Debriefing The Brief: our takeaways from Marketing Brew’s first annual summit

Top marketers from McDonald’s, American Eagle, and more discussed the challenges and opportunities in the industry today.
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The Brief, a Summit Presented by Marketing Brew (Kristoffer Tripplaar)

· 4 min read

Earlier this week, marketing leaders, innovators, and experts joined us in New York for our first annual Marketing Brew summit, The Brief.

Questions were asked, wisdom was shared, and finger foods were eaten. For those who weren’t able to join us, here are some takeaways from the day.

Show, don’t tell

When it comes to crafting a brand image, Vans global CMO Kristin Harrer told us, “The No. 1 rule: Don’t use the word authenticity.”

  • She said staying true to Vans’ legacy of supporting the skate community and communities that “other brands don’t pay attention to” is “why consumers describe us as the most authentic brand out there.” Not because it has incorporated the word into its marketing strategy.
  • While Vans has gone viral a few times over the years for things like “Damn, Daniel” and shoe-flipping, Harrer said she doesn’t think brands can reverse-engineer virality, and it’s not something they should try.

American Eagle’s CMO, Craig Brommers, also emphasized the importance of being real—or, rather, BeReal.

  • He said the brand’s presence on the platform, where its social media coordinator engages with the max number of followers allowed on the app (1,000) on things like daily deals and Black Friday behind the scenes—“goes back to what we feel, and that’s about showing the more authentic, real side of yourself.”

Collaboration nation

One thing that doesn’t seem to be slowing down is brands’ eagerness to work with other brands and representatives. But multiple speakers noted that a successful partnership requires equal footing.

Jennifer Healan, VP of US marketing and brand and content engagement at McDonald’s, and Brandon Pracht, managing director of McDonald’s Global at Wieden+Kennedy, walked us through the chain’s collaboration strategy. One phrase Healan said her team uses a lot? “Share the pen.”

  • Having Travis Scott design the merch as part of its partnership was one example. “This was one of the first lessons we learned, to have the courage to really open up our world,” Pracht said, adding that Scott “made choices we never would have made…for his audience, knowing that’s what would make it authentic to him.”

Melissa Wildermuth, global creative director at General Mills, echoed the idea of collaboration, saying, “When we go to a partner, we never go with a fully baked idea. Ever.”

  • She pointed to when LeBron James came up with the idea to put students from his I Promise school on a Wheaties box with him in 2020. Being open to new ideas like that, she said, “just works so well versus having it all set to dollar.”
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When it comes to working with influencers, Brommers said American Eagle has found just as much success with “the Addison Raes of the world” as it has “plucking kids out of obscurity.” Amanda Goetz, founder and CEO of House of Wise, also emphasized the potential benefits of working with micro-influencers who often embrace a product versus macro-influencers and celebrities who might post just once: “Every single Kardashian posted our product on Valentine’s Day,” she said. “Zero sales. Zero.”

Social impact

The push for brands to take a stance on social issues also came up throughout the day. On the climate crisis, Wildermuth said that brands like General Mills have a responsibility to the planet and the communities they operate in.

M&M’s senior brand manager, Chanel Gant, also discussed how “bias is a blindspot” when it comes to advancing Black talent and diversity in the industry. BECA founder Jerri DeVard told us that companies need good succession planning and should be held accountable for DE&I promises made back in 2020.

“There’s no replacement for really giving a damn,” DeVard said. “You have to care enough to really make it happen.”

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