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MITX FutureX Summit - Summer 2020 Recap

Recapping MITX’s FutureX Summit


2020 continues to be a year unlike any other, forcing brands and companies to reexamine their own values and make sharp pivots in the face of public demands. To help make sense of it all, we joined the FutureX Summit to hear marketers, including AMP Agency’s VP of Strategy Greer Pearce, share how they are fostering creativity within remote teams, discuss how advertisers can improve their diversity efforts and cover what trends are on the horizon.

 

Keeping The Creativity At The Kitchen Table

Panel Participants:

-    Greer Pearce, VP of Strategy at AMP Agency

-    Liz Paqette, Director of Brand at Drizly

-    Dustin Devlin, Co-Founder/Creative Director at VAGRANTS

As advertisers, creativity is the foundation of great work. Many of us were drawn to the profession with the promise of a creative environment, impassioned and starry-eyed at the thought of brainstorm sessions backdropped by exposed brick and whiteboard illustrations. Those things are now a distant memory, but the demand for impactful campaigns is as pressing as ever. So how do we cultivate creativity in working environments that are so vastly different from the spaces that we signed up for? Here is what we heard:

Lean into Tech

To start, each speaker agreed that they are now leaning more heavily into tools like Slack, Google docs and video meetings to help foster connectivity between teammates. Greer noted, though, that it’s important to switch things up once video fatigue kicks in. For a change of scenery, she recommends picking up your cell, leaving your home and going on a “walking meeting”. 

Step Away

In fact, getting out of the house is one of the primary ways that Greer finds inspiration. “My space is utilitarian,” she explains, so her creativity is sparked by getting out of the workspace versus attempting to turn it into a creative hub. In the old world, we could happen upon inspiration unexpectedly: on the bus, grabbing lunch down the street, bumping into someone we haven’t seen in a while. Now, we have to be more deliberate about making those moments happen. Set time aside to step away from your working environment, Greer suggests. Your creative side will thank you for it.

Implement Workflow Optimizations  

Thinking positively, Greer also discussed the ways in which working remotely can benefit a company’s workflow. AMP has offices nationwide, and previously, each office held all-staff meetings for that region only. Now, those meetings have merged into one nationwide sync that creates a sense of unity across each region. In Greer’s words, going virtual serves as an “equalizer” across locations, departments and individuals because we’re all experiencing it together.

Reexamine Your Strategy

There are also examples of this “new normal” playing a beneficial role in strategic thinking. For an AMP client in the home storage industry, a marketing campaign was nearly ready to launch when the pandemic hit the mainstream. As countless other brands also experienced, this disruption rendered the original campaign obsolete and the approach needed to be reevaluated through the lens of this “new normal”. The final result was something even more impactful, featuring “real people” in their homes (one of the only ways to safely film content) and leaning into the deeply relatable desire to declutter one’s space during quarantine. 

Strategic thinking demands creativity, which Greer believes everyone should hone. “Just because your title doesn’t say ‘Creative’ doesn’t mean that you’re not creative,” she explains. Everyone in advertising, from producers to designers to strategists, needs to exercise their creative muscles in order to solve complex problems for brands.

That said, with inspiration playing hard-to-get these days, we might just need to look a little more closely for it.

 

Time for Action: How the Digital Marketing Community Can Work Together to Build a Diverse Workforce

Panel Participants:

-    Corean Canty, COO at Goodway Group

-    Melanie Liu, Video Producer at Digitas

-    Noor Naseer, Host/Producer, Adtech Unfiltered and Senior Director of Media Innovations + Technology at Centro

-    Jayme Washington, Founder & CEO at Washtone

Advertising is rooted in an acute understanding of the people that make up our society and creating campaigns that reflect their values. Because of this, advertisers play a crucial role in shaping the way society thinks and behaves. One major problem, though, is that the advertising industry has historically suffered from a lack of diversity in its workforce, with diverse candidates brushed off under the guise of limited talent in those spaces. So how do we break the cycle of non-diverse thinking in advertising?

The first step is education. Before diving in and standing for something you don’t fully understand, Noor explains that brands and individuals need to take a step back and map out their approach. Here are three steps that she recommends taking to foster diversity in the workplace:

Set Intentions 

At the risk of jumping on a bandwagon when diversity is mainstream in conversation, advertisers need to examine why they are interested in championing diversity in the first place. You’ll be better equipped to make an impact once you have a firm understanding of what you want to contribute to the diversity and inclusion conversation.

