SBJ/March 13 - 19, 2006/One On One

The Marketing Arm founder tries to keep it fresh

Ray Clark is chief executive officer of The Marketing Arm, the entertainment, music and sports marketing services agency he founded in 1993 and sold in 1999 to Omnicom. Ranked No. 6 by Promo magazine on its list of the top 100 promotional agencies, The Marketing Arm manages more than $200 million annually in client programs via relationships with such industry titans as DDB, TBWA/Chiat/Day and BBDO and through its four business units: Millsport (sponsorship and sports consulting), USM&P (events), Davie-Brown (music and entertainment) and ipsh! (wireless marketing).

Clark spoke recently with SportsBusiness Journal New York bureau chief Jerry Kavanagh.

Date and Place of Birth: April 12, 1964, in North Little Rock, Ark.
Education: B.A., Business, SMU
Vacation spot: Cabo with the fellas, Laguna Beach with the family
Quote: “You’re used to what you’re used to.” I make up a lot of dumb quotes, and that’s one of the ones I use the most.
Movie: “Old School”
Last book read: The Kurt Cobain “Journals” and Bill Clinton’s “My Life”
Athlete you most enjoy watching: Roger Federer

Edwin Land, a physicist and the inventor of Polaroid photography, said, “Marketing is what you do when your product is no good.” Does that mean that a good product needs no marketing?

CLARK: That’s like saying nurturing and cultivating are not necessary for a small child if the child is smart. To me, a brand is more like a living organism. It has a life of its own and has to be nurtured and cultivated on a daily basis.

Marketing Arm client Nokia had “an incredible run”
with the Sugar Bowl, Clark says.
You once said that you could foresee a world in which traditional advertising would become increasingly irrelevant, where agencies less wedded to traditional marketing would be the ones that would prosper. Has that premonition proved to be true?

CLARK: It’s been the model for our agency, and in two years, we’ve gone from 55 employees to 700. That’s because marketers realize the big ideas are being launched off emotional platforms, and those platforms (sports, music, television, film, gaming) are where The Marketing Arm plays.

Does marketing appeal more to emotions than to intelligence?

CLARK: I don’t think there’s a clear difference between the two; I don’t think the two are opposites. In order to, one, break through the clutter of over 2,500 marketing messages a day that are bombed on new consumers and, two, change consumer behavior, marketers [must] realize that they will have to play to a consumer’s existing affinities or emotions.

Regarding the sponsorship of college football bowl games, you said: “It’s not enough to simply sign on as a sponsor. Sponsors need to activate their sponsorships in creative ways that will actually change consumer attitudes and behavior.” That’s pretty ambitious. What sponsorships have been able to change consumer attitudes and behavior?

CLARK: Nokia [a TMA client] had an incredible run with the Sugar Bowl whereby it saw, year over year, impressive results that solidified that people positively changed their opinion of Nokia as a company and of its products because it was affiliated with the Sugar Bowl. And it was not just because it sponsored the game; it was because of all the things it did around the game.

And now Nokia has dropped that sponsorship.

CLARK: Well, maybe they figured out that 10 years is enough.

David Ogilvy said, “I notice increasing reluctance on the part of marketing executives to use judgment; they are coming to rely too much on research, and they use it as a drunkard uses a lamp post for support rather than illumination.” Is there an overreliance on statistics in marketing?

CLARK: I believe there is an overreliance on research at corporate marketing departments. Most corporate decision-makers are risk-averse, and numbers give them the confidence to take some risks when they potentially may be wrong. Mass-media decisions, or more general marketing decisions, may be overly analyzed. However, I would argue that most sports marketing decisions are based on very little research and are overly instinctive or are due to the preference of the corporate decision-maker.

You said that “league and team sponsorships are a bit stale and so are promotional ideas around them.” What’s the freshest idea in sponsorships?

CLARK: I’m most intrigued and interested in brands developing their own content and in an authentic way customizing that content to a segmented consumer group.

What does that mean?

CLARK: It means developing customized television, film, music or sports, where they own it versus simply signing on to be one of a laundry list of league sponsors.

Clark says client Mountain Dew’s “First Descent”
grabbed core consumers.
Give me an example of a brand that has done that well.

CLARK: Mountain Dew [a TMA client] recently produced a snowboarding film that was incredibly well-produced and completely authentic to a core consumer group in a feature film called “First Descent.”

Are there any marketing ideas that have outlived their usefulness?

CLARK: I think that mass marketing in general is more and more a stale idea.

Speaking of stale, the whole fixation on, or fascination with, Super Bowl ads seems trite. Is imagination dead? Where is the creativity?

CLARK: The platform of the Super Bowl has become so large, traditional 30-second commercials are having difficulty living up to it. I think you’ll start seeing branded messaging that does not look like 30-second commercials become the breakout messaging during future Super Bowls.

The New York Yankees’ interlocking NY logo was judged recently to be the best of the 20th century. What makes it, or any logo, so memorable?

CLARK: It’s not just design. It’s also about frequency and the brand attributes that live on a daily basis for the brand. In the case of the Yankees, they’re seen the most frequently of any other sports logo, and they’ve been seen winning more so than any other logo.

What brands need a fresh look?

CLARK: Major League Baseball, I believe, will face more challenges over the next 10 years than any of the other major sports.

Why MLB?

CLARK: The way our society behaves is in contrast with how professional baseball is consumed. And, therefore, they have a problem with how it’s televised, the slowness of the game, and the general interests of a new generation.

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