Editor’s note: this is transcribed from Steve Wehrenberg’s keynote address delivered to marketing/business professors at the Marketing Management Association fall conference.
Thank you for the kind introduction. It’s really quite an honor to be among fellow educators.
Last fall, my alma mater, Augsburg College, asked me to take part in their executive speaker series. They wanted me to talk about advertising and ethical accountability. And I was to give my speech in their chapel.
So I came up with what I thought was an appropriate title for the setting: Can You Find Truth in Advertising?
(Click to view slides that accompany this narrative.)
But you’ve been discussing Millennials this week. So I’m also going to address the question: Can Millennials Find Truth in Advertising?
The irony in all of this was what Augsburg had embossed on my diploma 34 years ago: Through Truth to Freedom. A powerful thought. A spiritual message. An ethical promise. Through Truth to Freedom.
Shaped by that mantra, I chose a career in one of the least trusted, least respected and most questionably ethical professions in America: Advertising.
Here’s how the public views my industry:
“So Steve, how would you like to give a speech in a chapel at your alma mater about finding truth in advertising?”
Let’s examine truth. This how good Lutherans might define it: truth (n.) 1. fidelity, constancy; 2. sincerity in action, character and utterance, 3. fact.
But in the real world, the world of business, the world of politics and the world of advertising, the truth is much, much more complex.
Take a look at this clip from a top-rated cable TV show The Closer. The detective lieutenant is about to be deposed and asks his boss for advice. [Video clip includes this dialogue: “What are we going to say in those depositions?” “Just the truth?” “The truth, yes; but first, shouldn’t we all agree as to what that is?”]
The truth is often grey when we’d like it to be black or white.
As Buddha said: “Believe only what you yourself test and judge to be true.”
One person’s truth is another’s lie.
We like to play a game at our All Hands meetings when we introduce new leaders: Two Truths and a Lie. So let’s put your judgment to the test.
Indicate by show of hands when you can spot the Lie about my alma mater Augsburg College in the following list of statements:
Those of you who guessed that number two is the lie are correct. Augsburg IS the largest Lutheran college in the country, but only 24 percent of its students are Lutheran. Regarding ethnic diversity, 31 percent of day college students and 40 percent of incoming freshmen are people of color.
Think about how your own impressions and associations of Augsburg influenced your thinking about the truths about Augsburg.
And because truth is personal, truth can be reframed.
We can reframe things ourselves, not based on how the objective world influences us, but by how we represent and interpret the outside world. Here’s an example found in our nearby suburbs:
“Executive Home” -- A sign of status to the suburban, overachiever. But the same home can be reframed as “McMansion,” a sign of gluttony, tackiness and overconsumption.
The difficulty, then, is that we often think that we are being objective about how we interpret the world in order to understand the truth, when we really aren’t.
So given how tricky truth is, as a concept, “Can You Find Truth in Advertising?”
My answer, after 30 years in the business, is YES. Yes, you can find truth in advertising. Because, in advertising, and especially with Millennials, nothing works better than the truth.
THREE WAYS TO FIND TRUTH IN ADVERTISING
Let me lay out my thesis: There are three ways to find truth in advertising:
The truths advertising often seeks to tap are found in those dreams, passions, values and beliefs that swirl around in our collective subconscious: Myths. That swirlorama is real to us.
Brands, which are the associations and perceptions in people’s hearts and minds, can tap these myths, or universal truths, as archetypes, to tell their stories. Archetypes are found in religion, literature and even films.
Here’s a grid with axes reflecting our higher order needs of “stability versus change” and “belonging versus independence.” We’ve plotted signature archetypes along with Minnesota colleges and universities against the grid. You might think about where your institution lies.
Notice how Archetypes can work as psychological magnets, pushing and pulling us toward these higher order needs. Archetypes work like an identity myth, tapping into a hidden desire and helping a brand tell a compelling story.
The University of Minnesota, for example, where I teach, has been redefining its story from that of the largest Minnesota institution of higher learning to an organization that leads in research and innovation: Driven to Discover. It’s moving from the Ruler archetype to the Explorer.
