State of the industry: A view from the CEO, Kent Wertime of Ogilvy – marketers could be ‘swept aside’ by technology

In a comprehensive Q&A session with Mumbrella’s Dean Carroll, the Asia chief executive of Ogilvy Kent Wertime talks about a wide range of industry issues including artificial intelligence, emerging markets and scam awards work

Ogilvy’s Asia CEO Wertime

Many people suggest the media and marketing industry is in transition at best and managed decline at worst – but what’s your view on the trajectory and how fast the industry is changing?

“Consumers are the prime movers in driving change. And I think their change of habits, attitudes, and channel use are the best bellwether of where the industry is heading.  

“I don’t believe our industry is in decline – I believe it’s in real and ongoing transformation, which is not comfortable for some people. Ultimately, the prospect of more individual and rich communication to consumers should be a boon to the industry.”

What is the next big thing coming down the line for the industry whether it’s a technology, market trend or something else entirely?

“The next big thing is a continuation of what is already the big thing – the growth of martech and the move to more personalisation and automation in our business. I believe ideas will stay central to what we do. 

“However, more of what is created, and how it is delivered, will involve technology, and eventually automation of portions of what we deliver.”

Can you explain the obstacles, as you see them, that need to be overcome in order for the industry to move to a better place?

“This could be a treatise on its own. I think one of the main obstacles is around agency remuneration. Over decades, the industry got used to living off of media inflation and annual client increases.  

“Today, the process of staffing plans has given way to clients wanting nimbler, smaller teams and to tap agency specialists as needed. We need to ensure that as this happens, agencies continue to get compensated fairly for the value we add.  I think an evolving world of compensation will be key to this.”

What work or innovation during your tenure are you most proud of and why?

“I am proud of the work we did over the years in OgilvyOne, to evolve new services ahead of the market – in consulting, forming Neo, gaining partners in automation and digital production (such as Verticurl and Pennywise).

“While the OgilvyOne name was retired in Ogilvy’s re-founding and move to a ‘one Ogilvy’ setup, we have retained the skills and have seen our centre of excellence, powered by Verticurl, Pennywise, and our Vietnam digital hub, continue to flourish.” 

What was the biggest mistake you’ve made in your career, and what did you learn?

“I tend to look to the future, more than the past. That said, it is worthwhile to learn from past mistakes. I guess my biggest ‘mistake’ relates to ‘DigiMarketing’ – the book I wrote in the earlier days of digital marketing.  

“It was a good platform, at a time when many companies were really just starting to grasp the changes that digital marketing would mean for them. I should have kept building upon that platform with further books and material, as it was aimed at helping client transformation.  I think the lesson learned is that once you create a relevant platform, you need to put all effort into maximising it.”

What is the landmark piece of work by others that was a game-changer for the industry, in your view?

“There are so many campaigns that have shaped culture, we are proud of our Dove Beauty work which changed the conversation around female beauty.

“But from other agencies, some that spring to mind would be Patagonia challenging consumers on responsible consumerism. Also Bodyform, which in 2017 bravely portrayed a future world where taboos around periods no longer exist. The UK ad by AMVBBDO showed real menstrual blood instead of the blue liquid that was usually used.” 

Given that marketing is an industry designed to create more consumption, can it be considered a force for good in a world of diminishing natural resources?

“I think marketing is not only about consumption, but also has an impact on shaping consumer views about a multitude of things, including social issues. This can (and should) mean that marketing and advertising can help shape better behaviour and steer consumers to products that deliver on sustainability.”

Is brand purpose a worthwhile goal?

“Absolutely, I think companies are very mixed in how well – and genuinely – they pursue purpose. So, I can’t say that everyone is good at it. However, aiming to have purpose and values is a good thing.”

If you had to pick one thing that has damaged the industry as a whole, what would it be?

“The separation of media from ‘creative. It was done for financial purposes of scale, but I think it bifurcated the industry for a period of time.”

Do you think scammers should be banned from awards shows when they are caught, just like doping athletes face sporting bans?

“I don’t think it’s just about the individuals. I think the industry needs to look at the agencies which foster an environment in which scamming is accepted. The question then is whether agencies themselves, not just the individuals, should face some form of penalties.”

What makes for a great client?

“A real willingness to treat their agency as a partner.”

What makes for a bad client?

“Treating the agency only as a ‘supplier’. This sometimes mean withholding information that could help an agency team identify an opportunity and build the right strategy.”

Can you outline the opportunities ahead, as you see them, for the industry?

