IAG CMO: Get an unfair share of culture by learning from Trump

First group marketing chief at IAG advises marketers to create a cultural moment, craft stories, and have a point of view if they want to make marketing great again

Brent Smart
Brent Smart

Brands today need to “get an unfair share of culture” and learn from Trump if they want to eclipse the competition and attract customers in the age of escalating content, IAG’s CMO claims.

“When you get an ‘unfair share of culture’, you get a bigger share of culture than the size of your brand, or the size of your spend, and it is really powerful,” IAG’s first CMO, Brent Smart, told attendees at the recent Ad:Tech conference in Sydney.

The former CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi in New York, and now the first ever CMO at IAG, advised marketers to study Trump and the way in which he captured an ‘unfair share of culture’ to amass a huge amount of media coverage and social conversation during the 2016 US presidential election.

“Trump got $1.8 billion of free media and PR, with nine months to go to the election. That would have tripled by the time we got to the election,” Smart said. “Compared to his competitors, he had three times more than Clinton. He’s got six times more [coverage] than Ted Cruz, who was his nearest Republican.”


Smart claimed Trump “outmarketed” everyone, without being out spent. “He found a way to tap into American culture in a massive way,” he said. “I am not saying it is a good thing, but it is a big illustration of unfair share of culture. I believe this is the unfair advantage brands can have in today’s world.”

The ‘Make American Great Again’ red baseball hat was a particularly strong marketing activity, Smart continued.

“The baseball hat is the symbol of everyday Americans,” he said. “The genius of this hat is how underdesigned it is. It is red and white with a default typeface. If you are going to start a movement that’s about anti-elitism, is there a better symbol than this?”

While politicians traditionally up their TV advertising spend in the last month of election campaigning to get undecided voters, Trump, spent more on hats.

“Not only was it a disruptive piece of technology, but it was a disruptive piece of channel planning,” Smart claimed. “And like all things with Trump, there’s no strategy. He didn’t go to a marketing expert, or to consumer research, he certainly didn’t go to an advertising agency, he just had this gut instinct.

“As marketers, we have to remember that great marketing is gut instinct.”

Amazing storytelling

For Smart, the modern marketers need to focus on amazing storytelling in order to resonate with consumers.

“Content has made us all really lazy in marketing,” he claimed. “We think that just because we can make it, we should make it. And we don’t even think about the consumer, the people we are trying to reach, how little time they’ve got, and what they are interested in. They are not interested in brands, they are not interested in marketing, they are not interested in content - they are interested in stories.

“What we need to remember as marketers, and we need to remember as brands, is that we are competing with culture for people’s time.”

Smart questioned whether technology has made advertising better. “I think it has made it worse,” he said. “We are stuffing more things at people. I think most marketing is pollution.”

Smart also advised marketers to have a clear point of view that can stimulate conversation and emotional responses. “Try to create a cultural moment for the brand,” he advised.

As an example, Smart pointed to his former US client, Cheerios, which captured people’s attention through emotional storytelling, crafting a point of view and creating a cultural moment.

“It is pretty hard to get people excited about cereal in the world we live and in fact there was nothing going on in culture about cereal. There was nothing going on in social media about Cheerios. In fact, the only real thing that was in culture when I started working at Cheerios was of a video of Ryan Gosling not eating the product,” he said.

To combat this, the company created a TV ad campaign that told an emotional story of love around Gracie, a girl from a biracial family who wanted her Dad to eat Cheerios for heart health benefits.

“We had to work out what Cheerios wanted to stand for, what Cheerios wanted to say, and find the Cheerios voice because it had lost it,” Smart explained. “The brand had grown for many years on a point of difference: It lowers cholesterol. But that wasn’t working, and the brand stopped growing. So we thought instead of having a point of difference, we should find a point of view.

“What we had was a point of view on American families. All the families we saw in ads looked the same – they were all white, too middle class, too perfect, and too boring. We wanted to change that.”

The reaction to the campaign was overwhelming, with both positive feedback and negative in terms of a racist backlash, but it was so successful it created an unfair share of culture, Smart said. Given the success with the first ad, the marketing team created a second ad, which ran during the Super Bowl.

“In September, we did the first case study, and then we did the second in February. In that period, Cheerios managed to get 80 per cent share of all conversation that was going on about cereal and digital, according to The Wall Street Journal,” he said.

“What’s interesting about that is Cheerios only has about 12 per cent market share - so it brings me back to the same concept of, ‘how do you get an ‘unfair share of culture?’ And that was really unfair to Kellogg's - and that’s the point.”

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