Martin Karaffa, Associate Partner, Hofstede Insights

AME Grand Jury POV- Martin Karaffa

Martin Karaffa is Associate Partner with Hofstede Insights, he brings decades of experience to the AME jury panel. As global planning director for some of the world's largest agencies he knows firsthand how cultural forces can make or break brand strategy.

New York, NY | March 10, 2021

AME's Grand Jury members are respected worldwide for their award-winning campaigns and commitment to ground-breaking effective work. They are the genius minds associated with many of AME’s award-winning entries, their stellar reputations and commitment to creative and effective work set the benchmark for innovation.

2021 Grand Jury member, Martin Karaffa is Associate Partner with Hofstede Insights, Marty brings decades of experience to the AME jury panel.  As global planning director for some of the world's largest agencies he knows firsthand how cultural forces can make or break brand strategy. He began his career as planning director at JWT Melbourne. Posted to Tokyo, he worked for such JWT global clients as Citigroup, Diageo, Ford, Jaguar, Haagen-Dazs, Kellogg and Nestle—for the last, helping to create the Kit Kat phenomenon.

He then joined JWT New York, where he served as Global Planning Director on Pfizer Consumer Health, before moving to Munich to lead the global planning function for BBDO Worldwide on Daimler businesses, including Mercedes-Benz. 

In 2019, Marty began his global brand consultancy based in Munich, with assignments from clients such as BMW and Unilever.

In the interview below Marty shares his industry observations on how the brand's tone of voice changed during the pandemic, which brands were effective in their messaging, his perspective on big data and AI and what new elements will emerge and much more.

AME Awards: As a strategic creative, what stand-out attributes do you recognize in award-winning creative effective advertising?

Martin Karaffa: Emotional clarity and urgency.  Messages that address abiding beliefs, not just momentary decisions.

AME Awards: How has the brand’s voice changed since the pandemic confinement measures? Speak to the evolution of brand positioning, values, and tone of voice during COVID.

Martin Karaffa: Brands are powerful. The pandemic laid bare some stark truths about power, and our communities increasingly hold power to account. 

Early in the pandemic, brands dished out cheap sentiment, and it backfired.  Consumers looked more at what a brand did, rather than what it said. 

Brands suffered when they admonished us as consumers to change our behaviour without changing their own—for example, those which preached social distancing to the public without reassuring us of safety measures for their own staff. 

Brands which sent messages acknowledging the sacrifices made by all, and showed what help the brand provided, fared better.  For example, I think alcohol brands struck the right chord.  Guinness USA created a campaign which consoled revelers for the St. Patrick’s Day celebration they missed, while establishing a fund to support hard-hit hospitality workers.  Coors created a fun, charming campaign about getting through tough times with a beer and created a promotion where buyers could send a beer to a friend or loved one remotely. Relevant, and helpful.

Consumers could always spot an emotional fake from a brand; in 2020, their patience wore thin with shallow insincerity.  And it revealed how many of us in the business community lack both perspective and the emotional intelligence to employ it.

AME Awards: What brands have evolved and succeeded in 2020 and why?

Martin Karaffa: Some brands were in the right place at the right time.  They were on-trend, and the pandemic accelerated an existing change.   Amazon benefited from the trend to online shopping, which the pandemic turbocharged.  The trend to allow greater workforce flexibility and WFH had gained momentum over the 2010s; the pandemic multiplied it and propelled Zoom to new heights.  Both had as much to do with product as brand.

Evolving brands?  The trend away from onerous and un-necessary business travel was already affecting airline margins, and if you’ll pardon the expression, COVID-19 crashed them.  The evolution has already begun.  Smaller planes, more point-to-point, more leisure destinations.  Again, an evolution on a functional level, rather than a brand level.

In the pandemic so far, function has driven both windfall success and painful evolution.  Who provides the commodity I need best and cheapest?  2021 will see brand values reassert their importance. 

Consumers often use brands to which they are indifferent, or even which they don’t particularly like.  Cost pressures, network effects, or sheer necessity all play a role. 

To be fair, larger brands will be able to trade on this for quite a while.  But as other brands step in with product improvements, that advantage will be less.  In 2021 and beyond, simple likability will begin to erode the advantage of sheer presence.  Those brands which had the best infrastructure in place to respond to an emergency did well in 2020.  Brands which rely on hostage consumers—who use you but don’t particularly like you—will be vulnerable to those which can claim more mental availability in a consumer’s head through an emotional connection.

AME Awards: What innovations are changing the way agencies create on behalf of brands or launch new products?  Does big data and AI play an even bigger role today?

Martin Karaffa: I’m a fan of big data.  Agency planners who eschew big data miss an extraordinary opportunity.

But until now, insights have been hard to harvest. The algorithmic tools which AI uses are inflexible.  One cannot interrogate the data; we can only know what we programmed the algorithm to tell us. The amount of insight one can gain to promote innovation in product or marketing disappears in ever decreasing circles. 

Take targeting.  As we increase the refinement of the target, the law of diminishing returns kicks in very quickly.  The number of potential customers the algorithm excludes begins to far exceed the number of sure bets whom the data can identify.

I think that three elements will emerge.

  • First, a resurgence in qualitative.  But not qualitative as it was practiced in the twentieth century.  Disciplined qualitative with a sound psychological basis; focus on projective and world-building, probe values rather than behaviour, light moderation/interview technique. This will do what qualitative has always done—it gives us the raw material to ask the right questions. And it’s particularly suitable for online techniques.
  • Second, new quantitative approaches.  Yes, it’s OK to ask self-report direct questions.  But scalar rather than yes/no.  And a focus on questions where hard choices based on personal values must be made. We don’t always reveal our values through our behaviour, online or offline.
  • Third, marketers need access to metadata in an easy and flexible way to ask the right questions.  If CTR is the only measure you can provide, and you don’t have a multifaceted description of the content which provoked it, then you don’t have enough metadata for a marketer.

Big data and AI have revolutionized performance marketing. They have revealed nudges we could never have identified before. But what gets a consumer to the pre-nudge position? That’s where we next have work to do.

AME Awards: Why did you agree to participate on this year’s AME Grand Jury and What do you hope to learn by viewing entries into this competition?

Martin Karaffa: I have a personal reason.  Many years ago, as a younger copywriter, a Gold at the New York Festivals did a great deal for me professionally. There were others that followed, but I always recall the first one. It’s a way of saying thanks. I didn’t hesitate.

AME Awards: What advice or guidelines would you give to potential entrants on earning an AME Award?

Martin Karaffa: As a judge, I would ask an entrant to show how they changed minds and hearts, as well as how they changed short term behaviour.  How they built the brand as well as the business.