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The dawn of marketing’s new golden age

The dawn of marketing’s new golden age

Jonathan Gordon and Jesko Perrey

McKinsey Quarterly | February 2015

Marketers are boosting their precision, broadening their scope, moving more quickly, and telling better stories.

Science has permeated marketing for decades. Fans of the television drama Mad Mensaw a fictionalized encounter when an IBM System/360 mainframe computer physically displaced the creative department of a late-1960s advertising agency. In reality, though, the 1960s through the early 1990s witnessed a happy marriage of advertising and technology as marketers mastered both the medium of television and the science of Nielsen ratings. These years gave birth to iconic advertising messages in categories ranging from sparkling beverages (“I’d like to buy the world a Coke”) to credit cards (“American Express. Don’t leave home without it”) to air travel (“British Airways: the world’s favourite airline”).

Until recently, marketers could be forgiven for looking back wistfully at this golden age as new forces reshaped their world into something completely different. These new trends include a massive proliferation of television and online channels, the transformation of the home PC into a retail channel, the unrelenting rise of mobile social media and gaming, and—with all these trends—a constant battle for the consumer’s attention.

The resulting expansion of platforms has propelled consistent growth in marketing expenditures, which now total as much as $1 trillion globally. The efficacy of this spending is under deep scrutiny. For example, in a survey of CEOs, close to three out of four agreed with the following statement: marketers “are always asking for more money, but can rarely explain how much incremental business this money will generate.”1 Chief marketing officers (CMOs), it appears, don’t disagree: in another recent survey, just over one-third said they had quantitatively proved the impact of their marketing outlays.2Paradoxically, though, CEOs are looking to their CMOs more than ever, because they need top-line growth and view marketing as a critical lever to help them achieve it. Can marketers deliver amid ongoing performance pressures?

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