New Report: CMOs Believe Innovative Technology Powers Brand Safety

According to a recent IAB Europe report, CMOs prioritized brand safety in 2022 and now see technical innovation as key to keeping their brands safe. But has the nature of brand safety changed in the generative AI age?

Brand Safety Dominated CMOs’ Agendas In 2022

The IAB Europe‘s Brand Advertising Committee most recent brand survey revealed that over two-thirds of respondents agreed that brand safety was a key priority for the industry in 2022. Furthermore, according to the report, 53 percent believe that the industry has done a good job of tackling brand safety over the past 12 months, a meaningful increase from the 36 percent who agreed in a similar survey conducted in 2019.

Much of that shift may be attributed to brands’ use of innovative technologies to track brand risk across multiple platforms. The IAB survey found that 71 percent of respondents cited technology innovations as critical to their ability to solve brand safety concerns, up from 65 percent in 2019. In addition, respondents cited innovations like machine learning and natural language processing as essential to their brand safety strategy.

According to the report, only 45 percent of brands surveyed believe brand safety will be less of a challenge in 2023. That may be because, despite technical advances in how brands can track and analyze brand risk, solutions may vary in quality and offer inconsistent results across platforms. Case in point: the numerous brand safety concerns that upended Twitter advertising in late 2022, causing many brands to reduce or halt ad spend temporarily.

Brand Safety Is Changing Because Of New Technologies

New platforms and technologies also mean new categories of risk for brands. For one of the world’s largest advertisers Procter & Gamble, managing risk has meant cutting as much as $140 million in digital ad spend due to concerns about brand safety in 2017 and again in 2022, in removing ads from parts of Eastern Europe. That’s because, for brands, brand equity matters much more than the reach supplied by ads. According to Andre Schulten, P&G’s CFO, in a January 19 earnings call, the company is focused on “sufficiency” in their advertising spend to grow the brand.

“I would characterize our current media spending and support spending for our brands as sufficient, which we are paying a lot of attention with each of the businesses,” Schulten stated. “And sufficiency is defined as sufficient reach, sufficient frequency. It’s not defined as dollars spent.” Schulten noted that the company’s goal was to “continue growing our brands, their top-of-mind awareness, and their equity.” Schulten stated that future reinvestment with respect to media would occur when “there is a positive return in the short term, and we can further strengthen our brands or specific innovation that is out there.”

According to Claire Atkin of Check My Ads Institute, a brand safety consultancy, the value and complexity of brand equity are becoming more apparent to brands because of consumers’ new awareness of how ads work and their role in supporting content and, by extension, ideas.

“The first thing to know is that brand equity matters. I mean, the entire idea of brand safety acknowledges that brand equity is very important,” said Atkin. “And it’s not just ‘Don’t sponsor hate.” Instead, Atkin says that brands want to be associated with “good, trusted publishers” and “good, trusted brands” – not promoting harm or misinformation is not enough to win the trust of today’s more informed consumer. 

Atkin stated that “brand safety tech companies complicated the idea of brand equity” because their tech tends to focus on an article-by-article metric rather than a larger context of relevance and messaging for the brand and its audience.

“Ad tech companies have co-opted the idea of what a key performance indicator is for a campaign,” Atkin believes. “They’ve said, we’ll get you reach, we’ll get you click-throughs, there’ll be no waste, and will keep your brand safe; they’ve made all these huge promises.”

According to Atkin, when brands go for higher view rates at lower CPMs, they can end up in some dodgy areas of the digital ecosystem, risking brand equity amid content that does not reflect or even opposes their core brand message.

As new data predicts only a mild rise of 2.6 percent in ad spend in 2023 due to inflation concerns, CMOs will likely be more judicious about where they are directing their budgets and the potential risk to their investments from content or platforms with lax or non-existent brand safety controls.

The Science Of What Works In Advertising With Jon Evans, Chief Customer Officer, System1 Group

In this episode, Jon and I discuss System1, how they drive insights for marketers on the brand side, and what works in advertising today. Jon tells us about the differences he experienced from the client side to the agency side and gives an honest look into what it means to be a CMO day to day. He explains why the skills that make a great marketer aren’t necessarily the same as those that make a great CMO and how balancing the long-term view of the brand with the daily execution of tasks can make the CMO job very lonely. CMOs, removed from the “doing,” must focus on creating the conditions for success and representing the customer in the room where decisions are made. Jon tells us that successful CMOs quickly recognize talent on their team, harness creativity to drive business outcomes and understand that advertising is both an art and a science.

Jon Evans is the Chief Customer Officer at System1 Group and host of the ‘Uncensored CMO’ podcast. For years before that, he was a client-side agency CMO. One of Jon’s most formative roles was with Lucozade, where he learned the power of asking the right questions and why managing perception, not reality, is important in advertising. During his agency days, Jon was shocked to find out how little most agencies understood their clients, and he was perplexed by the hesitancy he saw agencies have towards talking to their clients or asking them important questions. Jon first encountered System1 as a client and, over time, became a member of the team, where he has been able to transition from a generalist to a specialist in consumer behavior.

