Vibe check: Nervous and woke
Welcome to Unmade, written early on Saturday morning on a beautiful day at Yarrawonga Park, Lake Macquarie.
Happy National Biscuit Day.
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Marketers turn progressive
It’s been more than two years since I’ve been among so many people from the Australian communications industry.
On Tuesday, we ran Unmade’s first event, upstairs at the Forresters pub in Surry Hills, and had a terrific turnout. On Wednesday I was in a posh waterside hotel giving a talk to sales executives from a media company. And yesterday, it was time to trek out to Royal Randwick for the Australian Association of National Advertisers’ (not so) annual Reset conference.
If you pick up predictions on how we’re going as an industry based on the vibe, then this was the week to do it.
First to Unmade’s event. In case you missed it, we published a podcast of the content yesterday.
The topic was marketing during a cost of living crisis, so we of course focused on the economic outlook. The vibe was nervous. Alert, but not alarmed, if you like. Well, somewhat alarmed, perhaps.
Melissa Hopkins, CMO of Optus, made a strong point during the conversation. Although Australians like to be catastrophists, we once again don’t have it quite as bad as elsewhere.
Our annual inflation may have risen by an eye-watering 5.1%, but the UK is at 9% and US 8.1%. Our consumer prices are up by 4.5%. But in the US the number is 7.7% and in the UK 6.7%. Admittedly our (impressively low) unemployment rate of 3.9%, is not quite as good as in the US (3.6%) and UK (3.7%).
The economic pain-to-come will be unevenly distributed. There are already consumers struggling to afford a supermarket leg of lamb. But how do things look when Mosman mortgagees with expensive leased Range Rovers start to deal with multiple interest rate hikes?
Things are moving rapidly in the economy, including an unfolding car crash in the home build sector, with Metricon on the brink (you know things must be bad for a company when full page ads appear in the papers offering votes of confidence).
Yesterday the Queensland company Pivotal Homes was the latest to go into voluntary liquidation. When home building companies fall over, they take first home builders’ deposits with them, and - as lessons of the 1980s show - create decades of wariness towards the sector.
What we can’t know yet is whether we’ll look back on the rest of this year as mere economic headwinds, or a full-on hurricane.
As Martin Brown, the AANA’s current chair and marketing chief of Nestle put it at Reset yesterday: “It’s a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world we live in.”
But there’s more to the vibe than the economic outlook.
What most struck me about yesterday’s AANA event was that considering it was one of the big annual gatherings of the nation’s marketers, how little time in the program was dedicated to hardcore marketing topics. Forget about selling widgets. The vibe was woke.
It could have been a TED talk program. Brown’s welcome focused on the responsibilities of companies to address climate change, diversity and reconciliation. Australian of the year Dylan Alcott talked inspiringly in the opening keynote about growing up as a wheelchair user and becoming a tennis grand slam winner. Luke Pearson, founder of IndigenousX talked about how he found a platform via Twitter. Agency creative Beto Fernandez gave a video address from the US on activism.
By lunchtime, we’d seen a bunch of inspiring people trying to make the world a better place, and not heard anything about the big current conversations are in marketing. Or had we?
Perhaps that’s the point. Maybe what I’ve listed above are the current conversations at marketing’s top table.
If so, it would be advisable for the agencies who work for this big brands to pick up the vibe. One of the big shifts of the last couple of years is that every global pitch now inevitably demands a section on sustainability. The signals are there.
For agencies whose focus for their clients for the last few decades has been on the short term goal of selling more units and the long term goal of building the brand, the AANA event was perhaps an indication of where client priorities have shifted.
Sensible agencies follow the money. And based on yesterday, Australia’s biggest advertisers want to put their money where their mouth is on a more progressive agenda.
The bears charge The Unmade Index
The Unmade Index of ASX-listed media and marketing companies passed yet another milestone yesterday. The index is now more than a quarter since we launched it at the start of the year, falling another 1.07% to 749.5 points.
With global investment sentiment turning against the high valuation of technology companies, media players have also been catching colds. The 25% fall of The Unmade Index is far more dramatic than the 6.5% fall of the wider Australian All Ords over the same period.
In particular, it was another day of market negativity towards Australia’s big two TV companies. Seven West Media fell 3.5%, and Nine by 1.75%.
And it doesn’t look like we’ve hit the bottom yet.
Time to let you enjoy your Saturday. A quick vibe check of some Hunter Valley wineries awaits, ahead of a return to Tasmania via a couple of days in Melbourne.
Have a great weekend.