In the late ‘80s we created a simple, compelling story around the Explorer Archetype for Yuppie baby boomers, who were starting to feel like they’d sold out a bit too much.
This TV spot created whole new category of cars, the Sports Utility Vehicle. [Video plays: Jeep “Row Row Row Your Boat” spot.]
But what’s today’s Millennial Auto Explorer Archetype? I would conjecture: the ZipCar.
Millennials’ identities are more fulfilled through access than ownership. Car sales among Millennials have plummeted for a bunch of economic reasons. But another reason is the emergence of the Sharing Economy or Collaborative Consumption.
We did some proprietary research last year about this trend. This chart outlines our findings, demonstrating that when Rational Benefits (Me) meet Emotional Benefits (We), brands like ZipCar win.
Hence, Zip Car is their new auto Explorer archetype, while giving them accessibility over ownership.
Another kind of advertising truth is based on consumer insights.
As Galileo put it, “All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.”
An insight is often a human truth hiding in plain sight.
One of our industry’s most profound and famous insights was about how people use milk. It goes with food—brownies, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and chocolate chip cookies. And if you think about running out of milk at the wrong time, it’s traumatic.
This TV spot became a powerful metaphor for “Don’t Let This Happen to You” and drove a resurgence in milk sales. [Video plays: classic “Got Milk?” spot.]
We needed an insight like that to help sell Land O Lakes® Butter to Millennial Moms, who don’t embrace its heritage the way Baby Boomers do.
Millennials respond to authenticity. And their enjoyment of food comes not only from its taste but knowledge.
So we supported Land O Lakes Butter positioning of “simple goodness” through a story about how it comes from Family Farms. And we delivered the first ever all-digital campaign for a brand we helped build over the past 80 years primarily through magazine advertising.
The banner and rich media effort drove millennial moms to landing pages where they could get recipes and get to know real farm families. The results delivered a significant impact with a limited budget: a 15 percent increase in sales, with more than 200 percent return on the advertising investment.
We applied this Millennial insight about food authenticity to our new client, Popeyes.
Here’s a crazy new effort designed to unveil the hidden truth about how competitors’ chicken tenders go directly from freezer to fryer. [Video plays: “Freezer to Fryer” Vote Handcrafted spot.]
With a series of web videos, we’re attempting to create shared content and earned media impressions for our Handcrafted Tenders promotion.
One of our former CEOs worked for the Nixon administration. He often would attribute the quote “Sometimes you’ve got to lie for a higher truth” to H. R. Haldeman, a former Madison Avenue ad guy and chief of staff to President Nixon. It reflected the administration’s ethics — it’s o.k. to lie for a higher truth.
Millennials can sniff that out like blood hounds. When they do they can quickly become brand haters in the social space.
So brands and marketers who push, bend or obfuscate the truth do so at their own peril.
Millennials, in fact, have high levels of engagement with causes and seek out brands with ethics.
Brands like our client Chipotle have found out that ethics and truth of purpose sell. Chipotle ties all of its marketing activities to a clearly defined brand purpose: Food With Integrity. To founder Steve Els, this is about “finding the very best ingredients raised with respect for the animals, the farmers and the environment.”
If you watched the Grammys last March, you may have seen the first ever 2-minute commercial we placed for them featuring Willie Nelson singing Cold Play’s “The Scientist.” And here’s a short video that highlights an award-winning program our media team developed to engage Millennials for Chipotle: The Junk Free Lunch. [Video plays: Junk Free Lunch case study.]
On hundred years ago, H.K. McCann linked Truth to everything that matters in our business, by placing the phrase “Truth Well Told” on their company seal. And, McCann, the largest global ad firm and the parent division of the publicly traded Interpublic Group, which owns Campbell Mithun, still does today.
So, fellow educators, you can find truth in advertising. Because, in advertising, and especially when targeting Millennials, nothing works better than the truth.