System1 was originally a research company based on behavioral science that explored why we buy what we buy, with the idea that emotion predicts most of our behavior. Today, they design simple yet clever questions about their clients’ ads, innovations, or branding to ask people how they feel about it and what associations come to mind. They have turned their process into a platform so customers can upload content, send it to their target demographic, measure the response, and compare the results against other content to predict performance. They are using neuroscience to measure attention and emotion to understand why some ads work and others don’t. Their clients use this data to allocate spending and sell their ideas to the rest of the c-suite. Jon tells us marketers are often overexposed to their products, so typically, the simplest ideas win out.

 In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • Why taking the time to understand your clients will be beneficial for everyone involved
  • The two questions that will help you win the pitch
  • What really works in advertising today and why

 Key Highlights

  • [01:30] The bitter impact of the sugar tax
  • [07:20] Jon’s path with System1 from contractor to CMO
  • [10:50] The shift from the client side to the agency side
  • [13:50] Two questions to help you win the pitch
  • [15:50] What does a CMO do?
  • [18:00] Agency Pitch (forks)
  • [19:30] Why is it called System1?
  • [20:20] What is the system?
  • [25:15] What works in advertising today?
  • [29:20] Lessons from the Uncensored CMO
  • [33:15] The unique role of the CMO within the C-suit
  • [35:00] Young Jon’s first marketing lesson
  • [36:30] Costs of not playing the game
  • [39:00] “If you’re not being fired, you’re not trying hard enough.”
  • [41:00] The power of confidence, compounding, and consistency
  • [43:40] What skill will keep us employed in the future?
  • [46:30] They may buy, but would they invest?
  • [49:10] The amazing Amazon model
  • [52:00] The threat and opportunity of AI for marketers

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Alan B. Hart is the creator and host of “Marketing Today with Alan Hart,” a weekly podcast where he interviews leading global marketing professionals and business leaders. Alan advises leading executives and marketing teams on brand, customer experience, innovation, and growth opportunities. He has consulted with Fortune 100 companies but is an entrepreneur at his core, having founded or served as an executive for nine companies.

The State Of Social Intelligence: Q&A With Ayzenberg VP Of Insights And Analytics Jocelyn Swift Harjes

Jocelyn Swift Harjes, Ayzenberg VP of Insights and Analytics, was recently honored with a spot on this year’s Social Intelligence Insider 50 list, which includes the world’s most influential social intelligence professionals. We asked Jocelyn to discuss some of the changes she has seen in the industry and her work with clients.

How has the role of analytics and data in brand strategy changed over the past few years as the power of social media in culture becomes more apparent?

Social media has established itself as an essential part of how we interact with others, and with the increase in social media comes a rise in data availability. Social networks have become the dominant form of communication billions of people use worldwide. Their ease of use encourages people from all walks of life to share and communicate, allowing a platform for political debate, and awareness raising, and brands to connect directly with their customers.

While it’s key to remember that social listening is not a focus group because it does not represent the general population, which is crucial for research design, the power of this unprompted, unscripted, and unfiltered organic conversation can represent the most authentic indication of consumer sentiment.

Online mentions have an impact. Twitter conducted research that proved that conversations lead to bottom-line success. At the high range, just a 10% rise in the conversation has led up to a 3% increase in sales volume. Within the technology category, for example, they found that on average, just a 1% increase in the conversation has led to more than $6 million in incremental sales.¹

This is why its clear data governance is key, and why having an integrated measurement framework that aligns with all programming is so important. Structuring metrics and those all-important key performance indicators (KPIs) around the business’s strategy, goals, and objectives into primary, secondary, and tertiary levels. Having a clear understanding of your data systems and processes, it enables you to make sense of the data signals and generate actionable insights.

What are some aspects of strategy that brands often need help with, and where is the need for social intelligence the greatest?

Synthesio called 2022 the year of AI-enabled Consumer Intelligence or “AICI” as the value of social data continues to move past social marketing teams to empower insights, brand, and even innovation. 

We also see that SI LAB’s 2022 Social Listening reporting highlighted that 33.5% are spending $100K or more on social data tools every year (up from 10% in 2019).

Social Intelligence isn’t going anywhere, and when understanding the way to harness its power it can help marketers identify trends and insights that may drive brand engagement, increase sales leads or conversions, build brand reputation, and change consumer behavior.

What are some of the key components of a data strategy and how do you help brands with theirs?

Data-driven marketing is essential in the modern business world. Marketing teams use data to track important metrics like conversion rate, content response and repeat purchase rate which helps them respond quickly to changing consumer preferences and adjust their strategy accordingly to hit their revenue targets.

