Remarks by Maurice Lévy
"Ten Things I Would Not Have Said A Year Ago"
When Burtch Drake invited me to speak, I wondered what contribution I could make alongside so many who know American advertising so well and much better than I do. Maybe it's my funny French accent which is responsible for this invitation. Burtch probably wanted a way to have some low-cost entertainment
Perhaps you hoped for insightful observations about where the industry is headed? A vision of the future bred from the battle scars of a veteran? If so, I am sure to disappoint you.
The startling events of the last year have convinced me that I have scant powers of prognostication.
On the bright side, I am pleased that the world is still full of surprises for me. For this reason, last year pleased me very well, for it was the most surprising yet. So surprising that I started a list. It is by now a long, long list of the many things I must admit now, but would not have said last year.
If you please, I will share with you the top ten things I would not have said a year ago.
NUMBER ONE. That the U.S. Presidential election would last, not a day, but three whole months! I assure you, Europe stood in amazement at this feat of democracy. And Im sure that media buyers lucky enough to have positions on CNN were very pleasantly surprised. Maybe that's the reason why the 4A's chose to have their meeting in Florida.
NUMBER TWO. That The Beatles would have a number-one album in this millennium. Of course, so long as were reliving the sixties, why not the best parts?
NUMBER THREE. That NASDAQ would lose 60 percent of its value. The new economy got old very fast. Of course, we all expected a correction. But did we expect that NASDAQ traders would start exchanging loose coins?
Here you must allow me an aside. In fact, a serious question: To what extent did advertising agencies fuel the decline of dot-com companies by draining their finances? Did we behave as pigs at the feeding trough? Or did we give sound business counsel that went beyond advice on how to spend ¾ or raise ¾ IPO billions with disproportional ad campaigns? Im quite sure there was some of both.
To the extent we contributed to the dot-com crash, let us accept some responsibility and learn some lessons. We must line up for lashes alongside the investment bankers who pocketed fees of more than $600 million for new companies that now trade under one dollar.
O.K., end of confession and back to my list and the optimism of an advertising man.
NUMBER FOUR. That Survivor would become the top-rated show and launch a new segment called reality TV. About this surprise I have just one question: If its reality TV, why do they call it Fantasy Island?
NUMBER FIVE. That Mad Cow Disease would spread so widely and launch a new generation of vegetarians.
Of course, I know you should not be worried. Im assured that American Beef is impervious to madness. But thats what our French ministers said before they, too, were surprised in this very surprising year.
NUMBER SIX. That Harry Potter, a fantasy for children, would become a global best seller and a marketing phenomenon. Who expected that Coca-Cola would adopt as a promotional icon a skinny kid with big, round glasses? For a moment, cool has been radically redefined.
NUMBER SEVEN. That the slang term whassup would become part of popular culture. Do you know that Budweisers advertising was the very most popular with young American audiences last year¾ ranking well ahead of milk? O.K., to a Frenchman who prefers wine, that's not a surprise.
NUMBER EIGHT. That the launch of Nikes XI Retro Air Jordan sneakers would also launch riots. We French know what it means for a certain fashion to be all the rage, as you say. But it seems that people are starting to take that expression literally. Such is the awesome power of a great brand.
NUMBER NINE. That Slobodan Milosevic would be arrested and tried. Some surprises are unsettling. This one is a reassurance that there remains a common sense of justice across many nations.
And finally, NUMBER TEN. That humans would be found to share 99% of their genetic makeup with mice. Now I better understand Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men". This of course lends new ambiguity to the question, Are you a man or a mouse?
And that is the lesson I draw from this list. That the world is rife with ambiguity and ever less predictable. By turns shocking and deliriously surprising.
For an industry that thrives on creativity and for clients who depend on it, these should be glory days. But I sense from the headlines in the press, from your agenda, and also I know from experience and observation, that this new era is launching more vigils than celebrations.
So perhaps you have your own list of surprises, and it has provided for you also a serious wake up call. If any agency or marketer has not heard it, allow me to sound the bugle.
The obvious unpredictability and rapid pace of development calls for a new way of thinking by both marketers and agencies. Every pundit will have a prescription for change, but allow me to share a few insights. I like to think of these as My Five Business Principles for Greeting The Unexpected with Pleasure.
