The Best Advertising Isn’t Advertising At All

By John Paquin

As emerging media and marketing channels continue to explode, it is paramount for brands to curate authentic and engaging ways to connect with audiences. Observing audience behavior and cultural trends demands more agile marketing and begs the question: How can marketers ensure their brands are showing up at the right time, in the right place, and on-tone in this ever-evolving climate?

Considering the importance of emerging mediums, cultural intuition, and new strategic acumen, Marissa Hunter, SVP of marketing at Stellantis North America, will share a series of groundbreaking creative brand activations fueling more meaningful consumer connections across the Jeep, Ram, and Dodge brands at the upcoming virtual Brand Activation and Creativity Conference on October 12th to 13th.

Check out the interview with Hunter below.

With the "explosion" of emerging channels and platforms to choose from, what are the criteria for your decisions? Do you lean in with a "test and learn" approach so as not to be left behind, or go "all in?"

Social media is a constant "test and learn" environment. We constantly monitor trends, comments and sentiment, and adapt. The most important thing to us is to stay true to the brands. Yes, the way a brand presents itself on Twitter may be different then what it looks like on TikTok, but the brand values never change. In doing this, we can protect our relationships with our core audiences while growing new fans and followers.

Nurturing and cultivating these relationships takes time and, most important, require content. It's so tempting to jump into whatever the latest and greatest platform is, but if we don't have the type of content they are looking for, we can't sustain the conversation. To us, let's do a few platforms well vs. jumping into every new platform without the right content to support a sustainable strategy.

Have the myriad platforms and channels changed how you think about "creativity" and your creative process? Has it caused you to re-think your creative partners, and criteria for selection?

No matter the channel, the end goal is the same: to get people to see themselves as a part of our brands. To get them to fall in love with our brands. To make our brands something they can't live without. We determine the best places to tell the chapters of those brand stories. We can't think of them as traditional "channels" because consumers don't see it that way; they explore at various points in the funnel, and there are more "places" for consumers to explore today.

Because this engagement is much more two-way, we rely on feedback loops to help inform where best to keep telling the parts of the stories most compelling, and how to tweak the parts that may be less compelling. We ID creative partners that understand and embody this vision and work in inspiration sessions to give them fuel to feed the fire. It's important to work with creative partners that challenge and provoke us to push the edges.

One of our team's core operating beliefs is that a great idea can come from any source. We collaborate with our agencies on optimizing these expressions, with consideration to the nuances of specific channel performance.

Do you have an in-house shop, and if so, how do you decide what's "in" and what goes "outside"? How do you see that evolving going forward?

We rely on a mix of internal and external resources to bring our products to market. We plan to further grow our in-house imaging and animation capabilities to populate digital expressions of our products. For unique standalone creative expressions, however, we will continue to collaborate with our roster of best-in-class external agency partners.

With some of the most iconic, "American" brands in your portfolio (Ram, Dodge, and Jeep) whose popularity spans the breadth of American society, how do you think about and approach some of the societal issues, and "cultural trends," we face as a country today?

What role or consideration does it play in your marketing if any, particularly in the context of "authenticity," an important element of your brands?

At Stellantis, we believe in the power of diversity so in our marketing efforts, we ensure Americans of all backgrounds feel seen, heard, and represented. When we create content, we work with agency partners of diverse backgrounds to ensure that we are authentically speaking to different audience groups. We are sensitive to societal and cultural considerations and do our best to reach all consumers while remaining both empathetic and authentic.

We are proud of improvements and advancements made to date in this area; this is a key area of our business we will continue to develop as we all know there is still much work to be done.

You use the word "tone" – a critical part of any agency brief. Can you describe the "tone" for your brands, and how might it differ across your portfolio? How do you qualify it?

In a house of brands like we have at Stellantis, it is critical that we establish a set of principles for each one to help their story connect with their audiences. Nobody wins if we create substitution between brands. We don't see success if we draw a Jeep customer to Ram and vice versa. Our job is to create enough differentiation between each of our brands to win customers uniquely.

That informs our brand positioning, audiences, messaging, visuals, even the soundtracks that we use for each brand. Thus, creating a tone for the brand that uniquely competes in the segments in which they compete. It's important for us to know our customers and proactively anticipate any shifts in consumer beliefs to adjust our tone appropriately over time. If you rinse and repeat without an eye on how your brand could meet changing consumer needs, then it will be too late before you realize it.

For instance, trucks used to be seen as hard-working, functional vehicles. Now they are commanding over $100,000, with top tech and luxury interiors, so our Ram brand has redefined itself ahead of that change with product and marketing that delivered on that evolution.

What role does testing play in your creative brand activations? Quantity and/or quality? How does the "need for speed" in today's marketplace factor in?

We have all the dashboards you could imagine evaluating the performance of the brands daily. We look at demand drivers, optimizing the elements of the funnel to best deliver to the brand objectives, whether that be upper funnel awareness and sentiment metrics, or lower funnel retailing needs.

We also use third-party tools to ensure our creative and messaging is hitting the mark on attention, memorability, and impact.

However, in our world we must be careful to consider data alone will not give us all the answers. Balancing how we are influencing both heart and minds cannot be underestimated, so we also evaluate social commentary, we leverage qualitative research and, sometimes we rely on our instinct to inform creative marketing decisions! Imagine, several of our best campaigns could have died before they hit the market if we used pre-test data alone, to inform our decisions.

That said, with all the tools available to modern marketers, we can certainly be smarter, more surgical where appropriate, and maximize the efficiency of messaging and spend to drive the most effective marketing plans.

"Authenticity" is a powerful, if sometimes over-used term on marketing today, but there's no denying it's importance to consumers, particularly younger generations. How do you know if it will ring true for your consumers? Do you have a "smell test"?

We spoke to this a bit earlier in how we feel the story of our brands is so critically important. At the end of the day, we're not selling a product, we're selling a mindset, a passion, a desire to be a part of something that our audiences feel best represents them.

That perspective doesn't change no matter whether we're talking to someone who's 80, or who's 18. Instead, it's about how we craft our brand narratives, what our brands stand for, our brand beliefs and values, and how they align with our audiences.

The second you feel insincere, or forcing it, or that you're squinting – you know you missed the mark. Now it doesn't mean we don't push the boundaries to see what sticks and what doesn't, but it's important that as a brand to be consistent and honest so that your customers want to be a part of what you are creating.

And finally, of course, can you tell us how you managed to convince an "Authentic" American icon like Bruce Springsteen to make an ad?

We don't look for a "spokesperson," we seek out brand partners. For us, it's less about the celebrity him or herself, and much more about brand fit and shared values, for both parties. This can be said for many of our brand collaborations over the years – working with authentic American icons that did their first "advertising work" with one of our brands resulted in "the stars aligning;" capitalizing on key opportunities where our brand partners believed in the idea for the right reasons, and at the right time.

The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.