Turn to Existing Resources

A lot of work has already been done to promote diversity and inclusion, so in many cases, advertisers should turn to the experts instead of trying to reinvent the wheel. Furthermore, Melanie explains that “It’s a marathon not a sprint”, and people who are new to the conversation should be okay with the fact that they won’t have an advanced vocabulary compared to those who have been involved in the conversation for years. To make a bigger impact, seek out experts and industry-specific resources.

Be Proactive

In terms of hiring diverse talent, the work doesn’t start with existing applicants. Companies should reach out to individuals as early as high school to spark interest in advertising. In doing so, they will help foster diverse talent from the start so that companies don’t get to the point where they are rejecting diverse applicants because they don’t have the right skills. Furthermore, Melanie explains that if you are telling yourself that there isn’t enough diverse talent out there, you aren’t looking hard enough. There are numerous organizations dedicated to fostering diversity in advertising, such as Bid Black and Free the Bid to name a few.

It’s easy to think about diversity as a pie chart, but companies “have to understand all of the variables”, Corean explains. The most important part of diversity in the workforce is diverse thought rather than just numbers, so companies need diversity in every department rather than just the organization as a whole. Finally, once diverse talent has been placed, leaders need to create an inclusive environment that encourages them to stay. The first step is here is awareness and ensuring that you can identify your own bias as well as bias within your team.

 

Brands and Social Justice

Panel Participant: Dipanjan Chatterjee, VP, Principal Analyst at Forrester Research.

Historically, brands weren’t playing a public role in social justice and most would intentionally shy away from the topic. Clearly things have shifted dramatically, but what’s so different about 2020? Dipanjan Chatterjee tackles this question by examining the “three agents of change”:

A Different Type of Brand 

In the early 2000s, transactional brands like ExxonMobil and Citigroup were king. Now, relationship-driven brands like Apple and Facebook have taken the lead with campaigns and products that evoke emotion. As brands became more humanistic, consumers began to expect something greater than just function.

A Different Type of Consumer

In decades past, brands wouldn’t touch social justice with a ten-foot pole. Now, 60% of consumers expect brands to take a stance on racial justice – a percentage that increases when looking specifically at younger consumers. Based on this, brands will be under increased pressure to champion social justice as the younger generation assumes more buying power.  

A Different Type of Employee

It might not seem this way at first, but employees are more of a stakeholder than customers. That’s because as a brand, virtue signaling might fool your consumer, but it will not fool your employee. Individuals identify themselves with their employer more so than the type of soda they drink or credit card they use, so if an employer doesn't do the right thing those individuals are likely to move on. In fact, 39% of all job seekers have chosen not to pursue a job because of perceived lack of inclusion.

So, how should companies champion diversity and inclusion in the workplace? Dipanjan’s first piece of advice is to be honest. Most brands have skeletons in the closet, but if they don’t clear them out the brand cannot be credible. Clear the air, get involved, establish values and be true to them moving forward.

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What Women Want from Brands, Advertising, and Marketing in 2021