Recently, my wife Sue and I attended the NSAC District 8 awards dinner (National Student Advertising Competition, sponsored by the American Advertising Federation). Campbell Mithun sponsored the event. And the organizers asked me to speak.
“What’s NSAC?” Sue asked.
Her question sparked an idea. Now I had my speech.
“NSAC is like the Hunger Games of advertising,” I said to her, and then told the 200 or so students that evening, which included one of our just-hired Lucky 13 summer interns:
As it did to Katniss -- and that blond guy who just doesn’t seem right for her -- stress and competition does weird and amazing things, turning your normal everyday teammates into mommy and daddy figures, dead-eyed strategists, creative problem solvers and fearless but artful performers.
Each of you has had your own Haymitches, maybe themselves winning tributes from advertising’s real Hunger Games, wily mentors whose instincts and experience can give you that edge. (Our own Earl Herzog played that role for the University of Minnesota team.)
And like our young heroes, by now you’ve probably experienced long days, tired nights, sketchy food; and witnessed cold-hearted back stabbing, nerve-wracking drama, and, if you’re lucky, maybe at least one or two passionate kisses.
But the big difference is that just by competing in the NSAC games, you’ve already won.
Agencies like ours and many others look at the experience you’ve gained as giving you a leg up versus others competing for jobs in our industry. Debbie Fischer, our HR director, is always keen to know why any recruit from an NSAC school hasn’t competed.
Our business is fueled by passion, creativity and competition. And NSAC brings out the best of all of that.
So I congratulate all of you for having the courage and commitment to compete.
The evening was a blast. And in a close contest, Minnesota State University Moorhead won the District 8 crown and will advance to the national NSAC competition during the AAF’s National Conference, the annual ADMERICA!, held in Austin, Texas from June 2-5, 2012.
Congrats to them. And may the odds be ever in their favor.
|1.||I learned from my wife of 33 years that a husband can’t just say the same thing over and over again only louder and call it effective communication. Neither can a CEO.|
|2.||I learned from the CEO of one of our clients that collaboration, one of today’s bigger business buzz words, doesn’t mean consensus. Effective collaboration means managing diversity.|
|3.||I learned from managing a diverse organizational culture that people require a simple, clear idea that captures their collective ambition or purpose. Maybe our country needs one from the President.|
|4.||I learned from the president of my alma mater that understanding and living your core values liberates you from seeking the myth of a balanced life. It works like that old ad bromide, “Give me the freedom of a tightly written brief…”|
|5.||And finally, I learned to write more briefly. Because we’re living in a 140-character world.|
-- Steve Wehrenberg, CEO
Note: this post presents content from a speech given by Steve Wehrenberg at Augsburg College on November 17.
Some don't believe it, but "truth" and "advertising" do belong in the same sentence. Even though the general public and many in the business community itself disagree, you can find truth in advertising. And more importantly, there should be more truth in advertising. Because, actually, in advertising nothing works better than the truth.
Your skepticism is documented: Surveys show that nearly one third of people "don't trust the information in any kind of ads" (Mintel Attitudes Toward Traditional Media Advertising and Promotion, Sept. 2010) and that 38 percent of folks would rate as "very low" the honesty and ethical standards of ad industry professionals (Gallop Honesty and Ethics Ranking, 2008).
But truth – universal truth, human truth and not lying for a higher truth – actually shapes really great advertising. You know what I'm talking about. You've been affected by a truth-tapping ad yourself. It's what makes brilliant creative work so brilliant.
Steve Wehrenberg presents “Can you find truth in advertising?” at Augsburg College Strommen Executive Speaker Series. (Video courtesy of Augsburg College.)
Before we talk about how that kind of truth lives in advertising, and how advertising captures truth, let's start with a basic definition. Webster defines truth as "fidelity, constancy; sincerity in action or character; fact." The definition appears rational.
But in the real world truth is much more complex, because people are complex and truth is personal. One person's truth is another's lie. People constantly frame and re-frame truth. We marketers call this "positioning" – the presentation of something based not on objective external factors but, rather, on selected factors chosen to shape a reality.
