2020: “They say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself” (Andy Warhol)

2020: “They say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself” (Andy Warhol)

Marketing Organisation & Strategy
5 minute read

A recent member survey helped WFA identify the marketers' top priorities for 2020. Rob Dreblow analyses the top five.

Article details

  • Author:Rob Dreblow
    Director of Marketing Services, WFA
6 March 2020

WFA founders

WFA’s founders, shown in this picture from 1953, would have been proud of how their vision of global co-operation continues to resonate. They may however, at first, be a little shocked that the founding tenets they established; ‘responsible and ethical marketing’, ‘verifiable audience measurement’ and ‘media transparency’, would remain so pertinent today.

One reading of this might be ‘plus ca change plus c’est la meme chose’. However, whilst some of the themes emerging from our 2020 member priorities survey are startlingly similar to previous years, the evolution is clearer when viewed through a macro lens.

Marketing effectiveness – but at what cost?

Effectiveness and return on investment have always been top priorities for our media and marketing members. 2020 is no exception and I can confidently predict that 2021 will be much the same. 

Yet the conversation has changed. In a world where “children act as leaders and leaders behave like children”, it’s our duty to debate the impact our industry is having on the planet: To explore how brands, who have always encouraged consumption, can navigate a world that wants less, not more.  

With 80% of the ~700 respondents to our ‘marketer of the future’ study saying sustainability and marketing will become more important to them, this will likely be the industry’s top topic for 2020. Our hope is that this progresses beyond ‘what’s hot at Cannes Lions this year’ into (in the spirit of WFA’s founders) a focus which resonates well into the future.  

Client-centric measurement action

Number #2 on our media forum members’ collective priorities was another topic which has been critical to marketers since well before 1953: audience measurement.

Recent history is littered with stories of measurement initiatives which have met with limited success, but something has changed in clients’ attitudes. As Belinda Smith from Electronic Arts said; “for too long the industry has continued to create siloed measurement solutions proprietary to specific platforms, publishers, media type, or geography.” 


So brand owners and their industry representatives are taking a leadership position. Bringing together the global platforms as well as broadcasters and agencies to establish a global set of cross-media measurement principles which can then be translated into consistent measurement solutions at a national level. Such as that underway at ISBA in the UK. 

From capabilities to competences

Data and technology have dominated conference agendas for years. With good reason: our members have cited data-driven marketing as a priority area for some time. This emphasis has, in turn, seen the need to raise the bar relating to people. This has seen marketing capabilities moving back up clients’ agendas.

As Alan Jope, Unilever’s CEO said; “It turns out that when you’re shifting directly and aggressively into digital, the constraint is not money in the brand and marketing investment, it’s people to run the digital campaigns.”

The bigger picture challenge here is that, whilst brand owners must constantly develop their knowledge and understanding of data and tech, they must not lose sight of the importance of marketing fundamentals. Ivan Pollard, CMO at General Mills says that whilemaking sure the right marketing capabilities are in place, what really makes a difference  is marketing competence.

Sourcing growth

It may surprise some that the number one priority for our marketing procurement members was ‘ROI and productivity of marketing’. The need for efficiencies will never go away but, as co-chair of our new Sourcing Board, Barry Byrne, explains; “marketing procurement needs to flip it”. To shift from a focus on efficiencies to a focus on adding value to marketing and the business as a whole.

A hugely exciting area for sourcing colleagues, and an area which should appeal to their marketing stakeholders and agency partners.

One factor in enabling this evolution will be agreeing on common metrics. Yet when we asked our members, in our global marketing effectiveness study, whether their organisation had manage to unify metrics across their stakeholders, only 12% said “yes”.

metrics question

That 46% said “yes, with limited success” shows the need for greater collaboration and senior management leadership in this area.

Beyond brand safety

Brand safety has been on our Media Forum agenda for some time. Especially since the infamous headlines from 2017. For 2020 this ranked as the third highest priority for our media forum members.

Yet here too, the conversation has evolved. From a focus on how to ‘protect your brand’, most recognise it’s our social responsibility to ensure our investment is not funding bad actors. As our media forum co-chair, Gerry D’Angelo from P&G put it: “moving from one-to-one and linear conversations” to the “collective power” offered by our industry response; GARM.

With the support of our members, notably the ANA, this effort now boasts the collaboration of the most important players in the global marketing industry. That this also became a flagship initiative from the WEF (World Economic Forum) demonstrates the macro scope of this area.

So, the continuity of WFA’s founding tenets is not a negative. It just demonstrates the insight our founders had to identify the topics which truly matter. Now, more than ever, we need to look beyond our marketing bubble. To understand, and positively influence, the impact we have on the planet and society as a whole. As Jane Wakely, Mars’ Lead CMO told us “because it’s in everyone’s interest that we create the future and a world that we are happy for our children to experience”.

But by taking action we can demonstrate to our children that we too can act as leaders and be on the right side of history.

Article details

  • Author:Rob Dreblow
    Director of Marketing Services, WFA
6 March 2020