This Women’s History Month, AMP explored what women today want from brands, advertisers, and marketers. Since there are approximately 3.9 billion women in the world — each with their own unique personalities, backgrounds, and desires — we’ve narrowed the focus of this article to three desires that stood out to us during our research. We’ve also included insights from women we interviewed who have worked in the advertising and marketing industry. (Their names have been removed for privacy.) We don’t claim to speak on behalf of all women, but instead aim to highlight some of the desires and expectations for brands & the industry that many women have expressed in recent years. Women Want More Diverse and Intersectional Representation Over the past decade, there have been some incredible pushes towards more diverse representation of women in advertising — from The National Lottery’s uplifting & inclusive “This Girl Can” campaign to this amazing photo of Black transqueer lesbian model Jari Jones popping open a bottle of champagne in front of her larger-than-life Calvin Klein ad. Most of the women we spoke to in the industry mentioned that they’ve seen more diverse representation in recent years: more interracial couples, more body sizes in the fashion world, more stay-at-home dads, and fewer blatantly sexist ads. Still, only 29% of American women believe they are accurately represented in advertising, according to a recent study by data intelligence company Morning Consult. (The same study found that 44% of American men believe women are accurately represented.) As advertisers and marketers, a crucial step in developing a strategy plan is studying our consumers and learning about their wants, needs, and habits. So why does the industry continue to miss the mark with female representation? Perhaps it has something to do with the word “and.” Because a consumer is never just a woman. Maybe she’s a woman and bisexual and Latinx and a stepmom and really into Maseratis and perfume. When we look at female representation, we must consider intersectionality and what other identities might matter to female consumers. Let’s say our consumer identifies as a lesbian. According to a 2019 survey of 2,000 adults in the UK by GAY TIMES and Karmarama, 72% of LGBTQ respondents think the way they’re represented in advertising is tokenistic.  Let’s say she has a disability. The Calgary Society for Persons with Disabilities (CSPD) reported in 2019 that only 3% of characters on North American television have disabilities and of these, 95% are played by able-bodied actors. (This statistic inspired their moving “Visibility for Disability” campaign.) Let’s say she’s a mom. A 2019 report from the brand Motherly with almost 6,500 survey respondents found that 85% of millennial moms don’t feel like society does a good job of understanding and supporting them. Let’s say she’s a woman of color. A 2019 study on the representation of Black women and girls in Hollywood found that Black females and other females of color are more likely to be portrayed partially/fully nude than white females — in films and on TV. The same study found that white female TV characters are more likely to have a job (89.6%) compared to Black female characters (70.5%) and other female characters of color (58.8%). (This study was conducted by The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and focused on family films and TV.) How might it feel to see characters who look like her repeatedly oversexualized and underemployed? Even if a woman feels her “womanness” — or whatever you want to call it — is well-represented, maybe she doesn’t feel like her other identities are well-represented. Maybe the commercials, print ads, and radio spots she encounters are not adding up to how she sees herself as a whole woman person.   Women Don’t Want to Be Superheroes (At Least Not All the Time) The brilliant author Carmen Maria Machado wrote, “We deserve to have our wrongdoing represented as much as our heroism, because when we refuse wrongdoing as a possibility for a group of people, we refuse their humanity.” Our messy complexities are part of what make us human. And it turns out, a lot of women want to see more of this messiness, and less of the fully put together superwoman archetype we’ve been served again and again in past decades. One ad that leans into this attitude superbly is Frida Mom’s “Stream of Lactation” commercial, which highlights the highs and lows of breastfeeding with an authentic, stream-of-conscious voiceover. One woman in the industry we interviewed said: I LOVE the new Frida commercial about breastfeeding. While watching the commercial, I felt seen and understood. I saw myself and thought "Wow, that's exactly what I do" or "Yes, that happened to me." Women want to see other women that they identify with, and that's the best (and most ethical) way to sell your product. For years, women were served razor ads featuring models with shaved skin and pad ads featuring that notorious blue liquid. Marketers made shaving and menstruation seem like a walk in the park. But then came “Blood Normal” and Billie. “Blood Normal” by hygiene company Libresse broke ground as the first campaign to show actual period blood. Billie similarly changed the game by creating the first razor campaign for women featuring actual body hair. And people loved it. “Blood Normal” won the coveted Glass Lion for Change Grand Prix at Cannes and Billie has grown to be a successful brand with 278k followers on Instagram. By portraying women in nontraditional but relatable ways, brands like Libresse and Billie have managed to both diversify female representation and gain a loyal following of customers.   Women Want Brands to Play a Role In the Conversation on Social Issues and Gender In the era of social media, brand accountability, and virtual boycotts, we are seeing more women putting pressure on brands to speak up on social issues. When the Black Lives Matter protests surged in spring 2020, numerous brands spoke out on the topic of racial justice. But for many internet users, these efforts — many of which took the form of social media posts — didn’t go far enough. Examples of real comments posted on one popular fashion brand’s 2020 posts: “If you just posted a square, you’re performative!” “What steps have you implemented to date?” “So this was a lie.” “I’m so sad to hear all this and will no longer support [brand name]. I’ve been a diehard fan for so long. I will never stand for a brand that would allow, at any capacity, racial profiling.” This brand has over 4 million followers on Instagram. And it’s just one of many brands we saw called out in 2020 for their social media responses to current events. We’re also hearing women say they want brands to contribute more directly to the conversation on gender. A women who works in the industry told us: I want to see more men wondering what detergent to use and more women thinking about what kind of cool car to drive. In my own relationship, my husband is very concerned about dishwasher liquid (really) and I want to drive a slick fast car on an open road. Life is changing, roles are changing, and all I'm asking is to see that reflected. Big brands especially have so much power to normalize and destigmatize. Another important step in joining this conversation is amplifying female voices at brands and agencies. It’s not just about hiring more women, but also promoting them to management and leadership positions. When The 3% Movement was founded in 2012, only 3% of all US Creative Directors were women. The organization has since helped push that number to 29% today — an amazing increase, but still not close to 50%. Promoting women to leadership positions adds diverse perspectives to our teams and brings more female insights into how women want to be represented.   