb 18, 2018

Further Reading