Highlighting The CMOs Who Improve Marketing—And The CEOs Who Don’t

Plus: The Fight Over TikTok Rolls Toward Election Politics And Disrupts E-Commerce, Walmart Makes Plans To Grow Toward The Future, Music Industry Titans Sue AI Platforms For Using Copyrighted Material

Last week, Forbes released its 12th annual World’s Most Influential CMOs list. This annual ranking recognizes the CMOs who have an outsized impact on marketing, both through their companies and how they work with the industry as a whole. We’ll dive deeper into this year’s list below, but Forbes CMO Network Managing Director Seth Matlins also named an unofficial—and nontraditional—No. 1 pick: The CEO.

Unlike the designation when it is given to the actual CMOs of brands including Netflix, L’Oréal and the National Football League, the award for the CEO is not exactly positive. Matlins points out data has shown that roughly 10% of all CEOs have any sort of marketing experience. The other 90%, he wrote, are often less-than-ideal stewards of resources and strategy to help the CMO succeed.

A Gartner study found marketing budgets have been rapidly falling—down 15% year-over-year, and a total decline of 30% over the past four years. Corporate budgets have tightened in the recent past, and Matlins writes that has led to CEOs wondering about the purpose of marketing, especially because investments don’t always lead to immediate returns. However, McKinsey found CEOs who are aligned with their CMOs and don’t interfere with them are twice as likely to drive more than 5% annual growth.

“In short, marketing-inexperienced CEOs (to say nothing of CFOs and Boards) are an albatross around the neck of stakeholder value individually and the global economy collectively,” Matlins writes.

Nine in 10 CEOs think they understand marketing, but only half of CMOs feel the same way about their CEOs, according to McKinsey research. So what is a CMO to do? McKinsey recommends CEOs flesh out the parameters of the CMO’s role, then the two leaders spend time together to determine how the CMO fits in the company’s strategy. CMOs can help their CEOs get outside of their executive box by taking them to meet customers and get an inside look at what people think of the brand. And, McKinsey says, these two leaders need to work together often to make the strategy a success.

People gather for a press conference about their opposition to federal intervention with TikTok on Capitol Hill in March 2023.

While there was bipartisan support for the law that would either force the sale of video social platform TikTok or ban it, TikTok’s future in the U.S. is set to get a lot more political. The U.S. Court of Appeals will be hearing arguments on the legality of the ban on September 16, weeks before the November election. TikTok and its Chinese parent company ByteDance sued the federal government to contest the law in May. This lawsuit was combined with one from eight TikTok users who said the law violates their First Amendment rights. President Joe Biden signed the law in April, while Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has said he does not support it—mainly because a TikTok ban would make Meta’s Facebook, which he considers “an enemy of the people,” more popular.

TikTok is regularly used by about 170 million Americans, and is a vital platform for messaging and sales. A ban on TikTok would force many brands to rethink their outreach strategies, as well as e-commerce. Still, the app is moving full speed ahead with expansion plans for TikTok Shop, its e-commerce platform that specializes in quirky products and is referred to as the internet’s favorite dollar store. Forbes senior writer Alexandra Levine writes that TikTok has been pouring resources into the platform in the U.S., working to grow it tenfold in the U.S. to $17.5 billion in sales, Bloomberg reported. Data from online shopping tracking app Route showed a 13% jump in TikTok Shop orders from April to May, nearly twice the average monthly increase since the beginning of this year. In February, Americans spent $7 million daily on TikTok Shop, Forbes contributor Katie Salcius writes, and TikTok shop offers sellers many monetization opportunities through affiliate deals, brand deals and building a social community around their brand.

If TikTok Shop continues to grow and eventually gets shut down, the U.S. could end up with the same type of problem that led to the TikTok law. Route CEO Michael Yamartino told Forbes the same kind of funky and inexpensive merchandise TikTok Shop is known for would most likely be found on Chinese e-commerce giants Temu and Shein.

Walmart is the world’s biggest retailer, but it isn’t currently known for its fashion choices. The company is working to attempt to change that perception. The retailer announced last week it is relaunching its No Boundaries brand to better appeal to Gen Z, former Forbes senior contributor Walter Loeb wrote. Walmart is hoping to present a more cohesive brand that is widely affordable. The majority of items in the collection—about 80%—will cost under $15. Jackson Brown, senior vice president of Walmart U.S. Fashion brands, said this refresh will help the retailer win over the next generation of consumers.

