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ARF 2017 Annual Conference

Posted by Savannah House on Mon, Mar 27, 2017

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Last week I attended the 2017 Advertising Research Foundation’s (ARF’s) Annual Conference in New York City. Researchers, advertisers, marketers, and everyone in between descended upon the Hilton in Midtown for two days of keynote addresses, presentations, demos, networking, inspiration, and more.

This being my first ARF conference, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But I give the ARF high marks for carefully cultivating and selecting their speakers to ensure attendees are exposed to the industry’s best.  

There’s a lot I could write about, but as I reflect on my time at ARF, there were a couple of “highlights” that I’d like to share:

The Longevity of Stories

The average brand lasts for 15 years. So how does a brand like Levi’s manage to not only last, but remain culturally relevant and desirable for 143 years? By storytelling.

Levi’s is a unique product because the jeans themselves bear the markings of the customers’ lives—every mark, tear, and rip—the product itself tells a meaningful story. Recognizing the power of storytelling, a big part of Levi’s marketing strategy is creating conditions to let people tell their personal stories. The brand aligns themselves with centers of cultural movements, like Coachella and SXSW—two events at the center of art, music, and innovation—to foster experiences for their customers.

Traditional advertising is important to Levi’s—they still use qual and quant methods  to test their ad creative—but it’s a much smaller part of their marketing mix. As CMO Jennifer Sey explained, the Levi’s brand is carried through the generations—from the rebels of the 50s, the punks of the 70s, to the hipsters of the 2000s—by the stories created.

The lesson? To become the “youngest oldest brand in the world”, you must tell meaningful stories about your brand and create conditions that let people tell their own.

Equal Representation in Advertising

Step aside, Brawny Man. There’s a new Brawny Woman in town.

During a lunch roundtable, Douwe Bergsma, CMO of Brawny’s parent company Georgia Pacific, shared the company’s desire to create a better emotional connection with consumers. So, for the month of March, the iconic Brawny paper towel man has been replaced with a woman to support their #StrengthHasNoGender campaign.

This move comes as Georgia Pacific recently teamed up with the #SeeHer movement, led by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), to increase the accurate portrayal of women and girls in media through the new Gender Equality Measure (GEM). Replacing the burly man with a strong woman figure was a way for Georgia Pacific to breakdown stereotypes and support equality among men and women in advertising—while garnering positive GEM scores.

It’s becoming increasingly important for brands to be cognizant of equal representation in their messaging. Heavy hitters like AT&T are making the GEM score a standard measurement in their marketing efforts, and based on Georgia Pacific’s recent success, maybe other brands should follow suit.

Creating Personal Customer Experiences

 Customers like to feel special and valued. So, fitness king Nike teamed up with creative agency R/GA to create the ultimate customer experience. Using data, algorithms, and machine learning, R/GA engineered Nike on Demand—a humanized interactive messaging service through WhatsApp—to help motivate and keep athletes on track to overcome barriers and achieve their fitness goals.

Whether athletes are training for a marathon or overcoming an injury, Nike on Demand is particularly motivating because it’s a person sending words of encouragement, not a robot. This humanization of communication creates a special bond between athlete and Nike—ultimately driving usage and brand loyalty.

While Nike on Demand is a large-scale program, brands can glean some high-level insight from this case study. It’s a fantastic example of a brand leveraging personalization to create custom experiences that let their customers know they are special.

Aligning Content with Motivation

As the adage goes, “content is king”. And as content marketing becomes more important for brands, it’s critical that creative is brought to life in a way that’s meaningful and relevant to consumers.

Vicki Draper, Director of Consumer Analytics and Research at AOL, Inc., Dr. Niels Schillewaert, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at InSites Consulting, and our own Dr. Erica Carranza, VP of Consumer Psychology at CMB, shared insights into their discovery of eight content moments—motivations for why people engage with content—and how brands can use these moments as “guardrails” for the type of content they should be producing.

Instead of producing content just to keep up with the Joneses, focusing on the behavioral motivations for why consumers engage with content will help brands develop an intentional and strategic content marketing strategy.

If there’s one overarching lesson I learned at ARF 2017, it’s that marketing is as much an art as it is science. The most successful brands are those who are diverging from traditional techniques, challenging norms, and finding new ways to innovate to keep customers engaged and happy.

The ARF Annual Event is definitely on my list of must attends for 2018! Did you attend? Let us know what inspired you in the comment section below!

Savannah House is a Senior Marketing Coordinator at CMB who after ARF 2017 is inspired to make new memories and tell more stories in her pair of Levi's 501 jeans.