A 2022 CMO Council Report found that 91% of marketers with direct access to customer data say it provides them a competitive advantage. However, the difference between top and bottom performers is speed: How quickly do you detect market and consumer behavior shifts and adjust accordingly?

Marketing data maturity has moved beyond customer segmentation and targeting. Top performers generate actionable insights from their data, enabling them to identify shifts in market and consumer behavior before their competitors do.

Key factors for data and analytics success include a strong command of technology, data control and management process, and highly skilled teams that can make sense of the numbers and develop strategies to put the insights to work. 

Creativity is still key in data-driven marketing. Analytics can be used to create new customer experiences, campaigns, and products that are both intuitive and intellectual. Striking a balance between instinct and intellect enables you to combine both strengths and maximize insights’ effectiveness in driving revenue growth.

What are some examples of winning strategies that your clients have used? 

The work I’m proudest of is usually behind the scenes, but seeing the power of social intelligence being the canary in the coal mine is always something that blows me away. From moving up product timelines within game launches to uncovering crucial insights regarding product innovations that lead to unlocking the next $100M idea, harnessing the power of social intelligence is a key competitive advantage.

What do you see on the horizon for brands navigating data complexity across platforms and through new retail formats?

When I look at the top 4 themes according to the 2023 State of Marketing Report (Strategic Leadership and Growth, Brand Loyalty, Community, and Purpose, Engaging Content and Innovative Storytelling, and Data Connectivity & Creativity), it’s clear the need for a data maturation process is becoming a stronger need across organizations. With the death of the cookie, we’ll need to rely on first-party data – the trust of this data is crucial when building out trust with customers. Dealing with the demise of cookies is one thing, but developing a well-aligned functional data strategy that powers insight is another. Moving from backward-looking, siloed data to forward-looking, predictive information is critical for future success.

Sources: ¹

Square: New Black And Latino Retail Startups Face Unique Challenges And Opportunities

According to Square’s CMO, Lauren Weinberg, the company wants to help level the playing field for Black and Latino retail entrepreneurs. Recently, Square announced the launch of Forward, a business accelerator program designed to help Black and Latino retail entrepreneurs get access to the capital, mentorship and ongoing support that they need to succeed. We asked Weinberg about these entrepreneurs’ challenges and how Square plans to support them.

There is a lot of talk in the retail industry about increasing diversity but much less discussion about empowering diverse founders and creators with capital. What is Square hoping to accomplish with this initiative?

Square’s corporate purpose is economic empowerment, and we believe all businesses should be able to participate and thrive in the economy. However, despite leading America’s entrepreneurial boom, Black and Latino businesses still face higher closure rates and have less access to the capital, mentorship, and professional business tools they need to thrive. Knowing that Square succeeds when our sellers succeed, Forward is designed to help reduce premature closures of Black and Brown businesses and is only one step in our ongoing commitment to increase equitable access to the economy for sellers of color. We hope to provide these businesses with the foundational tools and guidance fit for each of their unique business needs to set them up for long-term success truly. Square’s products have the power to help businesses automate their operations and create new revenue streams, and we hope these business owners are able to capitalize on this potential. 

The climate is tough for startups. What are some of the standout criteria that the organization/group is looking for when selecting a startup?

Starting and running a business is one of the most difficult and rewarding things a person can do. We’re excited to review applications and look forward to choosing applicants with clear and varied business ideas who are working hard to make them a reality. We have a minimal number of requirements we take into consideration when choosing applicable candidates for Forward, including: 

  • Businesses must be a part of the clothing & accessories, health & beauty, home goods & furniture, or food & beverage sectors
  • Companies must be founded by or have a current CEO who identifies as Black/African American or Latino
  • Businesses must be based in the U.S., have publicly launched, and be in the first three years of their operation (i.e., cannot be in alpha, beta, or stealth).
  • Businesses must report a gross revenue of between $25K – $500K
  • Must be existing Square sellers or willing to switch over to Square products

Forward is fronted by some huge names. How does that increase visibility around underrepresentation in the startup world?

We’re proud to have such incredible partners in our celebrity mentors, who are all successful entrepreneurs in their own rights and all share Square’s commitment to economic empowerment. As part of Forward by Square, we are confident that they will support and inspire our inaugural cohort of businesses, helping them overcome the unique challenges faced by underrepresented businesses. 

What about marketing? It can be challenging for new BIPOC creators/brands to find and connect with audiences. How can retail entrepreneurs build their brand at the very early stages?

It’s absolutely true that marketing is one of the biggest challenges faced by business owners of color. However, a recent Square survey of Hispanic entrepreneurs also pointed out that marketing is seen as an area of opportunity. As an early-stage startup, I recommend building your brand across your social channels first because it doesn’t cost anything to create a business account. However, it’s important to be mindful that consistent and authentic content is key, especially if your targets are digitally native consumers who prefer to shop on their mobile devices. Square’s powerful ecosystem of tools can help even the smallest businesses stay in touch with existing customers, reach out to new ones, and create loyalty programs to keep everyone coming back. 