How To Give Women What They Want There are so many ways organizations can tailor their branding, advertising, and marketing efforts to better address the desires and expectations of women. They can engage with the conversation on social issues and gender, complexify female roles in their campaigns, and offer more diverse and intersectional representations of women across the board. They can also enrich their internal teams by hiring women, and promoting them to leadership roles. The goal isn’t for every brand to try and address all the desires of every woman on the planet, but to make efforts day by day where you can. For example, if parents make up a large percentage of your target audience, you might consider how to bring intersectional, complex representations of moms to your ads. Think of where it makes sense to engage authentically with your customers. Insights from Women Who Work in the Industry To get a better idea of how the marketing and advertising industry is currently addressing female wants and expectations from the inside, we interviewed some of the women we know. The responses below come from people who have worked as interns, freelancers, and full-timers — at agencies and in-house — with experience ranging from 3-10+ years in the industry. Q: What do you want from the ads and marketing tactics you see in the world? A: “I would like to see more representation throughout ad campaigns. It would be nice to see people who look like me and the people around me, and not just the same famous people.” “I've seen companies attempt to be more socially aware (or "woke," if you will) but sometimes it backfires. I want advertisers to stop trying so hard in their marketing tactics or do a better job of reading the room.” “I always respond to authenticity, self-awareness and especially humor — the Ok Cupid "DTF” campaign is a great example. As a consumer, I do not respond well to feeling shamed or condescended to.” “I want to see all types of women doing all types of things. I also would love for brands to call out censorship, double-standards, or gender roadblocks in their ads directly.”   Q: What are your expectations for the campaigns you yourself put out in the world?   A: “To cast women in unexpected roles. Conversely, to not only show moms as caretakers and nurturers.” “I do my best to make people think about the thing we're advertising in a new way, whether that means showing them a way our product can add something new and positive to their lives, or just causing them to stop and laugh at an interesting image or headline. I also feel a pretty heavy responsibility not to add to any of the toxic stereotypes or standards that we're all — but especially women — constantly bombarded with.” “What an incredible responsibility we play as women in the biz. It's frustrating to see the same narrative about the same woman over and over. And it's a true challenge to bend that narrative into one that's more truthful of our experiences. But it's a fight worth fighting, and I think having women in leadership roles in advertising is greatly improving this issue.”   Q: How are women portrayed in advertising? Do you predict this changing in the upcoming year?   A: “Over the past ten or twenty years, we've gone from a total proliferation of the same cookie-cutter image to the slow, incremental appearance of more diverse, ‘real’ images of women. As we've seen more and more brands jump on that bandwagon, I can't help but feel a little cynical. Pop feminism and ‘girl power’ have become just another sales tool... it's still so much about making women feel like they need things to be fully realized. It's just gone from, ‘Buy this product and you'll be beautiful’ to, ‘Buy this product and you'll be empowered.’” “My wife and I have both been hyper-aware of the significant increase of interracial couples featured in ads, which is very exciting. For 2021, I'd love to see more of this, and a lot more queer women of all races, ages, body shapes, and ethnicities. I have seen lesbian couples here and there, but I haven't seen many lesbian parents.” “I think there's still an absence of women who are 40+ in the advertising I see. Middle age isn't what it used to be and it would be great to see the modern, mature woman portrayed more in advertising that is not related to medications.” “One thing I hope would change is the Instagram fad of everyone looking like a Kardashian. Influencers are such a huge part of advertising, and we know how harmful those unrealistic depictions of beauty can be.” “For the most part women have been either hyper-sexualized or seen as arm-candy to sell a product. There are more conversations and actions happening in recent years to represent women in less hyper-sexualized roles. On the other hand, I do not have a problem with women being portrayed sexually. Especially in fashion and art. I think there has to be care in not being over-sexualized, where the woman then becomes an object of desire.”   Q: Do you feel satisfied with how you see women represented in advertising today?   A: “Satisfied would sound like there is not room for improvement. I think it’s much better than it was 10 years ago and hope it keeps evolving.” “One thing that bothers me about the way Black women are represented in advertising today is that there is still a bias toward light-skinned Black women or women who look mixed race. Obviously this is an old issue, but it still persists and needs to change.” “I think so… It is encouraging to see women of all shapes, sizes, ages, colors, and identities in ads these days… depicted as funny, strong, silly, beautiful, smart, and all of the ways you can be depicted. However, I do think we still need to come up with more ways to flip the script.” “I don’t know if I’m satisfied with how women are represented in advertising yet. I think having more women in advertising and higher positions would change the outcome of some campaigns. There can’t be representation properly done without real women’s voices.” Q: How does it feel to be a woman working in this industry? A: “I’ve been fortunate to work in an environment where I haven’t felt treated differently for being a woman.” “A lot of days I don't think about it too much, but it probably informs everything I do.” “There’s always room for improvement. There's no better time to be a woman in history than today, and hopefully thirty years down the line, a woman will say the same thing. We should always be striving for better.”