COMmunicator Speaker Series: Pam Hamlin and Developing Meaningful Brands

Invited by the COMmunicator as a part of the guest speaker series, Pam Hamlin, the global CEO of Arnold Worldwide, recently visited the College of Communication to discuss how Arnold is engaging with its audience and creating meaningful brands.

Hamlin began her talk by giving a comprehensive look at the advertising industry, as well as her personal background.

“Advertising is really at the intersection of creativity and commerce; what we all do is dissect marketing challenges, brand challenges, and we’re creative problem solvers,” Hamlin said. “We’re bringing insight into an issue that gives a perspective on what’s happening in culture and how we can really get to the consumers and create that connection for our brands.

“Advertising is really at the intersection of creativity and commerce,” Hamlin said.

“Clients come to us for one reason, and only one reason, and that is to drive profitable growth. And they come with the belief, and lots of conviction, that advertising and marketing is a strategy to be able to drive that growth. That’s the business that we’re in.”

Her father worked in finance, and her mother was a professional designer. Growing up with them helped her develop a better understanding of the field. “I just loved the industry. You get to dig into a business, find opportunities, and drive growth,” Hamlin said. “It’s an awesome industry, and I absolutely love it.”

Hamlin had plenty of insight into what the field looks like today.

“It’s gotten more competitive than ever before. When I got into the business, there was one model for an advertising agency,” she said. “Today, there are so many different flavors, and so many different ways for content to be created. It’s an incredibly exciting and very dynamic time in the industry right now because it continues to evolve with the impact of technology, the impact of social media, how brands and people interact. That really forces you to look at creativity and market models differently.”


Building Brands In a Competitive Market

One major problem in advertising is also a major opportunity: People are shutting out advertising. Overcoming this problem was the focus of Hamlin’s talk.

In her presentation, she showcased some staggering numbers about advertising that reflect the importance of a meaningful brand and the difficulty of creating one.

“Brands are under extreme pressure. People would not care if 74 percent of brands disappear, and we’re in the business of building brands,” Hamlin said. “Businesses are under pressure, as well; every industry is being disrupted in some way. 50 percent of the S&P 500 will be replaced in the next 10 years.”

However, the data also included some optimistic information: Valuable and meaningful brands are contributing to great profitable growth. In other words, brands that are the most valuable are the most successful. Building meaningful brands is still a viable industry for the advertising business.

In her presentation, Hamlin not only showed figures regarding the status of the advertising world as more people grow apathetic–she also shared creative work that she believes has continued to capture people’s attention.

The question is: What is a meaningful brand, and what makes a brand valuable? “We’ve defined it in this simple statement: impact on personal and collective well-being, plus its functional benefits,” she answered. “If it says it’s going to whiten your teeth, it has to whiten your teeth. But what the brand stands for, how it understands the consumer, how it shows respect in its communication–these are at the core of how we think about meaningful brands.”  


Developing A Connection Between Brands and Consumers

From the same data, Hamlin also highlighted an interesting phenomenon in the connection between brands and consumers. “75 percent of the consumers expect brands to make contribution to the well-being and the quality of life, yet only 40 percent of the brands are doing that,” she said.

There is clearly a dissatisfaction with how brands are operating. “Lots of data are saying that if you can really create this meaningful connection, when you can make a brand valuable by contributing, and demonstrating not only the functional benefits, but the emotional benefits, there’s real business impact there,” she said.

Hamlin’s key to creating and reinforcing the connection between brands and customers is generating content–including social content, digital content, traditional advertising, and more.

“Content is designed to do a handful of things: to educate, to inform, to entertain, to inspire, or to offer help,” she said. “The correlation between how a brand performs on improving personal well-being is strongly associated with the strength of its content, the content that you’re creating through an integrated marketing plan.”

In Hamlin’s eyes, strong content is key. She shared several examples from Arnold and from other agencies to emphasize this.

However, in the current digital landscape, content is overflowing and ubiquitous. Another challenge that makes audience engagement even harder is consumer control.

In a crowd full of Millenial and Gen-Z students, Hamlin knows that we like to be able to control the content we see. “You guys are probably very cognizant in your own behavior,” she quipped. “A lot of you guys have Netflix and on-demand services. That’s a good way to get to good content and avoid advertising, isn’t it? Consumers are shutting out the stuff that don’t matter to them.”

The big question here is: How do you matter?

Arnold is tackling this challenge by focusing on creativity. “We like to think of ourselves as a creation company, not an advertising agency; we like to think ourselves as creators, not advertisers,” Hamlin said. “The core of our company is this very strong and unwavering conviction, despite all the change that existed in the industry and will continue to exist in the industry. And that conviction is that creativity is a business advantage. We’re in the business of creating ideas.”

Hamlin summed up the key principles of creating meaningful brands into five points: consumer centricity, brand belief, brand behavior, authenticity, and measurement.

Many students turned out to Hamlin’s presentation, especially those taking courses with a focus on brand planning.

“Everything starts with the consumer at the center once the business problem is defined,” she said. “The brand’s belief system then elevates the conversation beyond functional differentiation and functional benefits. These beliefs are the north stars of how brands behave. In a transparent world, people will call you out if the brand is not acting according to your belief. Therefore, being genuine and being authentic is super important.”

“Lastly, the measurements are very important to how we’re judging success. The insight and creativity, the combination of those two things, is what marketing is all about. Learning from what you’re doing, and being able to assess effectiveness along the way, is very important to creating meaningful brands.”


Highlights From Arnold’s Portfolio

Hamlin closed her talk by presenting some examples of work that contribute to brand meaning. This included Arnold’s famous, long-running campaign for Progressive, a reactive campaign on social media for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups during the holiday season, a Jack Daniel’s Barrel Hunt campaign, and the “Fearless Girl” for State Street (the latter work was done by McCann, but Hamlin cited it as a great example of an experiential campaign). These examples specified how Arnold reinforces its beliefs regarding connections between brands and customers.

“Today, the opportunities are endless, and the only thing that’s getting in your way is your own imagination,” Hamlin said. “As long as you really understand your customers, and you’re putting them at the center, you’re acting and living up to the brand. You’re doing it with authenticity. Then you can see that you’re able to create meaningfulness for the consumers.”



Ronnie Feng, Staff Writer

Ronnie Feng is a graduating senior studying advertising with a minor in American Studies. He is currently working on his book about American Fraternalism and its impact on masculinity in the college setting.


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