Normalizing Car-Sharing And Focusing On User Experience With Andrew Mok, CMO At Turo

In this episode, Andrew and I discuss Turo’s mission, how marketing helps them achieve it, and how he views today’s CMO role. Andrew outlines the challenges Turo faced early on, how they got around them, and how a shift to focusing on improving the host experience has been one of their most effective marketing assets. We go into the details of Turo’s most recent “Open Doors” brand campaign and how they are riding the web3 craze by subverting it and encouraging new experiences in reality. As a CMO, Andrew feels his role is more than just advertising and performance marketing. It’s about solving a problem for the customers. His approach is rooted in holistic thinking and understanding how you provide value to the world.

Andrew Mok never thought he would be in marketing because he was more left-brained, but in 2012, when analytics became a large part of marketing, he found his path. When Andrew joined Turo in 2012, 54,000 users were being served in just two cities. In 2017, at age 29, Andrew was promoted to CMO and has advanced the company to over 10,000 cities serving 7 million users. Today, Turo is the largest global peer-to-peer car-sharing marketplace, and their revenue has grown over 250X since he joined. As an Asian American, Andrew always felt different growing up but sees now that differences are to be celebrated. That is the approach he takes to marketing by showcasing Turo’s unique value propositions and living out their brand values of being expressive and grounded. It’s all about celebrating uniqueness and seeing the person first.

 In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • The unique challenges Turo faced early on and how they overcame them.
  • How embracing uniqueness is a personal value for Andrew and how that shows up in his approach to marketing.
  • Why a holistic view of marketing yields better results than a siloed one.

 Key Highlights

  • [01:30] How Turo is making a weird thing normal
  • [04:55] What is Turo?
  • [07:20] From computer science to CMO
  • [09:50] The role of CMO from a younger leader’s perspective
  • [10:50] Make sure you don’t have a leaky bucket
  • [14:15] The Open Doors brand campaign
  • [17:40] The role of Unreal Engine in Turo’s new campaign
  • [19:00] Turo’s global expansion and aspirations
  • [21:50] Challenges and benefits of international ride sharing
  • [22:40] Developing a passion for leadership in the AAPI community
  • [26:45] How growing up Asian American shaped his approach to marketing
  • [28:30] Enjoy the current moment and reflect on past successes
  • [29:45] Simplification makes you a better storyteller
  • [30:50] The importance of accessible reproductive care
  • [34:40] Get out of the corporate echo chamber

Resources Mentioned:

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 Connect with Marketing Today and Alan Hart:

Alan B. Hart is the creator and host of “Marketing Today with Alan Hart,” a weekly podcast where he interviews leading global marketing professionals and business leaders. Alan advises leading executives and marketing teams on brand, customer experience, innovation, and growth opportunities. He has consulted with Fortune 100 companies but is an entrepreneur at his core, having founded or served as an executive for nine companies.

Betting On The Billions: 3 Takeaways From Spotify’s Barcelona Deal

FC Barcelona recently issued a limited edition jersey promoting Catalan pop star Rosalia’s “MOTOMAMI” album for the March 19th LaLiga Clasico. The event-driven promo is just one more step in Spotify’s efforts to woo creators and ink new brand partnerships while presenting new opportunities to brand marketers. Here are three key takeaways.

#1: 1.5 Billion Viewers Can’t Be Wrong

The world is still engaging with soccer on multiple platforms—even in the midst of economic and political uncertainty. According to SportsProMedia:

  • More than 550 million viewers tuned in for the FIFA 2022 opener.
  • Across 93.6 million posts during the 2022 series, the event launched 5.95 billion social media engagements.
  • FIFA reported record-breaking revenue of US$7.5 billion for the tournament’s four-year cycle.

In comparison, 113 million people, a record, watched the 2023 Super Bowl, per Statista

According to S&P Global Intelligence, soccer is the most-watched sport on live TV.

in eight of 10 major global markets. Although just 26 million Americans watched the world cup in 2022, marketers seeking to build a global presence will find a unique opportunity in marketing through soccer-related content.

#2: American Soccer Fans Are The Youngest Sports Fans And The Most Diverse 

According to data from The Morning Consult

  • Over half of the respondents who identified as soccer fans are under 45 (54 percent). This is a higher share of young fans than the NBA, NFL, college basketball, tennis, NHL, and MLB.
  • Soccer fans are the most diverse of all sports, with 40 percent of those surveyed identifying as people of color.
  • Young soccer fans are now transmitting their love of soccer to their Gen Alpha children, with 63 percent of Gen Alpha parents stating that they encourage their children to be sports fans.

