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Credit: Double Life (1999) from TBWA/London for Sony PlayStation 

“The phrase ‘may you live in interesting times’ is the lowest in a trilogy of Chinese curses that continue ‘may you come to the attention of those in authority’ and finish with ‘may the gods give you everything you ask for.’ I have no idea about its authenticity.”

Terry Pratchett

No one really knows where that saying about interesting times comes from. It’s said to be a curse in the guise of a blessing. Or a blessing in the guise of a curse. Some see it as a crossroads at which the choices we make can take us one way or the other. But whichever way you look at it, in our industry and in our world in 2023, we most certainly live in live in interesting times.

They are challenging and uncertain times for all of us, on all sorts of levels. Because right now, whatever market we are in and whatever businesses and audiences we serve, find ourselves faced with any number of unexpected and disruptive events that continue to shake up our understanding of what we do, and our strategies for doing it.

Essentially, we imagined ourselves to have reached the end of history. But history-making events have come back to bite us.

Only a few years ago, the idea of a leaves swirling through deserted city streets at mid-day would have seemed like the stuff of science fiction. Yet we lived through it.

Then there was that theory about consumerism bringing about the end of war. Proposed in 1996 by columnist Thomas Friedman, his Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention[1] was based on an observation – reasonable at the time – that countries with McDonald’s franchises tend not to go to war with each other. Which the managers, or former managers, of the Moscow and Kyiv branches of McDonald’s would no doubt have something to say about.

And now we’re seeing the rise of new AI technologies that could, if McKinsey’s forecasters are right, hit 300 million mostly white-collar jobs, most of them in the developed world[2]. Your job, essentially. Or else that technology create millions more new jobs that don’t even exist today.[3]

Whichever way you look at it, unexpected and unprecedented events are becoming the new normal. At the same time, the idea that we might enjoy a bit of boring normality once in a while is becoming unexpected and unprecedented.

Against this background, we in the marketing industry are finding ourselves facing renewed pressure on budgets. After a brief uplift, marketing budget as a percentage of company budget has fallen back to pre-Covid levels, with yearly spending growth slowing by 72%[4].

So it is in all of our interests that we, as individuals and as an industry, are equipped to make the case for what we do. It matters that we are able to demonstrate the value of continued investment in brands and marketing even in the face of protracted uncertainty. Especially in the face of protracted uncertainty, even.

Which is why the findings of this year’s LIONS, WARC and The Effectiveness Partnership latest global Marketing Challenges survey are so important.

Because what the survey reveals is that around the world, marketers feel torn between what’s going on out there and their own ability to overcome the challenges and seize the emerging opportunities.

So on the one hand, marketers are increasingly worried by inexorable tectonic shifts in economics, technology and culture, and they know that marketing and creativity matter more than ever in a world in flux. But on the other hand, fully 92% say they find it challenging to demonstrate the link between what they do and the commercial return they generate. Which, when it comes to making the case to the board to keep your budget – or even your job – is a tough one.

It makes us vulnerable. It makes us easy to cut down or cut out in times of contraction and recession. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Marketing isn’t alone in being challenged by the pace and scale of change. These things affect everyone, everywhere. As marketers it’s our job and our skill to understand and to communicate. Of all industries, we have perhaps the greatest potential help our colleagues and audiences navigate the way forwards.

By embracing the opportunities of today’s technologies, by expanding the scope and competence of our focus on measurement, and by instilling a culture of effectiveness throughout our organisations, marketing can help turn the biggest of challenges into the greatest of opportunities.

And the first place to start is with where we are right now. Which you can read more about here.

[1] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/what-is-the-golden-arches-theory-of-conflict-prevention/

[2] https://edition.cnn.com/2023/03/29/tech/chatgpt-ai-automation-jobs-impact-intl-hnk/index.html#:~:text=300%20million%20jobs%20could%20be%20affected%20by,of%20AI%2C%20says%20Goldman%20Sachs&text=As%20many%20as%20300%20million,according%20to%20Goldman%20Sachs%20economists.

[3] https://www.weforum.org/press/2020/10/recession-and-automation-changes-our-future-of-work-but-there-are-jobs-coming-report-says-52c5162fce/

[4] CMO Survey 2023