Language gives marketers power to construct positioning: consider the difference between using the following terms to describe the exact same house: "executive home" or "McMansion." The descriptors shape a relative interpretation and even can deliver a value judgment.
All this relativity provides lots of fodder for creativity. So back to truth in advertising. Let's explore three manifestations:
|1.||Universal Truths = Myths|
Myths live as those dreams, passions, values and beliefs that swirl around in our collective unconscious. They're part of storytelling and tapped by advertising. Archetypes represent true characters in myth: the Hero, the Magician, the Ruler, the Explorer, the Outlaw.
Brands often tap these myths to tell their stories. Think of Jeep: the Explorer. Harley-Davidson: the Outlaw. Or Disney: the Magician.
|2.||Human Truth = Insights|
An "insight" for advertisers is a truth hiding in plain sight. Galileo put it well: "All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered. The point is to discover them."
Great advertising makes these discoveries; it finds these insights. And a lot of intuitive people in the business dig deep into our culture, attitudes and product benefits to uncover insights.
The famous "got milk?" ads are based on the insight that people drink milk with things: cookies, brownies, PB&J. Our recent Toro "Snow Globe" ad is based on the insight that "winter comes fast" and people enjoy conquering the chaos of a heavy snow. Very true for us in Minnesota.
|3.||Not Lying for a Higher Truth = Ethics|
In spite of universal and human truths, the industry often seems slippery and weasel-ly. Why? Because some in the business choose to lie for a perceived "higher truth": the bottom line, a quick sale, a flash of attention.
These breaches of trust are bad for all of us. Consider the recent ads pulled in Great Britain: Lancome, for too much airbrushing of Julia Roberts; and, more recently, Marc Jacobs, for presenting minor Dakota Fanning too provocatively.
In our industry, we constantly face three big ethical issues: deceit vs. accuracy, profit vs. protection, and obfuscation vs. transparency. The marketplace today values credibility as much as creativity. A high ethical standard is a business imperative. We must lead the way.
Advertisers and marketers, we can hold our heads high when our work taps truth, shares truth and sticks to the truth. When we are truth-telling leaders, our work and our industry will prosper.
One hundred years ago, advertising legend H. K. McCann linked truth to everything that matters in our business with his agency slogan: Truth Well Told. Our own positioning statement at Campbell Mithun is a version of that: Everything Talks.
When Everything Talks, and everyone talks, the story should be true.
-- Steve Wehrenberg, CEO
Around 30 years ago I began my career in advertising as a copywriter at a small, local agency. I wrote everything, from TV and radio commercials to newspaper ads to PR releases and even annual report copy for one client. I wasn’t a big home-run hitter, like a Reid Holmes, but more of a rookie utility player, kind of like the guy they bring up from the minors who’s coachable, versatile and cheap.
Given my background, a recent review in the Wall Street Journal for a new book, The Idea Writers, caught my eye. I breezed through the book over the holiday break. It’s a great read, I must say, not only for ex copywriters like me, but for anyone trying to make sense of the metamorphosis happening in our business. I highly recommend it.
The author, Teressa Iezzi, edits Ad Age’s Creativity. And with the broad view of a journalist, she chronicles, from an ad writer’s perspective, the current state of the agency business. What hasn’t changed from when I banged out copy, according to Iezzi, is that today’s agency writers, more than ever, need to be craftsmen and women. “Even, in a digital world, writers write,” she says.
But, even more important, today’s Idea Writers must be brand storytellers across multiple platforms. And the big new skills are having the ability to involve the end target customer in the story, to introduce design thinking, to introduce digital thinking and to be collaborative. A great dialog writer today, for example, must be able to sustain the conversation and get everyone talking.