That presents a key opportunity for brand marketers seeking access to audiences of younger families and diverse communities. 

#3: Like Spotify And FC Barcelona, Brands Should Have A Strategy To Connect With Audiences Everywhere, Including At The Stadium

Spotify’s recent deal with FC Barcelona, worth over $320 million for the initial sponsorship, per Reuters, reflects more than a marriage of convenience. According to Alex Norström, Spotify’s Chief Business Officer, in a 2022 interview announcing the partnership, the brand wants to leverage soccer’s fan culture to deliver new Spotify artists to an online and in-person audience. In addition, Spotify will use targeted ads—and presumably new brand partnerships—to engage diverse global audiences.

“Barça’s games attract a huge, global viewership per season, and we’re looking forward to working with them to connect artists to this audience,” said Norström. “For example, using the dynamic digital displays to showcase and geo-target relevant artists to Barça’s global TV audience. While European viewers may see a message about one artist, TV viewers in India could be served a different and locally relevant message.”

According to Spotify, the company experienced record audience growth in 2022. 

“Our approach to our earned, our pitches, and how we want to reach external audiences and the press is as important as how we’re approaching our owned editorial channels,” said CJ Stanley, Spotify’s Global Head of Communications, in a 2022 interview.

SXSW: Despite Uncertainty, Marketers Have A Healthy Appetite For TikTok

Over a two-day period at the beginning of this year’s SXSW festival, TikTok held panels and workshops at its inaugural event for independent agencies to better understand the platform. 

TikTok’s uncertain future was largely absent from those discussions, however, the overwhelming interest in how to capitalize on its command over Gen Z and the future of commerce on the app was clear.

TikTok’s FYP Event For Agencies

On the 44th floor of the Hanover Republic Square in downtown Austin, TikTok brought creators, brands and agencies together in over a dozen well-attended talks and workshops.

One consistent message from the invitees at the FYP event—and elsewhere at SXSW—was a desire to reach new audiences on the platform while understanding and embracing the uncertainties that go along with it, whether that meant seeking out new measurement solutions to tie platform goals to clear and measurable KPIs, or navigating cultural moments through strategic risk-taking on the platform.

“We had some really great conversations with leadership and internal stakeholders about how 2023 is going to be our year for TikTok,” said Courtney Landolfe, Senior Manager of Digital Marketing at J.Crew.

All Eyes On TikTok

Despite the backdrop of a potential ban, brand marketers, agencies and media companies remained bullish on continued investment into TikTok as a full-funnel marketing channel.

Zachary Ricchiuti, Associate Vice President of Client Delivery at Kepler, shared the company’s plan to take a long view to TikTok, noting they are “road mapping our evolution on the platform, not just three months from now, but taking a two-year horizon and [changing] the entire infrastructure and how we activate from a creative standpoint.”

“Ayzenberg is working with TikTok on behalf of several result-oriented clients. Outcomes to date have been more than impressive,” said Eric Ayzenberg, CEO of and Ayzenberg Group. “It’s important to take a 30,000-foot view on social innovation, especially around short-form video and TikTok. The results for upper-funnel brand awareness are undeniable. Simultaneously, we are now entering yet another transformational phase around social commerce to drive full-funnel results,” he said.

Carly Carson, Head of Integrated Media at PMG, also shared how the company is prioritizing and positioning TikTok as a media platform: 

“We’ve been on a tough journey just like everybody else here over the last couple of years, and what has been really exciting has been how it transformed from a big, high-impact flash in the pan, single-moment bucket, to what is now becoming an always-on full-funnel part of our—not just social platform ecosystem—but our total digital ecosystem.”

TikTok Rewards Risk

TikTok has always been a grey area for brands wading into the platform mainly through the efforts of savvy, chronically online social media managers and platform-native content creators. And while the prospect of a ban seems more of a clear-and-present danger than previous threats—especially in a year of platforms in jeopardy—that hasn’t stopped social media managers from pushing for more risk-taking and extending that principle elsewhere.

At the panel ‘Navigating Calculated Risk On Social Media,’ Zaria Parvez, Social Media Manager for Duolingo, talked about how TikTok has changed the role of social media managers and the appetite for risk in social.

“Calculated risk has just encapsulated the essence of Duo on TikTok. When we first started our account, it was very basic, very language-learning focused, and what you’d expect from a language-learning app,” Parvez said. “And the big calculated risk that we took was when we shifted it to Duo being a creator himself.”

Parvez noted that in the past decade, social media managers have gone from following an approved script to ad-libbing—to writing their own script and delivering it across millions of devices billions of times. Part of that process has been educating internal stakeholders about communication on the Internet in 2023 and consistently accelerating the risks taken.

