Q+A with Jenny Ashmore, global marketing capability officer at Mars

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Jenny Ashmore, global marketing capability officer at Mars is responsible for Mars food, chocolate and petcare brands including Dolmio, Whiskas and Snickers, as well as subsidiary business Wrigley, which owns the Skittles and Juicy Fruit brands. Here, she talks about the local and global strategy for the Mars business and her passion for media as a creative tool. Ashmore is currently chair of the judging panel for the Global Festival of Media awards.

Q: As a global company with more than $30bn annual turnover does Mars take a global approach to brand strategy or a very separate local campaign strategy in each region?

It’s our core belief that the business should be run by autonomous local management teams. That’s what enables us to be nimble and responsive, and I think that’s a really important competitive edge.

Of course we’ve got global brands and a number of billion dollar brands and you don’t get that without having some kind of global framework.

That’s my job essentially to keep the framework and linkages and the language such that we can run global billion dollar brands through local autonomous management teams that make their decisions locally – it’s a real art form if I’m really honest.

Q: How do you ensure that there is a consistent global message for the brands within this localised management structure?

We want the best of both worlds, and there’s a philosophical debate over whether that’s possible.

The thing that we do differently from other companies is our global brand boards are run by people from local management teams. So the marketing directors from the biggest markets come together on a very regular basis with global agency networks to work through what the guiding vision for that brand is.

Then they go home [to their local market] and then they work out how to bring out that global idea in the most relevant way for the local market, in the context of their local consumer and the local zeitgeist.

Q: How does this way of working help drive global brand strategies?

What’s really good about that way of working is it allows for real innovation and experimentation at the local level.

I don’t want our biggest brands to be betting the ranch on risky ideas but I do want us to go out and try things so this model allows us to do that. Local teams will be experimenting with different ideas that link to the overall direction of where we want the brand to go in the next 5 10 years.

The Pedigree dog adoption programme started out as an idea in a local region in North America and is now part of Pedigree’s strategy in 60 regions.

Q: How do you shape and develop Mars brand strategies across the business on both a local and global level?

We have is an ongoing “Mars university” programme, that gets all our marketers from every region together for at least a week a year to expose them to the latest thinking and latest work and an upstream learning programme, called the “marketing laboratory” to test ideas.

Q: How do you use this to drive growth?

You have to look at were there biggest levers for growth are. Sometimes marketing directors can be a bit “creative” and we want them to be a bit more quantitative.

That’s what we work on in the marketing university, to make sure that marketers have the quantitative underpinnings to be able to explain to the finance and procurement directors the reasons we spend money on these things this is how it links to topline growth.

Having good conversations with your management team about how to achieve top line growth is important and my real ambition for Mars marketers is that they are at the centre and the hub of that conversation about how we grow the business. Because I passionately believe that we’ve got great brands and that those brands can drive growth.

Q: You’re clear about your passion for media but how do you approach it as part of the creative marketing strategy at Mars? Can you separate the two?

I think one of the central questions I ask is whether media is part of the message or is it truly standalone.

If we’re really honest media and creative are ying and yang – one only works with the other but it feels like media is the poor little brother who gets a little bit forgotten about.

In the very old days when I wrote my first ever media plan and there were only two commercial channels in the UK TV and Print, then I don’t think there was a real conversation about how much is media involved in the message but now there are so many opportunities and the segregation has reduced.

Q: You mentioned that social media is of course a hot topic at Mars, how is Mars currently using this within marketing and can you see it changing how brands talk to consumers?

We ran a Whiskas campaign in Australia that invited consumers to submit video clips of their cats that was then used in the creative. It was hugely popular but there is no standard in social media, working out when and how it plays a role but there is a huge insight that when consumers see themselves in the advertising, it’s very powerful.

Jenny Ashmore is chair of the awards jury at this year’s Festival of Media Global in Montreux; festivalofmedia.com.

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