Australia & New Zealand Need To Look Outwards To Survive: Sir Martin Sorrell At Cannes In Cairns

Australia & New Zealand Need To Look Outwards To Survive: Sir Martin Sorrell At Cannes In Cairns

Sir Martin Sorrell, the storied executive chairman of S4 Capital, told a packed audience at Cannes in Cairns why Australian and Kiwi marketers need to look beyond the antipodes as the media world continued to fragment.

“When you look at it from an Australian point of view, there are significant success stories in Canva and Atlassian and you have plenty of other examples of companies that have done extremely well,” he explained.

“But from the trends that we have been talking about, Australia and New Zealand will have to look more outside their national boundaries for growth and opportunities.”

Sorrell’s talk was a tour-de-force, covering the geopolitical situation that businesses and marketers find themselves in, the necessity of businesses to move into the digital space and why algorithms and AI will transform the advertising business.

For the 78-year-old founder of WPP, there were two main reasons why Australian and Kiwi marketers need to think bigger.

“One is fragmentation. In an Asian context, what happens around Taiwan will colour people’s thinking from an investment point of view. The second thing is the implication of technology and particularly what we’re going to get over the next two-to-four years,” he explained.

Chief among the technological changes was AI.

“AI is a super tool to improve performance, copywriting and visualisation. The other area is media planning and buying… If you were a client, who would you rather hire – a 25-year-old media planner or buyer or an algorithm and use an agency to check the results, test the result, test the research?

“The holding companies employ about 400,000 people in media planning in one way or another. That is probably not going to be the situation in a few years time.

“If you look at Meta and Google producing tools for small- and medium-sized companies, as opposed to the enterprise market, they are already starting to execute algorithmic systems that will do that. It’s already coming and it will be applied in greater measure to the bigger companies in time.”

Of course, Sorrell’s businesses are built around digital media and data. But the industry veteran said that he thinks AI will be just as transformative as the globalisation of advertising during the seventies and eighties and the technology revolution around the mid-nighties leading to the dot com boom and bust.

“S4 has been focused purely on technology and its impact on our industry and it has been a huge change,” he told B&T senior reporter Sofia Geraghty.

“Clients are starting to focus more and more heavily on AI in order to reduce costs, become more efficient and accelerate their digital transformation and digital growth. Now [digital ads] are currently around 60-65 per cent by 2025, this will grow to around 75 per cent.”

As a result of a world gradually but inexorably shifting eastwards – Sorrell explained that the five biggest economies by 2050 would be China, the USA, India, Germany and Indonesia in that order – and the growth of AI, his advice for anyone considering a career marketing and advertising was still to learn to code and speak Chinese.

“My dad was always saying ‘Find an industry that you enjoy and enjoy the people within it’ before going off to do your own thing once you’ve got the reputation and experience.

“That still applies to this industry but my advice for any young person is still to learn Chinese and learn to code, whether the West likes it or not.

“Our own operations at S4 and Media.Monks in Australia and New Zealand focus on first-party data driven by Apple’s move off IDFA, Google’s deprecation of third-party cookies to the use of first-party data and the rise of retail media.

“Over the last few years, we have focused on data and data driving the creation, production and distribution of content through digital media, and using technology to track your digital transformation to transform the cost structures and digital development.”

While many in the industry lament the rise of AI and fret about it taking jobs, Sir Martin Sorrell’s assessment of the situation left Cannes in Cairns attendees with much to ponder – not least whether their jobs will be safe this time next year. It would certainly take a brave person to call Sorrell’s bluff.

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