When it comes to brand leaders, the perspective is similar: risk-taking and TikTok should be understood as complementary. Patrick O’Keefe, VP of Integrated Marketing Communications at e.l.f. Beauty gave the following advice: “When you’re thinking about leaning in, you’ve got to take risks. We took a lot of risks. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But at the end of the day, if you don’t, you’re not going to win on the platform,” said O’Keefe.

The Future of TikTok

Commerce was a common refrain for what attendees and panelists were most excited to see on the platform in 2023.

“It’s a repetitive answer because everyone on the stage has said this already, but commerce has to be the most exciting piece,” said Kepler’s Ricchiuti.

“The improved shoppability of TikTok ads continues to grow and diversify, we’ve been talking a lot about shops for J.Crew and several other clients at Kepler … that’s probably the biggest area for us—and for everybody,” he continued.

72 Hours At SXSW: Thoughts From A Creative Director’s First Year At The Festival

“This doesn’t happen every day.”

Robbie Krieger, playing a rare full set of material by The Doors, after Dennis Quaid dropped in to sing lead vocals for two songs at the Belmont, 3/14/23.

I’m big into pattern recognition, and it somehow felt important that it was 25 years ago that I made my first and only trip to Austin, Texas. 

I was in film and TV development back then, and I’d been invited to be a judge for the screenwriting competition of the 1998 Austin Film Festival. I remember the opening night party at the Driskill Hotel and loving the freewheeling music and film-loving vibe of Austin that had been immortalized for movie fiends like myself in Richard Linklater’s Slacker

Fast forward to now, and lo and behold I’m staying at the Driskill, wearing the sweet badge of an Ayzenberg colleague who went every year but had to drop out with a conflict. My goal was to soak up as much as I could in the short time I was there, just three of the ten days that the festivals and conferences would run and swim in the slipstream of the more than 300,000 folks estimated to descend on Austin to listen to the heartbeat of popular culture. 

Over twenty different panels offered up “The Future of” one thing or another, from music and film to design and healthcare, which is just what the doctor ordered for a creative with a bone-dry well, who just stepped off the most intense heads-down, live-in-the-present client treadmill of his life.

With over 350 panels and sessions and over 1400 musical acts playing this year’s South By (the official Spotify playlist clocks in at over 64 hours of music), I quickly gave up any illusions of seeing “the best” stuff and shifted my focus on the experiences that I thought I would get the most out of for myself and my tech and gaming-focused integrated agency The SXSW app is a mobile marvel, and guided by my RFID badge, an incredibly helpful and well-staffed volunteer army, and QR codes as far as the eye can see, I dove into Day 4 head first.

As an insatiable music fan 30 years into their career, I’m too old to be young, but also far too young to be old. This compass setting guided me to showcases that featured a blend of living legends like New Order, Robbie Krieger, and French disco legend Cerrone and up-and-coming acts like Loose Articles, Bartees Strange, and spill tab.

Bartees Strange was a standout.

Music is such a critical component of a creative’s life, from trending sounds of TikTok to the soundtrack of a trailer, and keeping your references both timeless and timely is the key to collaborative fluency. It’s also an enormous endorphin release to step out from behind your laptop and dance with your colleagues and new festival friends that happily accumulate during your time in Austin.

The friendliness of your fellow festival goers at SXSW cannot be understated (my tote getting nicked by this badge-wearing bandit notwithstanding).

I was also eager to check out the state of experiential, with no shortage of brands, films, shows and products setting up shop to use the power of SXSW to catapult into the social sphere. 

I won’t name names because I don’t want to throw any shade on what was undoubtedly a ton of hard work, but the playbook felt a bit tired and uninspired on the whole. Scan the QR code for an IGS effect, take a selfie at the booth or in front of our screen array, grab a bit of swag and don’t forget to use our hashtag. I was only there for a fraction of the fest, so please let me know what experiential moments you saw at SXSW that you felt moved the needle.

Look mom, I’m in a kaleidoscopic chip bowl!

The panels I attended were global, thought-provoking, uplifting—and entertaining as hell. Hearing stories from the front lines of The Infinite Frontier of Virtual Production at the Australia House was informative from a technical standpoint and affirmed what I’ve been seeing anecdotally at work—more women are in more positions of power in production than ever before thanks to the power of persistence and perseverance.

Listening to Joost van Dreunen, professor and leading academic on gaming and interactive, deliver a master class on “All About Games: Data, Trends, and What’s Next for 2023” was like drinking from the firehose.

Did you know that the number two global fashion brand in the world was Fortnite? With $5.8 billion in digital apparel, Fortnite is second only to Gucci and ahead of Ralph Lauren and Prada. 52 different video game companies hauled in over $1 billion last year, but the big fish keep getting bigger. Doja Cat is drawing huge audiences by streaming her Power Wash Simulator sessions on Twitch.

As a marketer, all this intel gets the hamster wheels spinning. I can’t wait to be back with my team to start applying this to our current workstreams.

