Passikoff: What’s Scaring Your CMO Right Now?


“Americans now purchase 600 million pounds of candy for Halloween, which is scary in and of itself, but marketing is marketing, right?”

Did you celebrate Halloween? It’s the scariest night of the year. Also, a tradition over 2,000 years old.

See, November 1 was the Celtic new year. The beginning of the dark, cold winter. A time associated with human death. The Celts believed the night before – October 31st – was where the boundary between the worlds of the living and dead became blurred. And ghosts of the dead returned to walk the earth. People lit bonfires and wore costumes to ward off those ghosts. According to a poet of the era, J.K. Bangs:

Is night for revel, set apart
To reillume the darkened heart,
And rout the hosts of Dole.

And ease the troubled soul.

The ghosts of all things, past parade,
Emerging from the mist and shade.

The “dole” in line 3 is a reference to poor people visiting houses of wealthy families to receive pastries (“soul cakes”) in exchange for a promise they’d pray for the souls of the homeowners’ dead relatives. Yeah, I know, scary stuff! In later years, to ease “the troubled souls” and in aid of a good night’s sleep, children would go door to door asking for gifts like food, money, and ale.

Children have marketers to thank for the candy-to-Halloween connection today. In 1916, a CMO, looking for a way to boost Fall candy sales, came up with “Candy Day,” which ended up being on October 31. Americans now purchase 600 million pounds of candy for Halloween, which is scary in another way, but marketing is marketing, right? So, another score for marketers, right? Well maybe not.

Today, children still go door to door. Trick-or-treating and mostly just asking for all that candy. And there’s none of that praying for souls stuff. But maybe there should be. Halloween is the day of witches, ghosts, and goblins. But it turns out, marketers have more than their own fair share of demons.

According to our 4th annual Marketing On My Mind survey, the unrelenting demands for ROI, shareholder value, and ongoing competition are only some of the scary things that keep CMOs and brand manager’s up at night. Another poet, James Thompson, addressed that precise problem (circa 1870). He doesn’t specificallymention CMOs but described their current condition in a kind of Shirley Jackson / Stephen King / H.P. Lovecraft way, written after an LSD trip followed by a big sugar crash. Or as some CMOs call it, “Wednesday!” 

The City is of Night, but not of Sleep;
There sweet sleep does not come for the weary brain;
The pitiless hours like years and ages creep
This night seems termless hell. This dreadful strain
Of thought and consciousness which never ceases
Or which some moments’ stupor but increases
This, worse than woe, makes wretches there insane.

Scary, huh? Even worse, it probably sounds like someone you know. Come on! We all know people in our business like that! But, to categorically find out, we asked 463 CMOs and brand managers, “What keeps you up at night?” What nightmare-scenarios scared them. Which were responsible for “some moments’ stupors” and loss of a good night’s sleep?  Any “worse than woe” that received 75%+ mentions by respondents made the list. Oh, and we’ve indicated changes from last year’s “dreadful strains.” Here’s this year’s list:

  1. ROI / ROMI (99%, +1%)
  2. Work-From-Home/Return-to-Office Issues/Remote working (98%, new)
  3. Inflation/Recession (97%, new)
  4. Pressure for increased profits/shareholder value (96%, –)
  5. Competition from new brands (95%, +5)
  6. Dealing with political dogma (94%, +12%)
  7. Supply chain snafus and product availability (90%, -4)
  8. Deployment of predictive analytics (90%, +4%)
  9. COVID and covid-related management issues (89%, -6)
  10. Identifying Brand Purpose / ESG Issues (88%, new)
  11. Balancing consumer advocacy and the brand (87%, +5%)
  12. Optimizing and owning CX (86%, -3)
  13. Aligning brand with consumer expectations (85%, +6%)
  14. Keeping consumers engaged with my brand (85%, –)
  15. Fostering Brand Trust (85%, new)
  16. Lack of brand focus (84%, +3)
  17. Addressing tech innovation and AI (84%, -4%)
  18. The Metaverse (83%, new)
  19. Proliferation of digital clutter (83%, new)
  20. Developing long-term/new strategies that align with corporate growth goals (82%, -5)
  21. Managing agency relationships (82%, –)
  22. Keeping my brand relevant (81%, +2)
  23. Creating relevant and engaging marketing and advertising (80%, -3%)
  24. Data security issues (80%, –)
  25. Protecting my brand’s equity (80%, +1%)
  26. Better cross-platform integration/synergy for brand marketing (79%, +4)
  27. Generating new business/new customers (78%, +3)
  28. Legacy measures are misleading (77%, +3)
  29. Not evolving with audience (76%, new)
  30. Remote working will upset creativity (75%, new)
  31. Burnout (75%, new)

Given the ROI, WFH, ESG, COVID, and CX on this year’s list, I thought it might be grammaphobia. That’s a psychological syndrome where folks think letters and acronyms are symbols of evil and cause bad dreams and sleepless nights. Or maybe it’s marketing’s karmic destiny. Increased sugar also causes people to have restlessness nights and nightmares.

For today’s CMOs and brand managers the nightmare that has taken on “monster-in-the-closet” status is “dealing with political dogma” (up 12% YOY). Combined with increased consumer expectations (+6%) and terrors involved with new competition and balancing consumer advocacy and brands (+5 each), it’s pretty clear why CMOs and brand managers face sleepless nights.

So, here’s a tip. When it comes to nightmares, sleep scientists have a couple of tricks they recommend; healthy sleep routines, cutting down on sugar, or even a nightlight. But cures for marketing nightmares are more complex. Another tip? Given this year’s list, try some new research tools that yield new brand insights that you can initiate in a new way. That virtually guarantees an easier night of peaceful slumber. At least a few evenings a week. The is modern marketing we’re dealing with here, after all!

Try it. You’ll be in for a real treat and a decent night’s sleep. And I promise. Doing something new isn’t as scary as you might think!


Robert PassikoffRobert Passikoff is founder and CEO of Brand Keys. He has received several awards for market research innovation including the prestigious Gold Ogilvy Award and is the author of 3 marketing and branding books including the best-seller, Predicting Market Success.  Robert is also a frequent contributor to TheCustomer.

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