“Again, a question that could lead to a treatise for an answer. The big opportunities lie in helping literally millions of new brands that will come into the market in the next few years as more business people use the direct-to-consumer power of digital to build their business.  

“Plus, there is the opportunity to help some of the world’s great, existing brands evolve and digitally transform. The challenge is to find a way to scale beyond enterprise clients to successfully service more mid-size and start-up companies with needs.”

And, conversely, what are the big threats to the industry – whether its consultancies, in-housing, technology or something else entirely?

“There are many ‘threats’ to the traditional agencies, if they stay traditional. As you note, there is definitely a rise in consultancies wanting to take more of the marketing pie. In-housing is also a growing trend, which threatens to diminish the agency role and revenues. 

“However, there’s also the opportunity to put more agency staff on-site with clients to service their business, rather than having them attempt to run their own in-house agency (which often don’t succeed in the long-run). The opportunity lies in examining what appropriate actions agencies can take to counter these threats, rather than simply suffer the consequences.”

Are you paid well, or not enough, by your employer for what you bring to the table?

“I’m not sure that I need to discuss my personal compensation, but I will say that ensuring our staff are fairly compensated for their work is a top priority for us. It is also vital to nurture young talent, and reward success.”

Looking to industry talent – is it more difficult now to find the right people now than say 10 years ago  – given the pace of technological change – and how do you see this playing out over the next decade?

“It always has been – and probably always will be – a challenge to get great people, since talented people are always in demand, and are inventive enough to create or find new opportunities.”

If your children wanted to enter this industry, would you say it was a good idea or a bad idea?

“It would depend upon my children’s goals and what they need to be happy. I don’t think that this has become an undesirable industry – for the short-term, or for the long-term, for those who feel it’s the right career. In regard to my children, I always encourage them to find their own path, rather than hope or expect them to follow in my footsteps.”

I’ve heard industry leaders state that ‘everything will be programmatic soon’. Is that a good or a bad thing – and why?

“Good or bad brings a value judgment to it. I think it’s a practical reality of our business that as more consumers shift their time to digital devices and channels, clients will shift their media too.  As a result, there’s a natural growth of programmatic.”

With internet peer reviews now driving the last mile to purchase for consumers, is the traditional marketing funnel dead?

“I think the ‘traditional’ funnel thinking has been dead for some time now. What is needed is a new understanding of how consumers encounter and interact with brands in an age where a couple of clicks takes you to purchase, and where various influencers and reviews matter more than ever.”

How valuable is creativity in the modern industry landscape so dominated by technology and automation?

“It’s still essential. People respond to stories, surprise, delight, and many other things.  Otherwise, it will simply be computers generating offers.”

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the rise of artificial intelligence and its effect upon your industry?

“Optimistic, as it will give new power to smart people to invent new things.”

Virtual personal assistants and artificial intelligence – should marketers be scared or view the technology as an opportunity?

“Marketers need to understand and embrace technology, or they will be swept aside.”

How long will it be before ‘voice’ becomes a force in marketing?

“It is rapidly becoming a force given consumer adoption. Every brand needs a strategy now.”

Esports – is it an opportunity or waste of energy for marketers?

“Esports represents a huge growth area – again, driven by consumer wants and shifts.  It would be foolish of marketers not to pay some attention to what consumers want and do today.”

New millennial platforms are emerging like Twitch, TikTok and Snapchat – which of them, if any, will own the future?

“I hesitate to play pundit by picking which platforms will or won’t work out in the long-term. I think the more relevant issue is what the rise of these platforms in aggregate say about the future of how consumers want to interact with brands and each other.”

The Google and Facebook duopoly – do you love or hate it?

“Again, I don’t think it’s about a value judgment of loving or hating anything. The key issue is to deal with the reality, at least for now, of the importance of these platforms (along with others from China and India, which should not be ignored).”

Finally, which international market will lead the way for your industry over the next 50 years and why?

“The markets in the ‘Velocity 12’ study that we published a couple of years ago. They represent the future growth of the next billion middle-class consumers.  We’ll share that study with you, if you don’t already have it.  

“The V12 are being driven by some major trends that will impact the next 50 years globally. The key drivers we have identified are:

  1. The continued rise of women, as decision makers and change-makers.
  2. Accelerated urbanisation.
  3. Muslim futurists, who in many V12 markets are reshaping the direction of business growth, brands and social change.
  4. The reordering of the global digital hierarchy which will mean that V12 markets are increasingly at the centre – rather than the periphery – of new digital developments.

Kent Wertime is the Asia chief executive of Ogilvy


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