From the fanboy perspective, sitting in on the Evil Dead Rises panel was pure bliss (gong hits will do that to you). Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell anchored a panel of cast and crew of the latest entry into the Evil Dead cinematic universe that now somehow spans over four decades.

The gong on stage left figured prominently in the panel 😉

Sam Raimi said “It’s all about entertaining your audience. With the Evil Dead franchise, we’ve left enough room for the audience’s imagination to fill in the dark spaces we’ve left for them.

Connect the audience to the wants and needs of your character and they will be more susceptible to the journey these characters have are on, from an epic quest to a walk down a dark hallway. Once that connection is made, you can deliver the maximum punch.”

Words to live by, for all of us. 

The Metaverse felt more Cronenbergian than ever.

One of my favorite professional experiences was leading creative for the go-to-market campaign for Oculus Rift in 2017. Launching the first consumer-grade VR hardware and catapulting VR gaming from ultra-niche to the mainstream was heady stuff, and it felt like a reunion of sorts to walk the XR Experience Ballroom and experience first-hand the insistence of the Metaverse as it continues to incubate and mutate. The dissonance of Meta announcing another five-figure round of layoffs while innovators and founders work tirelessly to launch the next killer use case was top of mind with the folks I chatted with on the floor. 

Comedians and drag queens unleashed a Texas-size torrent of frustration at the state of affairs in the ever-escalating culture wars.

The world at large flowed through SXSW. The night before I flew in, Bechdel test-acing film Everything Everywhere All At Once nabbed seven Oscars and became the most-awarded film ever almost a year to the day after its debut at SXSW 2022. Silicon Valley banks failing and Washington threatening to boycott TikTok were fiercely discussed.

Did I mention I was only in Austin for 72 hours? If you and your team are lucky enough to go to SXSW for the first time next year, here’s a quick checklist to get you off to a great start:

  • Use the SXSW GO app early and often, and overschedule yourself so you have options once you’re there. You still won’t be able to see everything, but you’ll give yourself a fighting chance.
  • High-profile events give you the option to request a SXXPRESS Pass that guarantees you entry at 9 AM the day before the event. If it’s important to you, have your app open at 8:59 and fire away, they go fast.
  • Don’t turn your back on your SXSW tote, even for a minute. 😉
  • Do as much pre-research as you have time for on the musical acts to ensure you’re seeing the kind of music that lights you up.
  • Take at least one pedicab ride to your next session; the drivers are a hoot.
  • Talk to strangers! I’ve never been to a friendlier fest where everyone is down for a quick chat and a scan of each other’s badge to follow up later.

So, after the dust settled, what did it all mean? What patterns triggered my radar the most? It came down to the people who were there, all drawn by SXSW’s stated mission of “helping creative people achieve their goals.”

The diversity of the attendees, geographically, gender, age, sector and style—from students to septuagenarians and everyone in between—matched the unique blend of bands and brands nearing or surpassing the half-century mark, inspiring and uplifting nascent movements and music.

These diverse and inclusive forces who linked arms together at SXSW, united in the cause to push culture forward, stood in stark contrast to the larger forces in our culture who sow discord between the generations and battle for a supremacy that history tells us is impossible to achieve.

When Krieger and the Doors arrived on the scene, they were leading voices in the counterculture, actively trying to incite the youth to wrest control from the corruption, entitlement and ingrained violence of the establishment. That battle, splintered though it may have become over time, still rages today.

I’ve seen the future, and it’s female, phygital, funky—and pissed off. 

SXSW is amplifying that message for the world, whether you like it or not.

David Rielly is Group Creative Director at and a regular contributor to AList.

Report: How Gen Z Social Search Changed Product Discovery

As Gen Z increasingly embraces social search to discover new products, marketers are finding new opportunities to leverage data and create new organic paths to purchase.

‘Passive’ Product Discovery: How Data Creates A New Path to Purchase

Social commerce is experiencing a boom despite consumers’ concerns over inflation.

According to recent findings by Influencer Marketing Hub, social market value is expected to hit a historic $1.3 trillion in 2023, representing a 30.8 percent increase from 2022, when social commerce sales worldwide added up to an estimated $958 billion. Central to social commerce is targeted advertising relevant to the real-time content and conversations consumers engage with. It places brands within an intimate context of social interactions where interest drives engagement and curiosity in the new is at its peak. Social commerce can create astounding results, as demonstrated by Chinese influencers Viya and Li Jiaqi, selling over $3 billion in goods in a single day.

Social commerce works because it integrates easily into content discovery without feeling like an interruption, per a recent report by GWI.

“As users scroll, they see numerous ads that reflect their shopping preferences,” the report reads, describing TikTok social commerce. “You can even be watching a non-ad related video, and TikTok will pick out keywords for a user to be taken to different results.” According to the report, about 46 percent of Gen Z and millennial TikTok users make an impulse purchase online every 2-3 weeks.

