Do you like conferences ?
No of course you don’t.
Usually the best thing that can be said about a conference is that it gets you out of the office for the day.
But now that they all want you tweeting, you can at least sit there with your phone or your tablet on your lap, catching up on emails, sexting or playing flick football.
Which is probably what you were doing at the office, anyway.
But for me there is one exception a year, which is The Marketing Society Annual Conference.
They always manage to get outstanding speakers, and this year they had Sir Ranulph Fiennes, who is probably the most amusing public speaker I’ve ever seen. A man who treats PC considerations with the same disdain he treats frost-bitten tootsies.
When he had to leave his wife alone with another team member for seven months while he trekked across Antarctica, he picked the least attractive man he could find.
“A Yorkshireman, obviously” he added.
I found myself happening to look at one of the few people in the audience who wasn’t laughing – and thought to myself, what’s wrong with you, you humourless prat.
But he was probably a Yorkshireman.
Sir Ranulph was hugely entertaining, but the rest of the day was equally thought-provoking.
In the President’s address, Amanda Mackenzie, the CMO at Aviva, urged marketers to embrace sustainability and a higher ethical code.
Given that apparently 500 billion dollars are spent on paid-for media every year, maybe marketing is the tool to save the planet.
I love all this. Several speakers touched on it, and it was actually jarring when others spoke in old-fashioned terms of simple marketing greed.
So when one of the speakers talked about the emerging markets as the biggest economic opportunity of all time, we nodded sagely, but when he spoke of consumers in those markets “buying tons and tons of stuff”, I like to feel that half the audience would have felt a slight frisson of anxiety, knowing (from the excellent work Unilever are doing on sustainability) that excess consumption is one of the biggest problems for the planet.
It’s the biggest economic opportunity in history but also the biggest chance to f*ck everything up.
On the plus side, you get super-smart people like Dido Harding, the CEO of Talk Talk, saying that their business model is to get their customers spending less.
Similarly, David Wheldon, who has been a marketing star for many years, and who’s just taken over the very hot seat of Head of Brand at Barclays, spoke of getting back to positive values and “putting the voice of the customer” at the heart of the brand.
THIS is the seismic shift which is transforming marketing – not just listening to customers, but having them co-create the communications.
It’s born out of digital marketing and it brings with it enormous ethical implications.
But where this leaves marketing directors is an interesting question. I feel that the last thing companies need is a control-freak marketer; they need creative directors to curate and manage bottom-up communications.
I might be available, if the salary is eye-wateringly good.
Sir Martin Sorrell, who is always charismatic and provocative, talked about the move from the age of plenty to the age of austerity, thence to the age of competitiveness.
This is great, as long as that competitiveness embraces creativity and collaboration – the two things we most need.
As a marketer from HSBC asked from the floor at one point – how do we balance collectivism and individualism ?
That, for me, was THE question from the whole day.
But, as Sir Martin also said, the future is about digital training – and with my Decoded hat on, I was delighted to hear that, because Decoded provides the best digital training in the UK.
And digital leads to more interactive, more transparent, more responsible marketing.
However, as Sir Martin said later – “marketing has lost it way … and its influence.”
“Ellen MacArthur sailed round the it single-handed. Now she should run the world, in my view”
It’s about time we admitted that it’s all gone tits up. Or, to be more precise given the balance of power, gender-wise … moobs up.
But the way out is to do what Amanda said, and embrace ethics.
Although watching a marketer embrace ethics can be like watching Sir Elton John embrace a bunny girl.
They’re awkward bed-fellows, and it’s not necessarily a spectator sport which will make millions.
The best speaker of the day for me was Dame Ellen MacArthur – whatever the question, she’s the answer. Because she engaged with the most pressing social issues, and made them massively engaging.
Just as Victoria Pendleton made cycling sexy, Dame Ellen made re-cycling sexy . And re-cycling is a topic that needs sexing up.
She realised, while alone in the Southern Ocean and looking at her dwindling reserves, that “What you have is all you have”. And from there, she went on to study our increasingly decreasing global resources.
She advocated a move from a linear economy to what she called a circular economy, designing out wastefulness. This would involve multiple uses of a commodity, and more leasing rather than ownership.
She’s sailed round it single-handed. Now she should run the world, in my view.
But the most powerful single quote of the day came from Jayne-Anne Gadhia, the CEO of Virgin Money, who said:
“The world is not alpha male any more”.
Of course, that will be seen as a deliberate provocation by the alpha males who ARE currently running the world (and running it into the landfill-choked ground at that.)
Because they’d rather be combative than collaborative.
But if you could be competitive and collaborative – as, actually, the best creative agencies always manage to be – you could possibly start to sort this mess out.
(The day before the Marketing Society Conference, there was a debate about social issues in advertising hosted by D&AD, aimed at the creative community, and I’ve blogged about this in my blog on Campaign).