Why CMO Stress Has Cast a Shadow Over Advertising Week

September 28, 2017 Shane Schick

Normally I’d use any excuse to make a last-minute trip to New York City, but I don’t feel the slightest FOMO for skipping Advertising Week.

Rather than a celebration of creativity and best practices, most of the reports I’ve seen online sound like the entire thing is a five-day exercise in doom and gloom. Agencies whose growth has stalled or declined. Technology challenges that no one really understands. Marketers in near-panic mode.

Amid all this, I received a new survey by the CMO Council that summed up many of the anxieties. It starts with the title: BRAND PROTECTION FROM DIGITAL CONTENT INFECTION: Safeguarding Brand Reputation Through Diligent Ad Channel Selection. 

If you’re assuming the research is take-down of programmatic, you’re right.

“AdTech limitations have resulted in notable, image-sensitive brand ads appearing within or alongside hateful, derogatory and offensive rich media content, fake news, as well as non-contextual and inappropriate online channels,” the CMO Council said. “Nearly half of marketing respondents report problems with where and how digital advertising is viewed, and a quarter state that they have specific examples of where their digital advertising supported or adjoined offensive or compromising content.”

Marketers aren’t merely finger-pointing at ad networks, though. According to the survey, 48 per cent are working guidelines for digital ads their agencies will have to follow. About a quarter are whitelisting or pre-approving certain kinds of environments, and 32 per cent are spending more time tracking ad placements themselves. 

You can’t really blame the brands for putting due diligence on overdrive. One wrong move and they’re most likely looking for a new opportunity. In fact, a recent post on Forbes by Peter Horst of marketing consultancy CMO Inc. suggests ad tech is just one of many issues leading to increased stress among senior marketers:

As a three-time CMO in multiple industries, I certainly felt that crushing sense of unease at times, but never made a point of showing it. I’ve spoken with several sitting CMOs who also acknowledge these anxieties, but were not eager to publicly admit to them.

Horst suggests CMOs cope by finding a coach, peer groups and other means of investing in their mental health. That’s not likely to be a theme at Advertising Week, though.

In an interview with AdWeek, conference president Mari Kim Novak said politics, diversity, emerging technology and data are the four pillars around which most of the sessions revolve. It may be a far cry from talking about creativity, but it’s also a deliberate choice in terms of programming.

“Novak said the CMO’s job has changed to become a technical role—with data playing right in the middle of it. She said there is one group that collects data, but another that doesn’t understand what was collected,” the AdWeek article said. “That’s one of the reasons she took the role at Advertising Week: to help decrease the knowledge gap between the people who build the tech and the marketers and other executives who use it.”

That’s a laudable goal, but not necessarily an inspiring one for marketers. Many of them probably got into marketing because they were passionate about connecting a strong brand message with an audience in the most engaging way possible.

They should still be doing that, but like it or not, there is so much more information about audiences to consider, and so many places and contexts in which those messages can be consumed.

The technological changes and risks CMOs are experiencing today are difficult, but they are growing pains that are worth enduring for the long-term benefits they could bring. CMOs shouldn’t see them as an anxiety-producing chore but a chance to gain vastly more powerful capabilities to build a purpose-driven brand. Hopefully the guidelines and other actions the CMO Council report shows they’re taking is evidence of that.

Yes, Advertising Week 2017 may be remembered as the year everyone was talking about all the stumbles they’ve taken. If they can pick themselves up again, though, there’s no telling how far they can go once they hit their stride. 


Shane Schick is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine. He tells stories about technology, marketing, innovation, fashion and more. ShaneSchick.com. 


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