First and foremost is A culture of futurism. Creating such a culture in companies and agencies allows us to plan for where consumers are headed -- not where they stand today. If it sounds impossible, it is not.
Yesterdays studies and reports are far from worthless, but if we live by them alone, we live in the past.
Whats called for is an endless cycle of brand relevance planning. By that I mean, asking each day, how will my brand be relevant next month and next year ¾ when things will be different, and sometimes very different?
Sometimes I marvel at the very concept of an annual plan. Can you blame financial analysts for focusing on short-term results in a world where a todays leader is tomorrows follower?
We must likewise shorten our planning and development cycles to keep our brands, products and communications in tune with the times. In a world of instant messaging, it is time for marketers and agencies to move much, much more quickly.
By bringing ideas more rapidly to market we can keep the blood coursing through the veins of our brands. And we can have a more timely and meaningful dialogue with our customers. The promise of this culture of futurism is vibrant brand relevance.
This does not prevent us from being consistent over time. If the concept of the brand is authentic, it can live time after time and new ideas can only make it more lively, more relevant to consumers.
A close companion to futurism is another principle I espouse to you. And that is Constant innovation through boundless creativity.
When the news of the world offers boundless fascination and surprise, how can brands shine as they once did? The answer, of course, is that they cannot! They must live in new and different ways.
They must be as unexpected as the worlds events. In a world of novelty and falling borders, this is a tall order. But I contend that the solution is embodied in this phrase: Constant innovation through boundless creativity.
Too often, brands and agencies resort to innovation when all else fails. When all life has been beat out of a campaign or a product has flagged badly. This is no longer good enough ¾ never was.
I like to think of innovation as a brands heart beat. A sign that the brand is alive. Yet innovation is too often abandoned at the first signs of success. Successful innovation is not a license to sit back and enjoy the profits. It is evidence that innovation will be rewarded. It is our license to hunt for more powerful ideas.
One reason innovation is too often abandoned is that it has become the domain of experts. Agencies have their creative departments and companies have their R&D departments. In my view it is time to blow up the walls surrounding these departments. Ideas and creativity are advertisers' and advertising agencies' most precious assets. I believe creativity to be the best accelerator of growth.
And I believe that creativity is too vital a business function to assign it solely to the experts. Doing so turns off the tap to a potentially rich creative resource beyond those walls. And it risks turning creative experts into self-referential hermits in a world apart.
I have enormous respect and admiration for creative people and people with extraordinary creative talents. Thats why I think we should grant them the privilege of living and working in a more hospitable world. One where creativity is boundless and innovation is constant.
In such a world, creativity is owned by all -- and welcomed as their own. And this is the best way I know of making brands at least as exciting as the world around us and help creative people to deliver great work.
Now so far, I have addressed the issues of brand relevance and vitality. But the new world brings us another challenge: fragmentation and clutter. People are more restless and pressed for time. Their attention is divided further each day.
In this environment, no marketers - I insist, no marketers - have enough money to cover all channels, all titles and all products or brands. Marketing can kill some brands and stretch others to cope with their investment possibilities. But this is not enough.
There is no simple solution, but I have a direction to propose. I commend to you A MORE holistic APPROACH to Communications. Im sure this principle applies well to both marketers and agencies, but I will focus my attention primarily on agencies for purposes of illustration.
What is holistic communications? Ill start by saying that it is most decidedly not integrated marketing communications. While I once admired integrated marketing, I declare today that it is faulty in practice if not in concept.
If you run an integrated communications company, I apologize for any offense. But heres the problem I have with the term and its practice.
Given the structure of todays communications companies, integration most often refers to a difficult and generally painful process. In the service of integration, a group of diverse communications specialists are drawn together to build their plans around a predefined advertising concept.
In this context, integration is like trying to reassemble a broken egg from its pieces. Its not enough to press the gooey mess together. Integrating the egg wont help. You just have to start over with a fresh one. My hat is off to the forethought of Young and Rubicam, which long ago wanted a whole egg. I think we all want whole eggs.
My contention is that we must work differently to get there.
