Spend a few minutes talking to Tom Goodwin, and you will come to the conclusion that he really likes the advertising industry.
Voted the #1 voice in marketing on LinkedIn over the past two years, the EVP, head of innovation for Zenith USA has a definite finger on the pulse of the advertising landscape, both in Australia and abroad.
He’ll be part of March’s ad:tech conference in Sydney, delivering the international keynote on how to reimagine marketing, and B&T got the chance to talk with him about the industry’s past, present and future.
For starters, what can attendees expect from the charismatic speaker at ad:tech?
“I’m looking forward to talking about new material.
“It sounds quite pretentious, but if you sort of think of keynotes a bit like a standup comedian’s job, there are times when you realise that you’ve probably been saying the same jokes for quite a long time and you need to try new stuff.
“And the reality is that I feel like I’ve been saying quite similar things for a while. I’ve been talking about the degree to which the internet isn’t really a thing, it’s just about ground layer in our life, and I’ve been talking about the notion that old media works.
“I’m trying to build on that and start being more helpful and more pragmatic, and talk about some of the newer themes in advertising — that might be influencer marketing, it might be content marketing, it might be how we can bridge the real world and the internet more effectively.
“The idea is, it’s kind of kicking off some conversations about 2019 and beyond.
“And I don’t do these things that are sort of provocative for the sake of it, but I do tend to get quite frustrated with the amount of crap that people say”.
It also soon becomes apparent that Tom Goodwin does not mince words.
“So I do think it’s probably going to be quite punchy and quite provocative,” he continues, “I believe massively in making things sound quite simple.
“I think at a lot of the conferences, people hide behind big words and hide behind the same concepts that everyone’s talking about.
“It’s not like I’m the ‘bad boy of advertising’, but at the same time, I’m not afraid to just say, actually that’s all a waste of time, or actually that doesn’t mean anything, or actually this thing isn’t going to be around for a long time and we’re being distracted by it.
“So I think there’ll be a degree of no-nonsenseness and simplicity about it as well”.
One thing that stood out — aside from his refreshing amount of candour in a notoriously tight-lipped industry — was Goodwin’s stance that old media still has a place in the modern industry.
He elaborated on that point: “It’s quite odd when the assumption is that you’re going to come into a meeting room and talk about how exciting VR is, or what we should do about the blockchain, and in all reality, we have this amazing toolkit of things that have been shown to work for 50 or 100 years, and they still actually appear to work, and they still appear to be one of the most sensible places to spend money.
“While in some ways that’s diminishing, it’s not diminishing dramatically”.
Goodwin then shifted towards the reliance upon new technology and the obsession with being on-trend.
“And then we have all this new stuff, which you feel like if you don’t talk about, you feel somehow people assume you’re stupid because you don’t know they exist.
“It feels a bit like Elon Musk’s plan to go to Mars, where you’re like, we could go to Mars, and that’s going to be really hard.
“And it’s very exciting with all the spaceships and stuff…
“But, I mean, we could also work on planet Earth to, you know, not kill each other, and maybe the answer to the big dilemmas in advertising is not to create incredibly expensive documentaries that last an hour that talk about the brand purpose of our bleach.
“Like, maybe we should just make a really good ad?”
Surely, though, radio is an antiquated industry, gone the way of the dodo, or Betamax, or Pepsi’s ill-advised attempt at political awareness?
“We tend to like being in absolutes, where we wake up one day and X is the answer, and there’s a lot of granularity in our industry.
“You can’t take a particular channel and say it’s good or it’s bad, and you can’t take a particular show on a channel and say this has got enough reach to make it worthwhile, and this one doesn’t.
“Every brief is very different and every client faces different challenges.
“We need to move the pivot back in terms of well-proven media that’s lasted a long time, whether that’s radio or TV or print — especially in markets like Australia, where the print environment’s actually pretty strong — and just go about every brief with a slightly more mature and considerate and empathetic approach where we look to all of these media and we create a plan that involves the best elements for that particular brief
“That doesn’t mean that every brief has to have radio, but it also doesn’t mean that we should go around saying that radio is dead or that TV is dead”.
The conversation shifted towards the Super Bowl, the most anticipated day on the American sporting calendar, and the perception that the ads, much like the game itself, fell flat in 2019.
“I always really like Super Bowl ads, because it’s the one time of the year where we act in a way where we presume that people are paying attention.
“Most of the time in advertising, we’re apologetic somewhat, or we’re sort of interruptive, and we kind of assume that we need to barge our way into these living rooms, or that people will not really pay attention, so we should try and patronise people”.
“My understanding is that they were quite generic, and there was quite a lot of purposefulness coming through, and they felt like they were quite safe.
“They just felt a bit like people had all been reading from the same trends deck about how ads have to be about a greater purpose and media narrative and we should get celebrities.
“It feels a bit like we can just start to stretch the envelope a little bit.
“Let’s say no to things, and let’s stand for something, and let’s use that time to really get our noses out there in cultural conversations”.
Despite the lacklustre showing from this year’s batch, Goodwin assures us that the gradual shift away from TV is not the culprit, nor will it lead to a general decline.
“The real value of the Super Bowl ads are a couple of things.
