Nike and Jordan Brand’s ad chief: ‘People are becoming immune to advertising’

Digiday covers the latest from marketing and media at the annual Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. More from the series →

Last year, Nike’s popular Jordan Brand won the Cannes Lions Titanium Grand Prix for the Re2pect campaign, though the brand’s global director of advertising Desmond Marzette wasn’t on hand to celebrate it. In fact, this year is his first Cannes ever. But he’s not staying for the duration: He’s already thinking of the location scouting for his next shoot, the Air Jordan XXXI campaign.

Digiday caught up Marzette during his visit to SapientNitro’s penthouse after delivering a talk on diversity, to hear why the ad industry needs a bit of a reality check.

Here are the takeaways.

How are you enjoying your first Cannes so far? 
I’m loving it. I can only stay until Tuesday though so I’ll miss a lot of the talks I want to see.

Which parties are you going to?
It’s a pretty serious trip, I’m here with my wife, so we’re having some fun, but I need to get back into production mode now, location scouting and casting for our next shoot. I love my job so, it’s all good. 

What are the biggest industry-wide problems that need addressing next year?
Oversaturation. There’s so much messaging out there, and it’s only getting worse. Every year there’s a new platform that will ultimately be used to sell you something. I worry that ultimately advertising will become a layer of noise and won’t be as impactful as it has been in the past or even as it has been today. Soon every street will look like la Croissette during Cannes or Time Square, where it’s just a bunch of lights and no one is reacting to it. When I was coming up I loved ads, I looked forward to them, especially Nike ones. I worry now that those young consumers don’t have that excitement. Instead they can’t wait to skip the ads.

How has it come to that?

Digital is the culprit. Back in the day, when we didn’t have DVRs or anything, you could get a special feeling from digesting an ad in one way. Now you’re seeing an ad every 10-15 secs, whether it’s on your phone, online, in the streets, it’s everywhere. That’s downgraded the value of advertising to the consumer. We have to think how is this going to be special. You can’t watch a video without ads or check an email without ads on the side.

How do you ensure you’re not adding to the noise?

We can’t just be like, look how cool this shoe is, we have to be more inspiring. That’s the point of the AJ XX9 ad — it’s the dream we all have to fly. No matter where you come from, we all try to jump up and hit the top of the door post. We live this sport inspired life together. the shoe was in there but it was more like we dream like you dream — hopefully those are the kind of ads that can break through the clutter.

Do you think there’ll be a breaking point?
I hope the pendulum swings back the other way and it becomes more about quality over quantity, because right now we are super excited with what technology gives us. So, ok we can talk to a kid in this new way and all that, but a little restraint can go a long way.

Your talk was about diversity in business, how are you improving it?

We have a very diverse consumer base. It may surprise you but we have 40 year old white males that are just as passionate about the brand as 21 year old black males. Jordan’s influence has been decades deep. When my 2-and-a-half year old daughter was born the delivery doctor, who was an older white male, was wearing Jordans and so was I, and there was a connection there because we were part of the same sport-inspired culture; inspired by the same man and his achievements on the court, which we’d taken into our lives. It’s important we reflect that in our community.

So you’re happy with the status quo of your own company?

I’ve worked in talent agencies, ad agencies and now client side and I’ve been nicely surprised by the diversity I find in each of our meetings — we have women in leadership, black males in leadership; it’s such a rich tapestry that mirror the consumer. That will only get better as we start to open up our doors to younger people too, that’s something I’d like to see more of – get a little closer to our consumer in terms of age.

Do your agencies mirror that?
We work with W+K in New York and it’s pretty diverse. What’s important for us, is not the actual complexion of who works for us but the culture complexion. If there is just going to be a black writer on the brand but doesn’t like basketball or appreciate Jordan or understand the deeper significance the brand has, then it doesn’t matter that he’s black. It’s the culture.

Do too many people default to that?
We do need more women, African Americans and gay people hired, the voices still need to be hired, but there is a smart way to do it that actually leads to being diverse, it’s not just about ticking a box. That’s what will make the work better.

More in Marketing

CMO Strategies: A guide to display ads — benefits, obstacles and trends

The third installment of Digiday’s 2024 CMO Strategies series examines current investment in display advertising, as well as the business strategies and challenges associated with this marketing channel.

‘It’s in Google’s best interest’: Sources urge more formal Privacy Sandbox legal terms

Some even ponder the benefits of regulating web browsers, just like a public utility.

Why angel investor Matthew Ball still believes in the metaverse

Matthew Ball’s 2022 book “The Metaverse: And How It Will Revolutionize Everything” was a national bestseller in the U.S. and U.K. On July 23, he plans to publish the second edition of the book.