Buying into Bryan Rakowski’s outlook on most things rarely takes much effort. His easy conversational manner, combined with a palpable energy and optimism that stem from a real passion for his job, mean his views on marketing are easy to subscribe to.
So when he explains his delight in having his colleagues at Mondelez International around the globe ‘steal’ — in the loosest possible terms, says the grin on his face — new product innovations created by his biscuit division in Asia-Pacific, it’s hard not to be drawn into nodding along.
Rakowski equates this “stealing” more to learning, and readily admits it’s something everyone does to get better, including himself.
“We work really hard at [learning],” he tells Campaign Asia-Pacific. “I don’t know that we’re perfect, there’s always room to get better. We do try and steal with pride from markets where things have worked and see if they can apply here. But what I love most is when we do something here and our US team steals it from us.”
As an Asia-Pacific-based senior marketer for one of the world’s largest snack manufacturers, headquartered in the US, the appeal of an innovation originated in Rakowski’s region is plain to see, and all the more satisfying for its rarity in Western conglomerates.
“We can set the tone for the rest of the world, that’s my favourite part,” he says. “A lot of people would assume, ‘Oh, it’s a US innovation that made its way around the world.’”
A shining example of this is the recently released Oreo Thins, a China-driven innovation based on Mondelez research, data and engagement with Chinese consumers, who wanted an alternative to the sweeter, flagship cookie.
“We found a way to keep the base Oreo as is, but also put a twist on the classic, which took off,” Rakowski explains. “It unlocked a whole set of consumers so now we’re launching as fast as we can around the world.”
For Rakowski, the product is a proud symbol of the effort that Mondelez is putting into R&D, marketing and building local relationships.
“The APAC team should be really proud of that innovation, that now the global guys are running as fast as they can to get it out the door,” he says, adding that the benefits of demonstrating Mondelez Asia-Pacific’s creativity and innovation go beyond just the bottom line.
“Of course, we take some stuff that’s worked elsewhere and we adopt it here, and that works great,” he says. “But when it’s organic like [Thins], it empowers our R&D teams and attracts great talent from other functions that you wouldn’t normally focus on, because they assume that the innovation [only] comes from a developed market.”
Innovation is not limited to the products themselves, Rakowski says. Mondelez International’s entire marketing outlook has been overhauled to put the needs of the modern consumer at its heart. This hasn’t been an easy transition, he admits, but it was certainly necessary.
“The idea was that we’re never going to get over being uncomfortable trying something new, unless we just go and start doing stuff and not being afraid if we fail, as long as we learn from it,” he says. “So the ‘Fly fearless’ campaign began internally.”
This shift in attitude has begun paying dividends in Asia-Pacific, Rakowski says, because Mondelez consumers in the region increasingly demand to be entertained in the right way, on the right channel.
“So instead of pushing a message at them, shouting as loud as we can for as much money as we have, you instead say: ‘Let’s create some content that I as a consumer would want to watch,’ in the context of going shopping for a particular food category,” he says.
So Oreo’s ‘Wonderfilled’ campaign was born in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, Mondelez’s three largest Southeast Asian markets. Introducing a new music element, three musicians from each country were asked to write a song in their local language to the tune of the Oreo ‘Wonderfilled’ melody.
They then collaborated to write a song (in English). The whole thing was a big departure from what Oreo had done before in Asia-Pacific.
“People weren’t comfortable that we were launching the campaign, but we weren’t seeing the business results we wanted, so it was time to change it up,” Rakowski explains. “It was a very light-touch brief, and it made even me a little uncomfortable, but you’ve got to let go a little.”
The results were hugely successful. The songs gained so much traction that music streaming service Guvera licensed the exclusive rights, a monetising opportunity that Rakowski describes as a “happy accident”.
“That was a bit of a breakthrough for not just the regional, but the local marketers in the [biscuit] category model, who were thinking, ‘Where do I fit in?’” he says. “It allowed them to be hands-on and feel, ‘I’m doing something for Oreo that other markets are now going to want to try.’
“We had to take a chance. There were a couple of make-or-break moments, but luckily we had some great partners to help us with it and we’re looking to see what we can do as phase two of that later this year.”
The ability to have cross-channel and cross-cultural engagement with consumers is crucial in the region, Rakowski explains. And as a much-travelled Mondelez marketer, he would know.
Joining the brand — Kraft Foods as it was then — from university, Rakowski has run several teams and projects in Russia and Puerto Rico, then Latin America regionally, based in Brazil, before moving to Singapore for the Asia-Pacific role, where the scope of the market initially blew him away.
“In Latin America, you’ve got two main languages across 20-some countries, and largely one religion,” he explains.
“So there are some similarities between countries that allow you to generalise sometimes. Here, that goes completely out the window. You can’t compare anything.”
One area that is common to most parts of Asia-Pacific is ecommerce, and Rakowski says Mondelez APAC must lead the way for other markets to follow. Again, it’s a learning process, but one he believes they have made good headway with.
“We have to be really nimble,” he says.“That leads to the point of local brands and the nimbleness they can demonstrate, versus what you could sometimes assume to be the lumbering, big corporate entity, that’s like turning an aircraft carrier on a dime.
“We have struggled with that, and I think we’re finally putting our resources and our money where our mouth is on ecommerce. We’re finally getting around to doing the same on content; doing things differently and not just talking about it.”
Things are continuously moving at Mondelez in the region with the company taking back its biscuit business in Japan, buying Kinh Do in Vietnam, and launching a new Bournvita biscuit in India.
Rakowski says he is hugely excited to be driving these new initiatives, and wants to continue innovating in Asia with the same recent success the brand has experienced — now it is firmly on the right track for the modern snacker, with the right tools, on the best channels, at the right time.
“If I see someone in my team or a local market show me a slide that has ‘360 degrees’ on it, I laugh at them. I say, ‘Who’s going to pay for 360 degrees? Are you?’ We are now really trying to find the right degrees of that 360, where consumers are more ready to receive a message, or are asking to be entertained with a message we can deliver.”