Global Trends in Marketing, Advertising and Digital: Insight from Head of World’s Largest Advertising and Marketing Firm

October 06, 2017

It’s not just Google and Facebook that are reshaping the global marketing landscape, according to Sir Martin Sorrell, founder and CEO of WPP, the world’s largest advertising and marketing services group. Chinese technology leaders like Tencent and Alibaba, as well as Uber and Amazon are also disrupting traditional patterns of commerce.

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“People tell me that Google and Facebook must be eating your lunch, but in fact they are our first and third largest media partners,” said Sorrell in a talk October 5 as part of the School’s Distinguished Leaders Lecture on Series. “But one of the most important trends in the marketing sector is the continued low cost of capital, which makes it easier for newcomers to compete with the world's top brands,” to his audience of students, alumni and others in the community.

In introducing Sorrell, Dean John Quelch said WPP has a long history of innovation and market leadership. “WPP was one of the first major agencies to understand the importance of emerging economies, investing in digital, and profiting from media buying activity as well as developing creative content,” Quelch said.

Branding has a maximum impact on sales growth, which is crucial to driving share prices.

Sir Martin Sorrell

Back in 1985, Sorrell and a stockbroker partner purchased Wire and Plastic Products, a shell company traded on the London stock exchange, and used it build a powerful worldwide communications company.  Today, WPP operates through 12 verticals with dozens of brand names in 113 countries. The group’s annual billings of about $75 billion are more than 25 percent of the world market.

“We are in the brand business, and our research shows that strong brands generate superior shareholder returns,” Sorrell said. “Branding has a maximum impact on sales growth, which is crucial to driving share prices.”

Sorrell said WPP’s strategic priorities include a focus on bringing its verticals into horizontal alignment, and investing in digital media, consumer research and high-growth markets. “The next billion consumers will not come from the U.S. and Western Europe but from Asia, Latin America and Africa,” he said. “We want those markets to grow to 50 percent of our global business.” 

For multinational companies, the power of a global organization combined with local presence is increasingly important, Sorrell said. However, regional management, such as an Asia-Pacific team, is facing pressure to justify its role. He also noted that the low-cost, low-growth financial environment will continue to drive consolidation in many industry sectors.

Looking at other global market trends, Sorrell said the supply of goods is higher than demand in most industries. However, the reverse is true for the aging worldwide workforce. “The war for talent will become increasingly competitive,” he said. “The UM School of Business will continue to play an important role in educating new business professionals.”

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