Using a more holistic approach, we address consumers as individuals with a whole collection of thoughts, feelings, problems, fears, dreams and ideas. They are complex creatures with diverse influences. If our aim is to deeply bond with them, we must craft a whole solution from the start. That means finding the strongest influences and making them channels for our brand messages.
By starting here, and building our strategy from there out, we will arrive at solutions that are richer, more synergistic, more efficient and more powerful. Most decidedly not predetermined by the prejudice of a single communications discipline.
If that sounds like the promise of integrated marketing, youll see that the practice can vary substantially.
A commitment to holistic communications requires a distinct way of thinking that guides every step we take. The people we apply to the task need broad experience and cross-training across many communications disciplines. Holism also leads us to a creative process that is no longer advertising centric. And it points to a model of accountability for the whole consumer experience and response.
This does not imply an end to specialist capabilities. It does require a more evolved way of deploying them. Its about finding the smartest solution from the start, even if it is surprising and unexpected. And I would say better, in fact, if it is surprising and unexpected.
Not only will this course lead to deeper brand relationships. Holistic communications will almost invariably result in a better return on investment. We will succeed in holistic communications when we have transferred the ownership of the brand from company to consumer.
This brings me in logical succession to a further principle: Fearless accountability. And here I address both marketers and agencies head on.
Ours is a disciple that is rich with expansive theories. Every agency has a box full of proprietary tools. But none of that adds up to much if agencies cannot deliver the desired business results that bring clients to our doors.
In fact, Ill make the radical assertion that without measurable business objectives as our starting point, we are engaging in something akin to malpractice.
This seems so baldly obvious, doesnt it? But how many relationships start with only the vaguest notion of what must be achieved?
For this I can discern no reason other than fear of failure ¾ normally on the part of both client and agency. Of course, this is nonsensical in the extreme. I assure you, it is impossible to hide from failure.
Lets instead be eager to understand our successes and failures ¾ and to learn from both.
And in todays surprising world, we must measure our impact at the pace of change. Doing so allows a level of responsiveness on which brands must increasingly depend.
Now a word specifically to marketers: There are some matters of accountability that apply most directly to you. First, your obligation to customers. As your partner, agencies make a great many promises on your behalf. Keeping those promises builds the brand. Breaking them cripples it. So your obligation in this regard is clear. We can only help those companies who help themselves.
Like many things in life, accountability and partnership is a two-way street. You also must be accountable to your agency. Your demands are many and often rightful. And agencies make every effort to meet them, often at considerable expense and personal sacrifice. We invest in your success at every opportunity. In return, please invest in us, in both good times and bad, to allow us to sustain the level of sophisticated tools and talent on which your marketing success continues to depend. As partners, we can understand all your problems, fears and opportunities. Relying on us and treating us as partners (and compensating us fairly) is your best investment.
Finally, a plea for RELENTLESS ENTREPRENEURIALISM. The world I have described and that you experienced will quickly leave behind slow-footed bureaucracies ¾ they have no hope of keeping pace.
Thinking and acting with aggressiveness and a hunger for opportunity is now the formula for success. And its one that even large companiesand agencies can master. In fact, I sustain that for large global organizations, entrepreneurialism is even more important, albeit more difficult.
This is why we must be relentless and passionate in this cause.
There are many ways this plays out: It may mean unearthing product ideas in out-of-the-way kitchens and from unorthodox visionaries. Or following and exploiting hot media as closely as brokers follow the stock market.
For organizations, it means giving people enough latitude to win big and get credit for it. It's also the best way to build teams who are totally committed to the success of the brand.
In raw terms, it amounts to making each day count as if your future, even your livelihood, depended on it. Being driven to succeed and thrilled at the prospect of it. If you cannot foster this drive in your people, are you the right leader for your organization right now? Are you a relentless entrepreneur? I test myself with these questions every day, and I can tell you the day I'm no longer a passionate entrepreneur and a passionate adman, I will retire.
Coming to a close, I hope to have persuaded you that these remarkable times call for a new way of doing business.
Finally, there are two more things I would not have said a year ago. Things that certainly surprised me.
NUMBER ELEVEN. That Publicis would become the fifth largest agency in the world.
And NUMBER TWELVE. That a Frenchman would be invited to address the leading American advertising association.