Jeff Kling

Event Recap: CATFOA Part 1 with Jeff Kling

MIMA Event: Conversations About the Future of Advertising (CATFOA) Part 1 with Jeff Kling was held June 20, 2018 at ICF Olson in Minneapolis.

Successful advertising today—and tomorrow—boils down to two ingredients: courage and discomfort. The challenge facing the industry, though, is brands and agencies aren’t courageous and only seem to embrace ideas that reside squarely in their comfort zone.

“What we do as an industry is atrocious. It doesn’t have a beating heart and sharp mind.”

The above opinion is from Jeff Kling, renowned creative director and the first speaker in MIMA’s 2018 Conversations About the Future of Advertising (CATFOA) series. Kling, the creative mind behind Dos Equis’s “The Most Interesting Man in the World” and Arby’s “We Have the Meats,” joined moderator Tim Brunelle and delivered a brutally honest look at the advertising industry and the reality marketers face working within it.

Kling’s candid assessment puts the onus on agencies and brands to disrupt the sea of sameness that has infiltrated advertising creative today. He outlined a few ambitious goals for agencies and brands to do just that:

  • Have an opinion
  • Entertain and differentiate
  • Embrace the hard work


Have an opinion

Kling says the No. 1 thing any brand needs to do is have an opinion. That is the platform onto which agencies and internal partners can build their creative framework. Kling highlighted REI’s decision to close on Black Friday as an example of a C-suite ignoring lucrative bottom-line benefits to stand for something beyond the balance sheet.

“A courageous idea might not work,” Kling says. “But we know if you do something invisible, it definitely won’t work. That we can say with absolute certainty.”

Brands inherently are risk-averse. It’s often the responsibility of agency partners to push the level of discomfort a good idea can bring. But Kling says ultimately it’s the CMO’s purpose to carry that idea down the runway and deal with the outcome.

“Nobody wants to say I’m the person who made that call or I’m the person who screwed up,” he says.


Entertain and differentiate

We’re all competing with an extensive list of things consumers pay attention to. TV. The Internet. Your devices. Your family. Your job. Your life. There are simply too many distractions to cut through when the ideas and creative going to market aren’t courageous or creating discomfort.

“Brands have to work hard to have any kind of value or relevance for people,” Kling says. “People still want to be entertained.”

Entertainment can start with stand-out writing. Writing gives a brand its voice. Without it, people aren’t listening to the broader message the brand’s trying to convey.

“What really matters is what I say, how I say it and what’s my voice,” Kling says. “That’s the power.”


Embrace the hard work

Kling’s take on the anonymity of people working in advertising was a fascinating one: “People create culture but you never know who the people are.”

Creating culture through advertising requires an approach within brands and agencies that embraces hard work. Kling says creativity that makes an impact brings excruciating discomfort—a level of discomfort brands and agencies don’t want to experience.

“If creativity is under attack, we probably deserve it,” he says. “With our gigantic egos, we try to bully clients with creativity and don’t bring any.”

If you believe the advertising industry is facing the same challenges as Kling, look at your role in your organization and assess how you can affect change. Think about the impact you can make now and looking ahead.

Simply put, Kling says: “Believe or leave.”


Written by MIMA Marketing Committee volunteer Chris Matt

Summer of CATFOA continues with Part 2 of 3 on July 18 with Sung Chang, Chief Creative Officer, EVP, at MRM McCann (NYC). Are you a MIMA member? Get access to content, tap into our rich archives and receive other member benefits by joining today.