5 Key Takeaways From the 2023 ANA Masters of Marketing Conference

5 Key Takeaways From the 2023 ANA Masters of Marketing Conference

With a theme of growth, the conference brought in top marketers from the biggest brands

By Kyle O’Brien & Jason Notte

Growth, AI and the economy were all big buzzing topics at the ANA Masters of Marketing conference, which just wrapped up its annual October run at the Rosen Shingle Creek resort in Orlando. The event is one of the biggest gatherings of brands, marketers and agencies of the year, and its four days of presentations, breakout sessions, dinners and discussions always yield a wealth of information for attendees, who gathered this year more in-person than virtually.

Adweek took in the many presentations, networking opportunities and industry chatter to get an idea of what brands, agencies and marketers are planning for the future and how the conference helps them connect

Growth above all else

The year’s theme was “Force for Growth. Force for Good.” and the tone was set by P&G’s Marc Pritchard, who championed growth above all else. Pritchard framed his post-pandemic discussion by showcasing P&G brands’ recent efforts to employ previously taboo topics—such as period education and overflowing diapers—into their standard marketing pitch.

“You can’t just talk about your product: You’ve got to gain insight into consumers’ job to be done, problem to solve or what their habits are,” Pritchard said. “[Marketers] can actually transform that into a creative idea demonstrates how the product actually works, why the brand is better for people, and do it in a very creative way."

But Pritchard neither kicked off the growth discussion nor ended it. On the first night of the conference, iHeartMedia CMO Gayle Troberman dove into data showing how marketers’ education, geographic location, viewing habits and even their love of the occasional Aperol Spritz not only conflicts with the broader market they’re trying to sell to, but may be inhibiting their companies’ growth. On the last day, FC Barcelona’s managing director of Asia Pacific and the Americas, Bryan Bachner, noted that the Catalan soccer club has opened offices in New York and Hong Kong in attempts to market to the broadest audience of fans possible.

Brands take center stage

From the conference’s main stage, brands continued to guide that growth discussion. Mastercard CMO Raja Rajamannar brought a Brazilian chef onstage and paired his presentation with the chef’s handmade chocolates to make the case for his company’s branded restaurants and their appeal as a marketing perk to regional and traveling cardholders.

Both Stanley Black & Decker CMO Tabata Gomez and La-Z-Boy CMO Christy Hoskins spoke about how a combination of nostalgia and recommitment helped pull their legacy brands back from the brink of obscurity. Meanwhile, Target-owned delivery brand Shipt’s CMO Alia Kemet and Planet Fitness chief brand officer Jaime Medeiros discussed how even their younger brands must occasionally tweak the marketing formula to remain culturally relevant.

It isn’t just the consumer brands pushing for expansion. Tony Ezell, CMO of Becton, Dickinson and Company (BD to the medical and scientific communities it serves) spoke about the need for even B2B companies to have a more consistent brand strategy and drive growth.

Big ideas in breakout session

During one of the sessions that opened the ANA Masters, iHeartMedia’s Troberman expanded on a theme she addressed at Adweek’s Cracking the Code event—disarming bias among marketers to reach new consumers.

She was joined by Brand New podcast co-hosts Marisa Thalberg, chief marketing and communication officer of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, and Steven Wolfe Pereira, founder of Encantos. The panel delved into a deep discussion of how the “marketing bubble” tunes out voices unlike its own, making broad-based discussions about inclusion—from race, ethnicity and identity to religious and military affiliation—even more necessary.

It was one of the most provocative and insightful discussions of the entire event, and it took place in a room about 20% of the capacity of the main stage down a side hallway.

The next night, 4A’s president and CEO Maria Kaplowitz joined Publicis/Leo Burnett CEO Andrew Swinand, Saint Augustine’s University professor Raegan L. Burden and SeeHer president Christine Guilfoyle onstage for what was billed as a gender-equity discussion. It quickly evolved into a discussion of broader issues of equity within marketing covering topics from representation within agencies and brands, representation within the marketing itself, the audience’s own discomfort and uncertainty around equity and what institutional changes are required.

Again, this discussion happened in a small room off to the side of the main venue and the myriad brand tables and activations leading to it.

Finally, on Thursday, the ANA and its Alliance for Inclusive and Multicultural Marketing (AIMM) released the results of a survey of more than 9,000 consumers conducted with the Cultural Inclusion Accelerator looking at perceptions of inclusive marketing practices and woke brands. They concluded emphatically that consumers are far more likely to reward a brand for taking a stand on social issues than to abandon it, but are also far more likely to drop or outright boycott a brand that abandons its commitments to groups and causes. The survey provided empirical evidence that answered a question bedeviling marketers since Bud Light and Target found themselves embroiled in controversy earlier this year.

“The first thing we want marketers to understand is, you’re better off moving forward than stepping back, and you’re better off speaking up than staying silent,” AIMM co-founder Lisette Arsuaga said.

Agencies take a backseat but work hard behind the scenes

With brands leading the way, agencies usually aren’t much in the public discussion, but that doesn’t mean that agency executives aren’t present. Not only do many have clients presenting at the conference, the close proximity of top brand representatives means that face-to-face interactions happen often and potential deals made.

Dentsu and Havas were two holding companies represented at Masters of Marketing, with each featured in presentations and breakout sessions.

“At dentsu, we, like the ANA, are maniacal about being a growth driver for our client’s businesses and so we continue to invest time, thought leadership and attention here,” Jeff Greenspoon, president of global solutions at dentsu, told Adweek. “The Masters of Marketing conference provides an incredible opportunity to hear from leading marketers about their priorities and ambitions for their business and our industry, while also giving us the chance to showcase some of our own future-focused offerings.”

But even with plenty of representation at the event, agencies aren’t always a part of the main stage presentations, even as the brands present campaigns and ideas that were definitely done in tandem with their respective agencies.

The agencies that get the most play are those who present with their brands, as Barkley did with its brand partner Planet Fitness in its session on the brand’s recent campaigns, or sponsor a session, as Havas did with its “Mastering the Human Operating System” breakfast session.

IPG again had a large contingency at Masters of Marketing, and hosted an offsite presentation at Universal Studios with assorted brand and media partners.

Buzz: AI and the economy

Growth is all about numbers, and there was considerable talk sparked by the presentations about the state of the economy. While some marketers held an optimistic belief that the economic slowdown was temporary, others, especially those tied to financials, believe we may still be headed towards a recession. That kind of instability has some on edge, but with industry heads like Pritchard and others calling for growth above all else, there is a determination by the industry to try to stave off any kind of downturn through bolder marketing efforts and not taking the proverbial foot off the accelerator. Artificial intelligence was also top of mind for attendees, but most told Adweek that accepting and molding AI to what can make marketing a better industry—simplifying tasks, taking mundane time wasters away from talented employees, and using it to spark ideas—was a better use of time and energy, rather than worrying what the technology would do to harm the industry.

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