Math & Magic

The most effective marketing is about making emotional connections with people, says advertising giant GroupM’s CEO Tim Castree. “Even with the power of all of our data and targeting tools, at the end of the day it’s about moving people—and the only way to do that is with emotional engagement,” he tells Bob Pittman in Episode 3 of the iHeartMedia CEO’s new podcast “Math & Magic: Stories from the Frontiers of Marketing.”

Pittman, who started his career as a DJ at age 15, launched the podcast earlier this month, sitting down first with talent manager Scooter Braun; and secondly, with the Publicis Group’s Maurice Lévy. The podcast series features conversations between Pittman and other visionary leaders from across the entertainment and media industries.

Castree’s story begins humbly in his native Australia, with a school principal dad and stay-at-home mom. But when his father left the family when Tim was 12, “Mom had never worked a day in her life, and now had to provide for 5 kids. We were really living in the margins,” he says. All the same, “It was a very fun-filled and loved-filled home. That, more than economic circumstances shaped who I am as a person.”

His first job was shoveling manure before he was a teen, prompting Pittman to quip, “That must have prepared you for a lot of jobs.” Castree responds in the podcast, “I love rolling my sleeves up and doing the hard things, and sometimes that is akin to shoveling.”

The now powerful executive’s advertising career began working in the internal advertising department of a Safeway grocery in Australia—which was absorbed into brand name advertising agency Leo Burnett. As the acquisition was being forged, an executive had Castree’s back—and refused to sign on the dotted line until the young buck was promised a job with the agency. “I started a cadet-ship, after they took some into the agency and a bunch they let go,” he explains. Over the next two years, he was introduced to multiple departments, working in production, creative, account management and media.

In fact, Castree explains to Pittman in the podcast that because his career suddenly began taking forward steps, he never went to college: “It turned out to be an advantage, but I don’t think it would happen today, working in a white collar job without a degree.”

Asked for his most memorable campaign, he discusses Earth Hour, developed when Castree was with Leo Burnett, for the World Wildlife Fund. The initiative, an effort “in solidarity for the planet,” convinced millions in Sydney to turn off their lights for one hour as a symbolic gesture. The agency aligned with the Sydney Morning Herald and ultimately, “we got thousands of businesses and millions of people to participate,” he says. “We watched the central business district of Sydney go dark. It was such a powerful symbol and statement, and the earned media was phenomenal.”

Today, Earth Hour is a global cause, with 188 nations participating in 2019 to “speak up for nature and inspire urgent action for the environment,” according to its website. Related hashtags trended in 26 countries as people across the globe generated 2 billion impressions to show their concern for nature. Adds Castree, “It was about our agency and the Herald and the WWF coming together. Now, more than a billion people around the world have been influenced by that campaign. It’s the best campaign I ever worked on.”

The GroupM CEO also gives a shout-out to Proctor & Gamble Chief Brand Officer  Mark Pritchard for exposing cracks in digital marketing’s alleged effectiveness. “I think he’s the first serious big CMO to use his pulpit to call bullshit on a lot of the perceived wisdom that has started to grow around digital marketing and the digital ecosystem,” Castree says. “Digital is not the panacea to everything. We still need a balance between new and traditional media, and to engage with people emotionally. Some of these ad products that exist in the digital ecosystem aren’t as good as some of the traditional ones.”

Listen to the podcast HERE