The importance of relevance and brand authenticity

September 21, 2021 | By: Brendan Flaherty, Writer, Brand Content

This is ‘My best advice,’ a series that asks advertising experts to share key learnings from their career journeys, the best advice they’ve ever received, and insights to help grow brands and businesses.

For many, navigating today’s fragmented media landscape is daunting. For Amy Ginsberg, Chief Investment Officer (CIO) at Havas Media Group, it’s exciting.

“If you’re going to work in media investment, you have to be comfortable being uncomfortable,” she says. “After 25 years in the same business, I love that everything is different all the time. I’m open to it, which is why I’ve been able to stay around.”

More than just “stay around,” Amy has risen as a leader in media and advertising. Previously, she served as the CIO of Canvas Worldwide and, before that, as Managing Director of Investment at Initiative, IPG’s media planning and buying arm.

Born in Brooklyn, she studied Media and Communications at SUNY Buffalo and landed her first job in the business on the sales side at Turner Broadcasting, now WarnerMedia. There, she received an insight that changed the trajectory of her career and life.

What’s the best advice you've ever received?

In my first foray into media, my manager told me: “You should always buy something before you sell it.” He went on to explain how it allows you learn a whole different side of the business, bringing you closer to understanding consumers and, within that, their challenges and experiences.

Not long after, I had an opportunity to take a job on the media buying side as an assistant on a packaged goods account. It wasn’t the most glamorous start, by any means. But, the rest is history, and I never went back into sales. I learned so much that first year; it gave me a totally different perspective on our industry, and it turned out that what my manager had said was true. That advice has shaped the way I’ve approached challenges throughout my career. I'm sure he doesn’t remember sharing it with me or realize it was so impactful, but it really was.

What are the main challenges to brand growth today?

Different brands are in different phases of their brand journeys, so you have to look at it on a client-by-client, brand-by-brand, case-by-case basis. But, in general, the way we consume is rapidly changing. That was true before the pandemic, but those changes have happened much faster since. Advertisers need to look at this constantly shifting, fragmented landscape and change along with it.

Way back, when it was mostly just linear TV, you could count on a lot of consumers watching the same thing, at the same time, on the same channel. Then, you ran a 30-second spot, and you reached millions and millions of people all at once, and you built your brand from there. Today, brands have to do so much and use so many more solutions to reach consumers. It’s harder to find the right audiences, because they're all doing different things at different times.

If you’re watching TV, odds are you have your phone in your hands; you have a tablet on your lap. You're getting messages from all these different places. How can you possibly be paying attention to all of them? You can't, because there are too many coming at you all at once. Consumers are being inundated and bombarded with messaging on a constant basis.

Consumers have entered an ‘age of cynicism’ – and this constant inundation doesn’t help. Havas puts out a Meaningful Brands study every couple of years that always asks what percentage of people wouldn’t care if brands disappeared overnight; this year, that number came in at 75%. Mistrust has seeped into so many areas of our society, and it has begun to impact brand perception too. As brands look beyond people’s functional and personal needs, they get into a sticky spot. If they claim to deliver change at a collective, societal level and those efforts fall short, consumer mistrust and cynicism deepens.

How can brands best engage customers with their messaging?

From an investment perspective, you have to put your messaging in relevant places and not even just from an over-the-top (OTT), online video, or TV perspective. Let’s say I go to Amazon’s site and see an ad. If it's relevant to me and what I’m doing at the time, I’ll pay attention. If it’s not, I won’t.

So, it helps when you're reaching people where they’re choosing to be; where they’re watching what they want to be watching. When they’re paying closer attention to the content that they’ve chosen, they're more likely to be receptive to your message—if it’s relevant to them.

quoteUpWhen they’re paying closer attention to the content that they’ve chosen, they're more likely to be receptive to your message—if it’s relevant to them.quoteDown
– Amy Ginsberg, Chief Investment Officer, Havas Media Group

That’s why it’s so important to be at the right place, at the right time, with the right message. That’s what we mean at Havas when we talk about “meaningful media.”

How can brands be more meaningful to customers?

It depends on the category and brand, but authenticity is key across the board. If your brand stands for something, and people know that your brand stands for that, then you should try to attach yourselves to things that support that. Tying your brand to a general cause that people care about will come across as inauthentic; people will know that your brand doesn't really care about it, and then they're not going to care about you.

Talk is cheap. If you want to help people do something, then you really have to go help them do that, and show why you're doing that, and why you care about it. It’s obvious, but you have to take action.

Every brand is at a different place in its maturity. If you're a brand that's been around for 100 years, and everyone knows what you stand for, when you attach yourself to a cause that makes sense, people understand that. If you're a new brand and nobody knows who you are, you have to establish yourself, and do more of that brand building work that many of the big brands already have.

How can advertising add meaning to customers’ daily lives?

Media and creative have to work together. If we know, for example, the audiences we’re trying to reach because we've done the research and we have a deeper understanding of consumers, then we can figure out the right places to put our ad, regardless of the media type. But the creative has to be compelling and make sense there too.

My team sits on the same floor as our creatives. At Havas, we’re organized into pieces of business called “villages” that bring creative and media together, which leads to more meaningful collaboration, in my opinion.

What’s the advice you give most often?

I encourage everyone to ask 100 questions. It might seem annoying to some people, but you're going to learn more and have a better understanding of what you're doing. Sometimes people are afraid to ask questions and then don't know why they're doing what they're doing or why that thing is important and to whom. That, to me, is a huge judgment error.

Another thing I say to my team all the time is: we are not order takers. Investment people need to be strategic and ask as many questions as possible to understand that fundamental why.

Everything is always changing, so you have to be comfortable in the uncomfortable, but, most importantly, you should always do all you can to understand that fundamental why.