4A’s StratFest Themes: Storytelling, Connection, Inclusivity

Perspective changes everything. As someone new to Market Research (five months strong!), I’ve started seeing marketing efforts from brands in an entirely new light.

What kind of data fueled that campaign?
How much testing went into this 30 second ad?
Where’s the deeper message? What’s the story besides…buy this now?

Enter StratFest from the team at 4A’s. As my first strategy conference, I was excited to get a lay of the land and see the latest trends and innovations in the field. StratFest did not disappoint. I left the event with new takeaways and ideas for how to better communicate big ideas with data and help brands be seen on a bigger scale.

The event’s bio reads:
“Since its introduction to the ad industry over 50 years ago, the strategy discipline has had an undeniable impact on the ways brands communicate and connect with consumers. The 4A’s StratFest celebrates the strategist community and is home to the 4A’s Jay Chiat Awards, which recognizes the best strategic thinking in marketing, media, and advertising around the world.”

The biggest through line at this year’s event? Storytelling, connection, and inclusivity.

As we hurdle through these strange times, connection is the only constant. Brands that tap into that are seeing high engagement and more profit. So here are a few panels and ideas that really resonated with me:


One aspect of marketing that will likely never change? People like to be entertained. In fact, simply reminding consumers of this fact has worked for brands like Tiffany & Co. Just ask writer Paul Feldwick.

His panel, Why Does the Peddler Sing?, explores the intrinsic link between marketing and entertainment. He argues that brands must be more like peddlers or traveling salesmen who rode along with the circus or other road shows, dazzling audiences and communicating the value of their brands.

“The peddler sings, tells jokes, but above all, he attracts attention. The singing peddler is the perfect archetype of someone coming into your home and putting you in the mood to purchase.”

These days, marketers don’t need an elephant or clowns (thank God) to get the point across since pop stars will do. As shown in the ads above, associating existing brands with popular entertainers like Beyonce and Jay-Z can create buzz and excitement, even about an established brand like Tiffany.

Bottom line? Selling is easier if you can dazzle an audience. You don’t need celebrities, glitz, and glamour, but you must create a steady stream of content for your audience to engage with to garner more attention for your brand.


During her panel, The Potential of Plurality, Chris Konya from Sylvian Labs spoke about the blurring cultural lines that come from our shared experiences. She argues that because we live in a niched-down world where people have more freedom to consume the media they choose, the idea of a shared cultural experience is different than it was ten (or even five) years ago.

Plurality redefines the idea of shared identity. It posits a culture with no core and outliers, but by individual experiences.

Here are Konya’s tips to creating a more shared culture:

  1. Realize our audiences are changing. It will be harder to find a universal, shared experience. You must design for plurality. Nike created a new shoe design, the GO FlyEase, that requires no hands and no laces to put on. This design was created for people with cerebral palsy, but the design was so successful these shoes are finding an audience with all audiences.
  2. Create new conversations to generate plurality. It’s up to market researchers to push past existing conversations. NFTs have given communities (crypto investors, artists, and tech nerds) that on the surface have little in common a campfire and new language to rally around. How can we create new communities with other experiences?
  3. Celebrate people’s individuality. People want to honor each other’s differences and create a positive shared emotional experience. Not everyone can experience something like “Black Girl Magic,” but it’s a message that we can all get behind.

So, what does this mean for advertisers and marketing pros? We must go beyond the surface. As marketers, tapping into this paradigm shift will be essential to connect with audiences on a deeper level.


Brand relevance has a direct tie to profit―it’s crucial for corporate entities to join the conversation, but even more important to join the right conversation.

The team at Twitter has been tracking these brand conversations over the past two years and studied how brands can use trending topics and conversations to better connect to people in an authentic way. They’ve found that if a brand can join the conversation and get more attention, they can see an increase in sales. There is a correlation between relevance and revenue.

Rebecca Kramer Rosengard’s and Lisa Cowie’s panel, From Billions to Six Tweets to Six Key Trends: Helping Brands Connect to What Matters, shared findings from the latest Twitter Trends report that dropped this month. Their insights about the six biggest topics of the last two years are fascinating:

  1. Wellbeing – In the last two years, conversations around prioritizing self-care and communities of care has grow by 55%. This includes topics that have exploded during COVID, such as health tech, healthcare, vaccines, and gene therapy.
  2. Creator Culture – There has been a 77% increase in discussions about creativity or creations on Twitter. While self-promotion is important, the rise of crypto art and the use of AI for creation and writing shows that interest in expression in all forms is on the rise.
  3. Everyday Wonder – Escapism has always been a fundamental need for audiences. In the last few years, people have flocked to online conversations about travel, exploration, and even the unknown, including space and the deep ocean.
  4. One Planet – There’s been a 1,440% increase in conversations about sustainability. There’s a real sense of urgency around conversations about organic/clean beauty, food waste, and sustainable energy.
  5. Tech Life – There’s been a 274% increase in conversations about technology with audiences particularly interested in connected devices, smart appliances, and crypto.
  6. Identity ‒ People “being seen” on an individual level with representation is crucial. Mentions of “identity” are up 26% and topics around gender equality, racism, liberty, and cancel culture are up by 69%.


StratFest also highlights the best campaigns of the last year through the Jay Chiat Awards. Topics including equity, inclusion, and identity won big in 2021. Here are a few of my favorite campaigns shared during the conference:

Crayola: Colors of the World

Inclusion means a sense of belonging, and in 2020, Crayola found a unique way to bring a message of diversity and inclusion to even our youngest artists by bringing their eight existing skin tones (from 1992) to 40 in 2020. The new Colors of the World Crayons contain 24 specially formulated colors representing people of the world. The subtle shades are formulated to better represent diversity worldwide through shades of almond, rose, and gold.

Edelman & Good Humor: A New Ice Cream Truck Jingle for a New Era

Did you know 60% of Americans think it’s important for brands to embrace racial equality? After social media conversations in 2020 around the racist roots of “Turkey in the Straw,” the default ice cream truck song, Good Humor created a new ice cream jingle with RZA and even made it royalty-free for ice cream truck drivers. Nichols Electronics, the biggest music box manufacturer, partnered with Good Humor to replace Turkey in the Straw with the new jingle.

Unilever & Mele: A Scientific Breakthrough: The Science of Melanin-Rich Skin

People with melanin-rich and darker skin have different concerns unaddressed in the market. This colorblind approach to skincare wasn’t working for unmet needs for black audiences. Enter Mele, a unique new skincare line focused on the science of melanin-rich skin.


Thanks to StratFest, I learned more than just great strategies that help organizations like W5 join better conversations and create content that gets brands seen. StratFest opened my eyes to new ways of thinking about how strategy fueled by data and insights can be utilized to make the world a more inclusive and representative place.

Do you have a research project in the pipeline? Reach out to the W5 team!

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