The report shows that most social media users on Instagram, Facebook and TikTok also use the platforms to discover new products. That’s critical for brand marketers seeking to reach Gen Z.  According to a 2022 report by Salesforce, 56 percent of Gen Zers want to hear messaging about new products and services, and 76 percent are interested in sponsored digital experiences from brands.

Yet connecting with Gen Z consumers through content means marketers need access to the right data—insights that help marketers interpret trends and translate them into content or ad experiences Gen Z may want to seek out rather than avoid.


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Marketers Will Increasingly Look To Lifestyle And Demographic Data

According to recent consumer data from Experian, retail marketers are going back to basics and focusing on gaining insights from data that allows them to understand what drives consumer interest (listed as “Modeled Lifestyles” in the chart below) and how those demographics typically behave. This represents a shift in marketers’ use of highly segmented custom audience data last year. As consumers tighten their belts and become more judicious in their purchasing, impulse buys may become less frequent. That makes a deep understanding of consumer interests and priorities essential to understanding where to direct marketing spend.

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The Takeaways:

Brand marketers should focus on what works in social—relevance, intimacy, originality—and match campaigns to the best examples of successful engagement.

Social platforms are gold mines of user-generated content. Tailoring content or ad experiences requires granular insights into demographic behavior, but it also follows some basic common sense.

Social commerce works well because of the social graph—when something works well, tastes good, or makes us feel great, we naturally want to share it. Brands on social should share value, not simply messaging. Products that solve problems, offer new value in an original way or present an experience relevant to trending themes found through social listening tend to resonate as authentic with users. Focus on:

  • Personalization: Social media platforms like Instagram, TikTok and Facebook provide personalized content recommendations based on user behavior and preferences—the invitation to engage doesn’t require any work on the part of the consumer, it just scrolls into view. Marketers can leverage that data to connect with consumers in an organic fashion by ensuring that products or content shared are relevant to the audience’s current needs and interests, as well as to the moment.
  • Authenticity: Gen Z wants to keep it real. Connect with their desire for authenticity by presenting products and experiences like a friend would. Offer content that answers questions, solves problems or presents products that deliver a new flavor of delight that is surprising, unique and relevant to the moment.

Brand At Its Best And Focusing On Fundamentals With Heather Stern, CMO At Lippincott

In this episode, Alan and Heather discuss brand, the role of the CMO and why focusing on the fundamentals will never go out of style.

As an 80-year-old company, Lippincott has a unique perspective on balancing the cutting edge with longevity. They have seen trends come and go and even shaped some of them along the way. Heather talks in depth about the role Brand has played historically, the huge impact it can have when viewed holistically, and why a siloed CMO is not as effective as it can be if they are given a seat at the table. She also discusses the fundamental shifts happening in the industry as things move from an institutional era of branding to a human era of branding. She also stresses that the underlying fundamentals of deeply understanding your consumer and brand are just as important now as ever.

Heather Stern is the CMO at Lippincott and host of the podcast Icons in the Making. She wears many hats at Lippincott by managing all aspects of marketing, PR, and digital for their brand, as well as business development and sales. Heather oversees the entire funnel, from best-in-class brand activations to industry partnerships in collaboration with companies such as eBay, Google, IBM, Samsung and Southwest Airlines. She has been at Lippincott for ten years and serves as a trusted advisor to top clients across industries.

 In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • The ways Heather’s specific CMO role at Lippincott has evolved over the past ten years.
  • How Lippincott stays relevant despite turning 80 this year.
  • What has changed in the industry and what has stayed the same?

 Key Highlights:

  • [01:40] It all started with Janet Jackson
  • [03:10] Heather’s career path
  • [06:30] Why Heather’s CMO role is unique and a little meta
  • [08:20] How Heather’s role has evolved over the past ten years
  • [11:55] What has changed and what has stayed the same for CMOs, overall?
  • [16:00] The importance of being partnership oriented
  • [18:10] How Lippencot is defining brand today
  • [21:20] How Lippincott is trying to take the “squishiness” out of branding
  • [21:55] How has building and managing a brand changed and stayed the same?
  • [25:00] It’s all about agility and experimentation
  • [27:10] How gymnastics and a special Barbie inspired Heather’s career ambition and work ethic
  • [30:40] Find the joy in making mistakes and embrace the gray zone
  • [31:40] Experimenting with AI and how brands are focusing on sustainability
  • [34:40] Brands to watch
  • [38:20] Icons in the Making Podcast
  • [39:15] The risk of missing the forest for the trees

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Alan B. Hart is the creator and host of “Marketing Today with Alan Hart,” a weekly podcast where he interviews leading global marketing professionals and business leaders. Alan advises leading executives and marketing teams on brand, customer experience, innovation, and growth opportunities. He has consulted with Fortune 100 companies but is an entrepreneur at his core, having founded or served as an executive for nine companies.