Walmart is also adding textile maker American Giant’s T-shirts to its stores. The company, which Forbes senior contributor Shelley Kohan said is a leader in U.S.-made clothing, will be selling T-shirts proclaiming “American Made” for the July 4 holiday for $12.98 each. Kohan notes this agreement helps Walmart meet its 2021 commitment to source $350 billion worth of plastics; textiles; small electrical appliances; food processing; pharmaceutical and medical supplies; and Goods Not For Resale from U.S. manufacturers. It may also serve as an inspiration for other retailers to begin stocking more items made in the U.S., Kohan wrote.

However, those who shop at Walmart online may be finding fewer and fewer U.S. brands. Walmart has recently made a push to add more Chinese vendors to its third-party online marketplace, writes Forbes senior writer Cyrus Farivar. In April, according to data from Marketplace Pulse, Chinese sellers represented 73.8% of new vendors on Walmart’s Marketplace platform. Analysts say that more Chinese sellers on the platform are unlikely to harm business from big-name U.S. brands, and other e-commerce platforms like Amazon have had many Chinese sellers for years. However, analysts told Forbes, these new Chinese sellers have the most potential to harm small-scale U.S. businesses.

Another group representing artists sued generative AI platforms, accusing them of “massive and ongoing infringement,” for reportedly stealing their copyrighted works and using them to train large language models. The newest lawsuit was filed by three heavy-hitters in the music industry—UMG, Warner and Sony—and they are accusing AI music generating platforms Suno and Udio AI of stealing their music. In a statement shared with Forbes, Suno CEO Mikey Shulman said Suno “prize(s) originality” and tried to explain to the record labels that its technology is “designed to generate completely new outputs, not to memorize and regurgitate pre-existing content,” but Shulman said the labels “reverted to their old lawyer-led playbook.”

The music companies are the latest to accuse AI companies of misusing their copyrighted works. In December, the New York Times sued OpenAI and Microsoft for training its LLM using its articles. Fiction writers through the Authors Guild sued OpenAI and Microsoft last September with the same accusation. And a group of nonfiction writers filed a class action lawsuit against OpenAI and Microsoft in November. More recently, Forbes demanded Perplexity AI remove misleading article summaries that are nearly identical to premium online content, with small and inconspicuous attribution, reserving the right to take legal action. And actress Scarlett Johnansson threatened legal action against OpenAI for making a voice for its chatbot that was very similar to her own.

It’s clear that it is well past time for AI platforms to reach some agreements with content owners and creators to train their systems. The lawsuits are unlikely to stop until there are policies on the books—and potentially creators are paid for allowing AI systems to use their work.

From left: Marian Lee, Tariq Hassan, Andrea Brimmer and Marcel Marcondes.

While most companies have CMOs, some have outsized influence. For the last 12 years, Forbes has put together an annual list of the marketing leaders who have brought their brands attention, run effective campaigns, shaped marketing strategies for their companies and others, and drove online conversation.

Forbes CMO Network Managing Director Seth Matlins writes that several metrics went into determining the 50 CMOs on this year’s list. Recognition on the list, he writes, is measured by influence, not popularity. For the last eight years, Forbes has worked with Sprinklr to measure and analyze the attention, performance and influence of more than 2,800 top brand CMOs across nearly 8 billion data points. These include news stories, social mentions and posts and comments about the CMO’s work. Data was also gathered from LinkedIn on posts, discussions and engagement around each CMO’s work. Financial performance of the brand was also taken into consideration.

This year, CMOs from many of the world’s largest companies are included in the list. Netflix CMO Marian Lee earned the top spot, earning recognition for her work to help build the streaming giant’s base and drive continual engagement, using a wide range of media tools, including Roblox worlds and immersive experiences to promote new seasons of Bridgerton. Other CMOs in the top 10 include ones from McDonald’s, Visa, Walmart, L’Oréal, Apple, AB InBev, New Balance, the NFL and Ikea.

Additionally, two CMOs were added to the Hall Of Fame, which comprises leaders who have been named to the list five times. Ally Financial’s Chief Marketing and PR Officer Andrea Brimmer and Autodesk CMO Dara Treseder were this year’s class, joining 18 previous inductees. But this year’s list is also full of newcomers; 14 out of the 50 are making their first appearance.

Game 7 of this year’s NHL Stanley Cup Final, in which the Florida Panthers beat the Edmonton Oilers, was the most-watched NHL game in five years, according to ESPN.

7.7 million: Average viewers of Monday’s game, which peaked at 10.2 million viewers

182%: Viewership growth when compared to the 2023 Stanley Cup Finals between the Florida Panthers and Las Vegas Golden Knights

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