Interviews

Mark Cripps, CMO, The Economist

It would be all too easy for a 176-year-old-brand like The Economist to wallow in marketing nostalgia. But as the inclusive marketing revolution taking place at the brand underlines, its CMO is not looking to stand still.

Izzy Ashton

Assistant Editor, BITE

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Iconic may well be one of the most over-used terms in marketing but The Economist has a marketing legacy that lives up to the description. David Abbot’s famous line; ‘I never read The Economist,’ Management Trainee. Aged 42', is perhaps the pinnacle of 80’s advertising.

Yet in tone and approach it is light years away from the brand’s first TV ad for a decade, created by Proximity London earlier this year. Where once the Economist relied on masculine language and broadcast messaging, today the brand is reappraising its approach to place emotion and inclusivity at its heart.

The ad tracks the progression of a young woman from the natural curiosity of childhood through to her choice to maintain that curiosity as an adult. This was a storyline that was, says Mark Cripps, CMO at the Economist, “so difficult to get that right.” The success and attention to detail came from the trust and partnership between the brand and their agency Proximity who, after five years of working together, “know the brand inside out.”

I’m really interested in something called the norm of reciprocity, understanding the value exchange between brands, their products and services and the people who buy them or consume them.

Mark Cripps

Brand building through emotion

The TV ad was part of the Economist’s shift to more emotional, human advertising. The brand is building a new narrative designed to connect more with younger consumers.

Mark Cripps believes that the key to success as a brand is to be useful, a marketing focus on utility which was echoed by Marc Pritchard who spoke on a breakfast panel hosted by The Economist at Cannes this year. Cripps revealed: “I’m really interested in something called the norm of reciprocity, understanding the value exchange between brands, their products and services and the people who buy them or consume them.” For the Economist, when you engage with the content, “it helps you be more prepared for the future forces, so the benefit is confidence.”

And that’s ultimately why we choose to consume content, whether that’s in a long form article or a short form podcast. We watch, read and listen to other’s opinions and relaying of the facts to further understand the world around us. The brands that help us do that become, says Cripps, “social currency.” And, as a brand, that’s what you want: “to be relevant.”

We’ve got podcast proliferation going on. We’ve got so much to say to so many people that, why not?

Mark Cripps

Building the Economist’s social currency

This idea of social currency, of being quotable, is part of the Economist’s shift to attract and stay relevant to a younger audience - they were one of the first brands on Snapchat for example - and they are also seeking to increase their number of female consumers. As Cripps revealed, “Research shows that women are consuming audio content more than men and social content as well actually.”

So, they launched a series of podcasts, from the daily 20-minute Intelligence to the Espresso app that gives you five snack size daily briefing articles and the tech podcast, Babbage. The brand also has an online radio channel. It all results in two million unique listeners per month across the Economist’s audio offering, something that appeals to Cripps as a lifelong BBC Radio 4 fan and “Archers addict.”

Establishing the brand’s audio footprint has been a core focus for The Economist. “We’ve got podcast proliferation going on. We’ve got so much to say to so many people that, why not?” Cripps explains. It is a strategy he believes is paying off, explaining that at the heart of audio, specifically podcast’s, popularity is the medium’s intimacy. He adds, “It’s trusted [and] as an industry, we’ve got to be really careful we don’t undermine that trust.”

When it comes to appealing to a younger audience, these individuals are discerning consumers, who aren’t afraid to take their loyalty elsewhere should a brand betray their trust. “There was a sense that we became a bit too introspective; there was a deliberate approach to get more reach and reach beyond the core audience,” reveals Cripps as he looks back on the Economist’s marketing legacy.

What’s the point in making something if people don’t want it, if people don’t want to use it?

Mark Cripps

Lost in translation

Traditionally the Economist had employed a typographically led approach which, Cripps said, “made people think we were a little bit inaccessible, a bit aloof and not very human.” The brand’s personality was getting lost in translation, its witty headlines not coming through in the external communications.

What the new strategy aims to do however is place the Economist’s content in front of as many people as possible, whether they’re the brand’s core audience of businesspeople, or a newer audience perhaps just trying it out for the first time. For Cripps, he wants to “get people into the habit of consuming [content].” As he believes, “What’s the point in making something if people don’t want it, if people don’t want to use it?”

Cripps started out his career in 1984, desperately trying to get into the advertising industry after watching his father’s career progress in direct marketing. He acknowledges that he was a “precocious teenager” who assumed he’d walk straight into a job. What he didn’t bank on however, was the number of rejections he’d receive in the process. It was only during a recent clear out of his attic that Cripps relived his early disappointments, feeling a mixture of emotions as he did it.

130 rejection letters later and a 30-year career under his belt, Cripps is adamant that for people entering the advertising industry, his advice is “you’ve got to persevere and be passionate about it.” It feels fitting that Cripps has now found himself at the helm of a brand rooted in a desire to inspire people’s curiosity because, he believes, the secret to success is to “make sure you have an opinion [and] care, for god sake care.”

In a world that is ever shifting, the Economist is matching the pace of change. It is a brand that could have easily rested on its laurels rather than pressed outside of its comfort zone to connect with new audiences through new platforms. Yet the brand that so brilliantly predicts our future through its ‘The World In’ series, also acknowledges that this is, to a certain degree an impossible task. “We’re not always right and we admit it,” says Cripps, a refreshing admission from the top marketer at a media company and one that many others could do well to learn from. Humility and humanity remain often the most important, yet under-utilised traits in marketing.

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