I breathed a sigh of relief after finishing The Idea Writers. Why? Because we’ve got some great idea writers here, authors of multiplatform brand ideas like Make Today Famous, an idea that has made Everything Talk for Famous Footwear in broadcast, in-store, on Facebook, even through iTunes. And we have reshaped our organization within the last six months to bring Idea Writers — brand storytellers, first and foremost — together in a collaborative environment with new friends beside their old art director buddies: experience planners, creative technologists and interactive producers.
The bottom line, according to Iezzi: There has never been a more exciting time to be an advertising copywriter. It almost makes me feel like finding my first IBM Selectric and starting my career all over.
Steve Wehrenberg, CEO
In 1958, Ray Mithun’s growing agency pioneered an artful and creative holiday tradition: angels as holiday gifts for friends of Campbell Mithun. This year we gave out more than 800.
For the first three and one-half decades, we sent our angels mostly to clients. In 1985 or so, I remember my client, a junior product manager at Land O’Lakes, pointing out half a dozen or more in our lobby display case that his domineering dad, one of our top Pillsbury clients at the time, brought into their family’s home. Apparently our angels mellowed one of Minneapolis’ most feared marketing men of that time.
There was only one exception during those years of client-only angels: 1983. Every employee got an angel to commemorate our 50th anniversary. That’s my favorite. Every year when I put it on our mantel it conjures up my Wisconsin Synod Lutheran Christmas programs, “Fear not, for I bring you glad tidings of great joy.”
In 1995 we started giving angels to our employees as well. My kids couldn’t wait each year to see the new design. A few years ago we let each of them, now adults, pick their favorite to display in their own homes.
Now we also send angels to many of our former employees to thank them for growing our agency, mentoring our careers and being a part of our never ending community. And for the CEO, the response can be immeasurably gratifying, complete with pictures, like this one:
“Tell Steve I LOVE him and thank him so very much.
These angels mean more to me (and my family) than he will ever know.
Wonderful tradition, so honored to be included!”
-- Steve Wehrenberg, CEO
I met Ray Mithun. And, believe me, I’m no Ray Mithun. But I sure do agree with a lot of the stuff he said. Peg, from our library, found this quote of his: “There is no lasting success, happiness or reward unless a man [and by that we mean person] is truly useful—useful to his family, to his business and to his community.”
Ray was saying that giving back means getting back. This year I had the honor of joining the board of the Greater Twin Cities United Way. My involvement has helped shine a new light on the importance of business giving back to the community. And the rewards that come with it.
I am proud of our commitment as an organization. For the past six years, we have supported the Greater Twin Cities United Way by developing its annual advertising. This year’s “When you can’t do, donate” campaign is designed to help the organization achieve an aggressive goal: $87 million.
We also have had a tremendously energetic and successful internal giving campaign, historically driven by the great people of our Compass Point Media group. Last year CM was a United Way Silver award winner for per capita employee giving (between $200-299).
We have done a lot of cool things over the years, like donating and building playground equipment at a local women’s shelter. A new twist this year will be our “Minute to Win It” all-agency competition October 27 at Hell’s Kitchen. Here’s a promo-video peek at the fun (and yes that’s me in the beginning balancing a cookie on my forehead): http://bit.ly/CMcares
This year, more than ever, we need to give back. As Ray said, to feel useful we need to be useful.
- Steve Wehrenberg, CEO
Welcome to our new Everything Talks web site.
I teach a grad school class in strategic communications at the University of Minnesota. One day recently I was thunderstruck by a display in the hallway down from my classroom honoring Ray Mithun and his endowed chair in the School of Journalism.
First, I thought what an honor it is to lead the place that bears his name. Second, I thought that this taciturn Norwegian’s philosophies about strategic communications seem even more relevant today than they were when he founded our agency on this day in 1933.
In 1956 (the year I was born, by the way), Ray said, “We had better try to help in every part of the communications job. Because everything talks. The display. The colors. The price. Not just the advertising.” (See “Philosophy.”)
And today we help make Everything Talk for our clients’ brands. And when we do it right, Everybody Talks about them.
In an age of mass confusion about effective marketing communications, I love working for a place that has a history of thinking right.