Industry News

2021 Best of The West event recap

Marketers are confronting a whole new playing field as the economy emerges from the pandemic. Not only did the stay-at-home measures change consumer purchasing and media consumption habits, but several other events are coinciding with that shift: the phasing out of browser cookies and the introduction of data-protection and privacy laws that stand to reshape business as usual for advertisers.

Those shifts were the focus of the second virtual gathering of “Best of the West,” a collaboration among some of the biggest ad agencies on the Pacific: ThinkLA, SFBig, ThinkNW and LVIMA. The event sponsored by Future and T-Mobile Marketing Solutions served to harness the collective knowledge of West Coast advertisers, brands and agencies on areas where they are taking the lead -- including innovations in film and tech, privacy protection and purpose-driven marketing.

“We do things differently out west and we’re constantly seeking to pioneer new fronts in marketing,” Doug Zanger, director of brand purpose communications at The Martin Agency, who is based in Portland, Ore., said as he kicked things off.

In the keynote address, futurist Dietmar Dahmen set the stage by recapping the last year in advertising and highlighting the opportunities created by the chaos amid the pandemic.

“Chaos is not necessarily negative,” he said. “In this state, everything is possible.”

As companies moved online, they had an opportunity to reimagine what they did beyond the four walls of their physical presence. Businesses can “use this crisis to dare the new,” Dahmen said.

His presentation cued up the next talk perfectly, as FAST TV CEO Stuart McLean interviewed Alessandro Uzielli, who leads global brand entertainment for Ford Motor Co. Uzielli discussed the innovative ways that Ford has collaborated with Hollywood, not just on product placement but on creating its own films. “A Faster Horse,” the documentary commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Ford Mustang, which played at the Tribeca Film Festival and is available on Netflix.

“While you can call it branded content, it’s a great documentary,” Uzielli said.

California and the future of privacy

The next panel focused on privacy and data-protection being introduced across the US. California has taken the lead by passing the California Consumer Privacy Act on the heels of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation.

Marketers need to manage themselves and data or they can expect much stricter regulations in the future, warned Sheila Colclasure, global chief digital responsibility and public privacy officer for Kinesso.

“It’s time for the industry to be accountable,” she said. “It is both a challenge and an opportunity.”

The speakers debated whether a federal privacy law is inevitable, with Wayne Mathis, co-founder of SafeGuard Privacy, making the case that such a law would be unconstitutional. Instead, he predicted minimal federal regulation along with a patchwork of state privacy regulations that could complicate matters for marketers.

“The industry needs to wake up and self-regulate,” he said, “before it finds itself heavily regulated.”

Jules Polonetsky, CEO of the Future of Privacy Forum, took a different stance, arguing that “the regulation is here and it’s inevitable.” What marketers can do at this point is play a role in defining how they are regulated by establishing industry best practices, he added.

Polonetsky also noted that marketers need to consider how targeting can be discriminatory and remedy that issue, particularly in automated and programmatic advertising. Just as a bank would be in trouble if it only issued loans to people of one race, so can advertisers expect to be held accountable for how they present ads in the future, he said.

“We don’t want to force you to market the Porsche to the person who can’t buy the Porsche, but maybe there are offers that appear unseemly,” he said. “If automated processing is happening, you need to show what you did or how you did it.”

The post-pandemic data potential

How people consume media shifted amid the pandemic, and the following discussion focused on what marketers should be doing as a result.

Miles Fisher, head of ad sales and strategy at T-Mobile, shared how the cellphone company sees the potential of mobility data in improving how marketers reach the right audiences. The apps consumers have on their phones and the frequency at which they use them can provide valuable insight, he noted.

“We know if you have Strava on your phone, you’re a runner, but if you open it for an hour every morning, you’re a bigtime runner,” Fisher said.

Such data could help marketers become more sophisticated in their targeting efforts, something they must do as establishing relationships with consumers becomes more important than ever, Visa Chief Brand and Innovation Marketing Officer Chris Curtin said. With browser cookies being eliminated, “There’s going to be a pronounced focus on engagement,” he predicted.

“It’s not going to be, ‘We bought a right to speak to you,’ but, ‘We’re going to invest in a relationship,’” he said. “It’s a complete shift in mindset.”

Curtin also noted rapid tech adoption occurred during the pandemic and said companies can either choose to return to normal after the crisis or “return to better.”

Brand campaigns amid crisis

JC Hospitality LLC, majority owner of Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, is a case in point of a brand that returned to better. The resort opened on March 25 after a 13-month renovation of The Hard Rock Hotel that just so happened to coincide with the pandemic.

Chad Brown, vice president of marketing for JC Hospitality, shared with the Best of the West audience how the company managed to show a national television commercial in the fall. They had to navigate many obstacles and pay extra fees to pull it off, but it was important to run an ad because people were starting to plan their 2021 travel, he noted.

“We wanted to be top of mind. We really needed to get out there and start telling our story,” he said.

The Las Vegas Raiders are another brand that have emerged strong from the pandemic. Brandon Doll, senior vice president of strategy and business development, said a key advantage was that the franchise decided from the onset not to have fans in the stadium during the 2020-21 season, while other teams navigated contingencies. The decision allowed them to focus their energies on how to welcome people when they could come back.

In the meantime, Doll and his team ginned up interest in the team’s new stadium, which opened in July 2020, by inviting people on their lead list for small-group tours.

“A lot of the organic content that we’ve been able to capture as people have gotten into the building and seen what it’s about has just organically driven demand,” he said. “We’re finding that maybe we don’t have to do as big of a grand opening.”

What purpose means to marketers

The pandemic is not the only event that has reshaped the landscape for marketers in the past year. Social unrest and a national conversation on racism have prompted many brands to evaluate who their customers are and how to do a better job of widening that base.

Brands have been pushed to become relevant to more people, and that’s a good thing, said Natalie Bowman, managing director of marketing and advertising at Alaska Airlines. The Seattle-based company has been outspoken about its own commitment to advance diversity and equity.

In addition to establishing goals around representation, company culture and public leadership, the airline partnered with United Negro College Fund to paint an aircraft as a visual representation and reminder of that commitment.

“We have a very progressive board in the sense that they push our leadership to be even more visible in that space,” Bowman said.

Kevin Carroll, founder of Katalyst, said more brands are feeling emboldened to speak up about the values they share with their customers -- although he added that big brands face more challenges in doing so.

“Smaller brands have the ability to pivot,” he noted, adding, “It’s an amazing moment for brands.”