“It’s pretty much the only time that you can ever get your message out to a really large number of people at the same time — there are very, very few opportunities like this in the modern world”.
“To have an extremely large captive audience, and to have a high degree of premium essence or specialness associated with that, it really is a remarkable opportunity.
“You also have this weird thing happens these days where, what adverts appear on the Super Bowl, then get covered in editorial, and TV shows will talk about which ads were most popular, and then the best ads will get put on YouTube, and then circulated by the trade press, so it’s an unusual media buy in that it’s kind of like buying digitial and digital display and PR and TV all at the same time”.
Goodwin’s optimism is tangible, however the forecast for advertising moving ahead perhaps doesn’t look quite so bright, by some accounts.
Arthur Sadoun’s grim prediction that 2019 was going to be a ‘bumpy ride’ is enough to put a dent in most people’s enthusiasm, but true to his nature, Goodwin remains unshaken.
“I think our industry is going through great change, and I’m sure there’s some sort of Chinese proverb about change and opportunity being the same thing.
“I still feel really proud to work in advertising. I still feel like we work with people who are highly empathetic and can develop business strategy, and we now have people within our industry, or within the Publicis family that can do stuff way beyond advertising, like business consultancy and business transformation.
“I almost feel that it would be more helpful for us to think about what else we can do, rather than to concern ourselves too much with the bumps”.
Looking ahead even further, the media agency landscape of 2025 was touched upon.
“If you were to plot the current trendline and trajectory, it would be quite easy to assume it actually wouldn’t be that different at all.
“Collectively as an industry, we haven’t really changed that much. We talk all the time about the things that we have changed, and we’re very proud of how mcuh we’ve changed, but fundamentally, we actually haven’t, really.
“I don’t think fundamentally there’s a single agency on the planet that is radically different to how it was ten years ago, and therefore you can look at the current trendline and actually think do you know what? It’s gonna be really similar.
“There is another theory, that there’ll be this sort of inflection point in the industry and that Mark Prichard will say that advertising is dead like he did the other day, and then lots of agencies will take programmatic buying in-house, and then agencies will have this existential crisis and have to suddenly change everything.
“I for a long time assumed that was gonna happen, and I made predictions in about 2011 that agencies would radically change, and then I made the same prediction in 2013, and then 2015, and it kind of turns out I’ve been wrong the whole time”.
This all isn’t to suggest that Goodwin is tech-adverse, however, as he professed his enthusiasm for gadgets moving forward.
“I’m excited about the mobile phone. The mobile phone is a device that knows everything about us, it knows where we are, it knows the weather, it knows our bank details, it knows what our faces look like, it knows who we know, it knows our intentions, it knows our stresses, it knows how many steps we’ve done that day.
“There’s never been a better device to do advertising stroke marketing on it, and we still haven’t got there.
“Mobile advertising is absolutely crap, most purchase experiences through the mobile phone are absolutely crap.
“There are ridiculous numbers of things that we could do.
“I long for the day when I can walk into a Hertz rental car location, and it sends me a message saying ‘Tom you’re a bit of an idiot, why didn’t you get a Porsche? It’s only $50 extra a day'”.
“If you look at these things, everything from better advertising to better targeted advertising to better purchase processes, like the phone is amazing and we’ve done nothing with it”.
Still, it’s reasonable to think that there would be many who drag their feet on the idea.
An entire generation to whom such invasive marketing tactics would be the first step towards the ‘robots taking over the world’, vociferous enough to stand in the way of progress.
“Generally speaking, there’s a small number of people that make a lot of noise about privacy and they create paranoia, and actually they’re generally wrong — most people don’t give a shit.
“Within America there’ll be tens of millions of people who have all of their grocery purchases kept on their store loyalty card and they don’t really care.
“What’s the worst that’s gonna happen if Coles knows that you really like buying white bread? Do you think there’s gonna be some sort of gossip that hits the national papers saying ‘man buys pomegranate and mango at same time’?”
As a final talking point, we spoke of the mass exodus of advertising’s so-called ‘best and brightest’ to tech comapnies.
Of course, Goodwin’s response didn’t disappoint.
“In advertising, I’ve been around quite a few people that have left to go to tech companies, and broadly speaking they’re not very happy, but they’re much richer, and broadly speaking, they weren’t the very best people on our teams, they were the most compliant.
“Of all the people I have ever worked with, that have gone to work in tech companies, there’s not a single person that I’m bothered that they left.
“Advertising is amazing — we get to have incredible conversations with our clients, we get to talk about all sorts of amazing, interesting things, and we get to feel part of a spirit of change.
“If you’re someone that sees that, and you decide that you’re gonna not do that, and instead you’re going to be in a highly bureaucratic and corporate structure that pretends to be creative, all while you work in ad tech where you’re trying to effectively growth hack your way into people’s attention spans, then quite honestly you can leave the industry and I don’t care.
“If you’re someone that cares about art and creativity and empathy and you want to be part of cultural conversations and you want to bring about change in the world, then come work in advertising and it’ll be amazing.
Tom Goodwin will be delivering the international keynote at ad:tech on Tuesday 12th March. Register here to secure the final call for tickets.