MiC Roundtable: Impact beyond investment

As the industry braces for even more changes – from cookies to privacy regulation – how are marketers adapting, and how are they leaning on their agencies?


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Fragmentation of the landscape. Changing privacy laws. The phasing-out of third-party cookie support.

Every day there are new headlines and new topics that have the potential to send the media world into a tailspin. From the challenges posed by global behemoths to new privacy regulations placed by governments, there are new constraints every day. So how are the agencies and brands dealing with it all? And as they navigate the changing landscape, how are their investment decisions shaping the Canadian media landscape?

MiC’s most recent roundtable brought together leaders from brand- and agency-side to discuss these changes. This is the first in this year’s series of roundtables that will focus on the new challenges of planning at all levels.

Present were Sarah Thompson, CSO at Mindshare; Scott Stewart, president at VMC Media and VMC Digital; Alison Gordon, CEO at 48North; Jon Mamela, CMO and EVP of Tourism Toronto; Wes Wolch, CSO at Cossette Media; Cynthia Steele, VP of strategy at Reprise; and Jackson Hitchon, senior director of marketing at Hershey. Moderating the discussion were Media in Canada news editor Bree Rody and strategy SVP Mary Maddever. Also present were The Globe and Mail CRO Andrew Saunders and managing director of ad products and innovation Tracy Day, as well as strategy associate publisher Lisa Faktor and editor Jennifer Horn.

Responses have been condensed for clarity and length.

Rody: Let’s talk about an influencer strategy that worked really well. For Oh! Henry 4:25, Hershey worked directly with creators, and there were multiple stages. How did you approach that influencer program?

Hitchon: I think before, we were [doing influencer marketing] just for the sake of it and we’d match influencers with the audience. So for Twizzler, we’d target females age 35, and we’d go for influencers that were around 35. [But that] makes less sense if we’re trying to enter a new occasion or reach the consumer in a [new] way. If you’re going to tell people that Oh! Henry is a bar for the munchies, then [we look for] influencers [with] street cred instead.

Steele: When [Reprise worked with Oh! Henry on the campaign], we connected with Epic Meal Time, who were excited because they already loved the brand. So it wasn’t a tough sell. And we’ve had that in other instances too. Reese has such a huge fan base, and so when we would reach out to people, they were genuinely honoured that they got a call from a brand they love and they’re like, “Okay, where do I sign?”

Maddever: Is there anything on the regulatory side or any consumer trends that you are thinking about? Things like more transparency, privacy, cookies – what are you concerned about?

Gordon: [The cannabis industry is] so highly regulated. What’s interesting is that, if we have people’s email addresses, we are allowed to talk to them. That is the only way that we can communicate with anybody. For [48North], we don’t divide marketing and sales, like bigger companies do. And so I sometimes ask, ‘Why are you presenting ways to drive traffic to the website?’ I don’t need anybody to come to a website. To me, the opportunities are with Instacart or Uber Eats. I actually order my snacks on Uber Eats and I can see that [their delivery drivers] are creating stores, calling it “so-and-so’s convenience store” where they buy things from different stores. So I think there’s lots of ways to get creative and do things differently. I don’t know in terms of regulatory or privacy – [Hershey is] targeting kids a lot, so you’ve probably got lots of regulatory issues.

strategy_Feb05-0131Hitchon: Yeah, we’ve been talking about how the candy guys have been demonized. There was the [Bill S-228] proposal last year… it was very draconian, the restrictions of where we could and couldn’t advertise was going to be more restrictive than alcohol. So, for example, you’d be watching the hockey game, and you would see Labatt ads throughout the game, but you wouldn’t see an Oh! Henry ad until the third period. If that comes around with the new government, and they’ve indicated they might be open to review, that’s a big deal for us. We’re keeping an eye on that one.

Thompson: We sent our team to speak with Health Canada about those restrictions.  I don’t think there’s a brand that doesn’t want to do the right thing around children in that space, but we need to be very considerate.

strategy_Feb05-0105But how are you actually going to police that? Because it’s one thing to have a mandate, it’s another to make sure that policy is actually being followed. My big concern with the bill is if it will come back in a form that’s more expansive than health? I don’t think there’s a brand that doesn’t want to do the right thing around children, but there are also [issues] when it comes to gaming and what you watch on TV and cartoons. Even when you look at Quebec right now, there was a lawsuit about video game addiction. So it’s an interesting time to watch the restrictions, the policies, the regulations. It’s not that we don’t have a vested interest in doing what’s right for children, but we need to be very considerate.

