For only the briefest moment during our interview, Mars CMO Jane Wakely was distracted. A notification had appeared on her screen about her Q4 media ROI results. “We’re feeling good, let’s just say that,” she smiled.
The marketer has had many such moments to feel good about over the years, including most recently being named Spikes Asia’s Advertiser of the Year for 2021.
Crediting her Asia-Pacific partners, Wakely is effusive about how “absolutely thrilled and very honoured” the brand is to win, explaining what a “huge source of creativity and innovation” this region is and has been for Mars globally.
This is the second time in five years that Mars has taken the title, fueled by an impressive creative canon that has garnered 54 Spikes between 2015 and 2019, including four Grands Prix and 11 golds. Among the most notable winners are a bevy of campaigns out of ANZ with agency partners Colenso and Clemenger BBDO, including Hungerithm, SelfieStix and The Child Replacement Programme.
Such a strong track record exudes confidence in existing marketing teams. Yet over time it also brings with it added pressure and rising expectations for even more massively effective campaign hits. Amid all the highs and lows, a brand with higher standards could also at times feel a temptation to take more creative risks or shake up its teams.
Yet that, says Wakely, would run completely against what brought the success in the first place.
“I absolutely believe in creative bravery," she tells Campaign Asia-Pacific. "But I don't attribute that necessarily to risk taking. One aspect of creative bravery is recognizing how human beings work. And it's not brave—as a brand manager’s first step—to fire the agency, cancel the campaign and create a new campaign. That's, in my view, lazy marketing, actually. Bravery is having campaigns that endure.”
In a world of short attention spans and ‘snackable’ media it’s easy to think consumers will quickly become bored with the same brand promise heard over and over again. But Mars has built sustained successes across both its petcare and confectionary businesses with long-term campaigns. Pedigree’s ‘Feed the Good’ was launched globally in Australia in 2015 and has continued for the last six years and counting, while Snickers’ ‘You’re not you when you’re hungry’ work has been around for more than a decade now.
It's clear, Wakely says, that developing surprising new iterations of longstanding campaigns is not only still working, but is central to the effectiveness of those campaigns over time. She bases this on evidence-based creative measurement with heavy post-campaign testing, plus simultaneously matching content consumption with buying behaviour. Those actions provide an excellent picture of whether campaigns are working or not.
“I think we learned time and time again that brand managers and companies get bored before consumers do," Wakely warns. "So I'm extremely challenging to any teams that want to change the creative platform if it's a proven effective campaign.”
“[To elicit a] response in a consumer's brain, you need to be incredibly consistent with your big idea, but incredibly brave with your execution to grab their attention.”
For Wakely, the Snickers ‘Hungerithm’ campaign out of Clemenger BBDO is a great example of this. Building on ‘You’re not you when you’re hungry’, the 2016 campaign built an algorithm to track the mood of the internet, working with partners like 7-11 to offer Snickers discounts in real time when the world turned angrier online—a candy bar to help everyone calm down. The campaign not only won two Grands Prix, four golds, two silvers and five bronzes at Spikes Asia, but also cleaned up at the Tangrams Strategy & Effectiveness Awards with a platinum, five golds and a silver on the back of a 67% sales increase with 30 million media impressions.
“For a platform to last and be as fresh in year 12 as it was when it was launched, you have to be executionally brave, surprising and very insightful,” Wakely says. “That to me is bravery, because it's sticking to the fundamental insight, but using incredibly innovative technology and innovative partnerships to bring the idea to life in a very surprising way that grabs attention and builds your distinctive memory structures for the long term.”
Strong long-term agency relationships
Wakely credits much of Mars’ creative success over the past decade to having long-term agency partners that work side-by-side on cracking consumer pain points. Mars’ global relationship with BBDO spans more than a decade, but APAC agency relationships with BBDO Colenso and Clemenger BBDO in ANZ stretch back even further, to 25 years.
What’s the secret to such a successful long-term relationship? Recognising that your agency relationship is a true relationship, says Wakely, who sees ‘magic’ in entering a room mixed with brand and agency associates working so closely you cannot determine who works for which employer.
“They deeply understand our categories, they deeply understand what we're trying to achieve," she says. "And that is a fuel for creativity. Deep trust and understanding enables bravery because time and time again if the agency can really be briefed on the bigger business challenge and consumer pain point, they become not just communication partners but innovation partners. And that's how I see our relationship with Colenso and Clemenger.”
Tight briefs and scorecards
Central to this clarity of focus is being very clear in the brief about business growth results and lead indicators Mars is watching regarding consumer pain points. Wakely says this enables the team to draw up a specific ‘scorecard for success’. From there, creativity is allowed to take over.
“The teams that really knock it out of the park become very creative within a tight brief,” Wakely says, because they can apply the universal truth of a big-idea campaign into a culturally specific local problem. Here, Wakely cites the Snickers ‘Gaokao’ exam package campaign, for which BBDO China partnered with media agency MediaCom and Tencent in 2016.
In this campaign, ‘You’re not you when you’re hungry’ was applied to the specific needs of Chinese students to snack and share with their peers to keep energy up during exams. Developing a new box with different sized Snickers bars, the work partnered with boy band influencers ‘TF Boys’ to create a whole new occasion to share chocolate, generating new relevancy for a whole new set of consumers in what had been a low penetration market.
“It's almost as though having that type of [tight] framework enables massive creativity,” Wakely explains, since “at the heart of a lot of China and ANZ creativity has been deep understanding of a local insight that's hugely culturally relatable.” One can then add creative uses of technology, data and innovation to take the big ideas and truths beyond communication into business model ideas.
“We fundamentally believe that creativity is the springboard to take a good business insight into a fantastic consumer proposition, Wakely says. “And we fundamentally believe that creativity and the combination of evidence-based growth is the magic combination which helps us hit it out of the park more regularly.”
Another APAC example Wakely cites is Colenso BBDO’s work on SelfieStix, part of Pedigree’s ‘Feed the Good’ campaign, based on the “deep human truth” that the innocence of dogs brings out the innocence and good in human beings.
The SelfieStix execution tapped another very pressing cultural need in the moment (for many people anyway) to share selfies and photos of pets. Solving the problem that dogs never look into the camera as humans do, the SelfieStix clip was invested to hold a Pedigree DentaStix treat in front of the camera so dogs would focus on it, allowing for good pet selfies that could be further embellished with a series of photo filters for pets.
Sure, the campaign was cute. But it also saw a 24% increase in sales while lowering acquisition costs by 12 times the industry standard en route to a Spikes Asia Grand Prix, four golds, three silvers and three bronzes in 2018 plus a Creative Effectiveness Spike in 2019.
“To get noticed in a cluttered world of advertising you really need to create an emotional reaction with with consumers—that's vital,” Wakely says. Tapping those universal truths to draw those emotional reactions, she adds, is another form of all-important creative fuel that has sustained Mars’ success for years.