In the latest installment of 'Looking Back to Progress,' we chatted with Quigley's CEO, Carl Fremont, about brand marketing in the digital age and how balancing the past, the present, and the future can move advertising in a good direction.
Tell us about your role and how long you have been working in the world of advertising?
I started working in advertising in 1981, making this my 40th-year in the industry. I began my career as an idealistic young man just over a decade after the Mad Men era. At the time, advertising was very exciting and was all about the big idea. The technology was an electric typewriter, and we used a manual code system for developing media reach and frequency scenarios. I always had a penchant for results, and this led me to a career focused on direct marketing where performance is de rigueur. In 2019 I joined Quigley as CEO. Quigley’s DNA is steeped in performance marketing, and I am feeling right at home in this results-oriented agency.
Are there some common staples or tropes that have developed in recent years within the industry? How do these compare to the ones of 10 or even 20 years ago?
I am very fortunate to be in an industry that focuses on telling brands’ stories. The brands’ stories, however, are not always about the creative alone. Early on in my career, I realized that you could tell stories in many ways. While I love big-brand ideas told creatively and engagingly, brand stories today are enriched using a multitude of data. While data has always been available for marketing purposes, data today is more omnipresent, deciphered, and deployed through advanced analytics and AI. It is through rich sources of ubiquitous data that we can customize our stories and make them more relevant.
What were some aspects or qualities about ads from the past that you feel modern advertising could benefit from adopting?
I began my career at Ted Bates, the agency that coined the term USP or Unique Selling Proposition. A USP associates a brand’s unique attributes and benefits into a memorable short phrase; think of M&Ms “It Melts in Your Mouth, Not in Your Hand”. I believe we have moved away from building long-lasting, value-based brands in place of more short-term sales goals. A brand’s value and association is the single-most-important way to drive long-term consumer demand. I would love to see a concerted return of the USP and to ensure that it’s an essential part of the brand’s story.
Was the work approached differently or have the methods remained the same?
There was, and I would argue still exists, a bifurcation between brand and demand. By that I mean there are distinct teams, goals, and processes that focus on building a brand’s consumer awareness and association vs. driving immediate sales and lifetime value. Messaging, look, and feel of the creative are often different for brand building vs. demand creation. This exists both on the marketer’s side as well as the agency’s. Only when these two unite, brand and demand, can true brand performance, revenue, and profitability, be recognized and grow.
How have ads evolved to keep up with technological and cultural advancements such as smartphones and the internet?
Brand storytelling has needed to adapt to a much shorter form of advertising and selling. Social platforms have created a cultural phenomenon where a few seconds, a limited number of words, and user-created videos have become a common way brands are marketed and often sold directly. An “influencer” without any marketing experience, has taken the place of a spokesperson or celebrity with the potential of selling millions worth of brands. Brands are no longer in complete control of their messaging. In the digital age, brand marketing is 24/7. Active listening and participation in people’s lives are essential while not interrupting and respecting consumer privacy.
Do you feel as though ageism is a problem in the advertising industry?
I never understood why our industry puts people with decades of experience in Halls of Achievement and recognizes them as “Industry Legends.” In place of galas honoring the men and women who helped to build and influence the advertising and marketing field, and who can be a valuable resource for learning, let’s put our “legends” in meeting rooms (or Zooms for the moment), board rooms and classrooms where they are not just honored but valued for their years of experience.
What advertisements do you remember seeing when you were younger that left an impression on you and why do you think they stayed with you?
The most memorable ads for me have a central-brand idea and are expressed in a short iconic manner in a phrase or even a song. There are a plethora of by-gone ads that creatively illustrated a single brand promise. Among my favorites are Alka Seltzer’s “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing”, Wendy’s “Where’s the beef”, Levy’s Rye Bread “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s” and of course Coke’s “I would like to teach the world to sing” - I still hum that song.
Looking to the future, where do you think the advertisement industry is heading?
I am both excited and concerned for the future of the advertising industry. I believe that technological advancements are making for more personalized and engaging advertising. We can now create dynamic ads and deploy them practically in minutes. But are we losing too much of the creativity and thoughtful approach to advertising? Are ideas being lost to AI and BI? Is “hands-on-keyboards” replacing the mighty pen and paper where we sketched our ideas and strategies? Are open-source and digital platforms replacing open minds and open hearts that lead to open wallets? While I am a digital enthusiast and practitioner, I believe there is a lot to be said for the good old-fashioned use of colorful Post-It Notes for idea generation. People solving for people solutions utilizing simple ideation techniques that are enhanced through data and digital means is where we need to be. I am optimistic for the future of advertising and marketing if we have a sense of balance between the past, the present, and the future.