Hitchon: Yeah, we want to do this right. We want to hold ourselves to a higher standard.

Mamela: For [Destination Canada] we’ve been doing a lot of thinking around, what is our exact role in terms of driving interest to destinations through great content, versus the idea of creating a cookie pool. Those days are finite. We’re trying to get in front of that. But that’s a big challenge for us.

Wolch: Yeah, we all spent the past few years building our business off of data. And now it’s kind of coming home to roost. The challenge is, we did that in absence of everyday folks having deep data literacy. It boils down to three things. One, most people don’t understand the data that they give away on the platforms that they’re on. [Two], they don’t understand how to manage the data on the platforms that they’re on, and three, they don’t understand the value of the data that they’re giving away.

Steele: [So the question becomes], ‘How do I build opt-in content?’ For example, in voice, how do I create experiences where, if someone’s asking, “Hey, Google, what’s the recipe for a chocolate cake?”, it then calls for Hershey Chippits in a specific recipe? Or if I’m an apparel or a home decor brand, how do I make sure that I market my content so that when someone does a visual search, whether it be through Pinterest or Google Lens, that they’re getting my result? From a marketing lens, that gets me excited. We brushed it off before, because we could just buy the reach, and then yell at people. But now, I think 30% of millennials are cord-cutters, and we have this opportunity where we can have conversations about the value exchange and both sides of the table aren’t rolling their eyes and saying, “Just go buy me the 80% reach.”

Stewart: There’s urgency to it, because once Chrome implements their changes, there’s the potential of blocking 82% of all ads [online]. And, if you’re not already interested in first-party and login-level [data], you’re going to be on the outside looking in. Because the industry has made massive presumptions for the last five years that data is infinite and cheap. There’s work that we need to be doing. It’s not the agency side, because we don’t own the data.

Thompson: If you look at the legislation that will appear in Canada that’s similar to GDPR, or to the California Data Protection Act, brands are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to solve the problem that you should have avoided in the first place. I love the idea of having a good value exchange with a customer and earning that trust back in some ways, but there is an infrastructure challenge that will end up happening.

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Stewart: Hopefully privacy laws [also] show that publishing is important and contextual advertising is a good strategy and that we have an obligation as companies to produce Canadian content. We should be protecting CanCon, because the less Canadian content you build, the more we’re giving our identity away to the cheapest producer, to our neighbours to the south.

Thompson: I had some conversations with colleagues in the States about the responsibility of brands when it comes to journalism, and the responsibility of brands to the current state of media. It’s our dollars that either make them flourish or not. I’m the co-chair of the Canadian Marketing Association Media Council and this is a hotly debated topic. We have [digital and traditional] platforms sitting at the table and we are debating it and it is uncomfortable. But there’s an uncomfortableness that we need to dive into.

Wolch: To your question on what regulation is going to do, I think it’s going to put a priority and a value back in media. I think we’ve tossed away a lot of our value as a partner over the past few years.

Steele: That shift is already happening. There was a time where [media] was very efficiency-driven. And the level of counsel and expertise was not valuable and brands are starting to really put a focus on making sure that the talent they rely on provides that strategic counsel, and is able to have business discussions, not just media discussions. Often, in the past, the discussion was “You deal with paid, go do your job.” Maybe I’m optimistic, but I do think there’s a will now to say, “Yes, we are not the cheapest but we are the most effective, and this is the toolset we use to prove that.” We are willing to put skin in the game on that level.

Mamela: My experience on the client side is often that the interrelationship between the media and the creative side sometimes results in what you get presented with or how you collaborate, limited by that relationship. Media creativity and media leadership often can be intermittently cut off by the creative concept when the creative side doesn’t permit these solutions to come to bear.

Stewart: Someone once asked me on a panel, “What’s the secret to great strategies” Elbow grease, it’s literally doing the work. You can’t take big thinking and stick it into the marketplace with a self-serve platform. That’s one of the biggest challenges right there.