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Top Take-Away from Advertising Week DC 2012

BY: Evan Levent [MDB Art Director]

We’ve all seen the latest politician or celebrity’s Twitter or YouTube scandal happening in real time, sat around the dinner table with our friends and family and discussed the issue of online privacy, and as marketers and advertisers, we’ve probably watched with great interest companies trying to message themselves out of a damaging story or happenstance.

But what would we do if one of our clients ran into a big brand image issue? How should we counsel our clients if their feet were in the fire on how to save their brand? Perhaps the best strategy is to let them know way ahead of time that the new reality of business and marketing in 2012 is for companies to be 100% accountable for their actions.

In a still relatively new digital world, the way people and brands relate to each other is shifting quickly, and we must ask ourselves as advertisers how this shifting trajectory will change our services and how best to inform our clients during these evolving times.

The speakers at Advertising Week DC this year seemed to be moving towards the same conclusion, each arriving at this theme independently, but arriving at it simultaneously none-the-less. Brands, and their customers, are both becoming more transparent and accountable towards each other. Those who do not embrace this new normal will be left behind or entirely out of the world’s new communication stream. All the forces of the digital age we live in are pushing the transparency agenda further and faster with each passing day.

Brands and consumers will need to embrace this new openness in order to survive.

“The Naked Brand” is a film that was viewed at a Day 3 Special Event and focuses on this very issue of brand transparency. It highlights companies like Nike and Winston Cigarettes who all ran into a reality check moment, an exposed moment where their front facing brand no longer aligned with the truth of their operations.

Not too long ago, with a sufficient budget and the right message, mass communication and advertising had a chance of successfully bulldozing its way past an embarrassing or damaging story, but those days, if not completely over, are in their swan song. With 2.5 billion Google searches everyday and more content uploaded to YouTube in one month then the major TV networks have broadcasted in the last 60 years [statistics from “The Naked Brand”], the amount of third-party information we consume, and have available to us as consumers, is far more pervasive during a company crisis then the messages brands can control during the same cycle.

That’s why companies like Zappos.com [highlighted in “The Naked Brand”] and Honest Tea [Seth Goldman, President and TeaEO of Honest Tea spoke at ADWKDC this year] are placing a premium on customer service, honesty and community. They believe that if they build a company culture that fosters a positive experience for their workers and customers, with a product or service that can be completely backed up, they’ve already pulled ahead of the pack. This idea is inspiring, but also sad. Have we gotten to the point where simply being honest and good to people is the differentiating message?

Social media has moved the relationship between brand and consumer into a conversation, an open dialogue of mutual benefit. Companies, marketers and advertisers hope and expect people to engage with our brands, like our products and advocate for our companies. We ask a lot from people, and it only seems logical and fair that people ask a lot of the brands they’ve chosen to support. These are days of brand accountability, so what’s a business to do, and what’s the message, as marketers and advertisers, we should preach to our clients? BE TRUSTWORTHY. A singular truth about the times we live in is that if you are not who you say you are, there is a better than average chance you will be caught with your hand in the cookie jar.