Telling stories central to brand strategy plot

Coca-Cola, Kraft, Diageo and Yahoo! used the Cannes Lions festival last month to explain how getting to grips with plot and premise can build strong brands. MaryLou Costa asks senior marketers from those companies about their plans.

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Wendy Clark, Head of integrated marketing and communications, Coca-Cola

Marketing Week (MW): At Cannes, Coca-Cola has been talking about marketing to US teenagers using a storytelling campaign featuring the drink’s inventor Dr John Pemberton and a secret formula theme. Can you explain?

Wendy Clark (WC): The campaign was based around the secret formula concept and Dr Pemberton was a vehicle for that, doing things like communicating with people via Twitter.

The formula is a $70bn trade secret so it’s not something you bandy around but the campaign requires us to let go of the story; this activity is emblematic of the shift to storytelling. Letting consumers feel like they own the conversation is important.

We have used iconic characters in our advertising before, such as the campaign featuring the polar bear and Santa Claus, but I don’t think we would use Dr Pemberton in the same way as, say, McDonald’s uses its Ronald McDonald character.

MW: Is there a magic ratio for how a brand splits its media spend?

WC: We have started to look at media spending like this we spend 70% of our budget on big, traditional campaigns, which drive our core business, 20% of our budget goes on innovation around what we know works [such as social media] and the final 10% is spent on high-risk, high-reward ventures, such as going after new technologies, new ways of content sourcing and communicating.

If it’s done correctly, you drive further innovation through your investments the 10% then informs the 20% and so on. And this strategy is becoming visible in Coca-Cola’s bottom line.

MW: Coca-Cola has been talking about a new strategy to make owned media work harder to complement brand activity. Are brands guilty of overlooking their own assets?

WC: We were. We have to make a package for a product anyway, so dismissing something that has 1.7 billion servings a day a vehicle that should be part of great storytelling is unacceptable. It’s about re-imagining things that might otherwise be considered depreciating assets. We should always start with owned media because it’s what we are closest to and what we have already.

We’re all trying to separate ourselves as brands with strong messages. We have more cups and cooler fridges than anyone else, so that is a huge competitive advantage and there is more reason to use them. McDonald’s has used its trayliners for years and it has always merchandised its cups. Previously, we might have thought about something like this last but now we’re looking at it first.

MW: You have recently been announced as an inaugural member of the new Facebook Advertising Council. What will your role involve and why did you want to participate?

WC: The council will convene four times a year to drive a collaborative dialogue between advertisers, agencies and Facebook around new developments. The best part is the integration with other advertisers because shared learnings can help us all advance social marketing.

Expanding our knowledge and understanding of what constitutes success beyond our own data and metrics is very important and having a direct, open, proactive conversation with the people at Facebook will help us collaborate on initiatives that meet both our needs.

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Andy Fennell, Chief marketing officer, Diageo

Marketing Week (MW): You ask interviewees for entry-level positions at Diageo about your corporate social responsibility policy. Why is telling the story of your CSR programme so important?

Andy Fennell (AF): One of the things we talk about at careers fairs is our attitude to social responsibility. People are interested to know what we are doing around water conservation in Africa and education in Latin America.
Because this generation cares, it pushes big companies to get on the front foot of these things. If they don’t believe a company has the right values, they will rule them out [as a consumer and employer]. It’s like a filter. But that’s how it should be.

MW: You are looking at trends such as premiumisation and an ageing population. Why are these important?

AF: We operate in a trade-up category, so making a decision [to buy] is incredibly emotional because it relates to how you feel about yourself. Some people are economising in more functional categories. The trading up element is reflected in the great figures being posted by luxury goods brands.

And society is dealing with the fact that we are soon going to have a lot of people over 65. The proportion of people who have their kids off their hands, are still healthy and are adopting new things is going up. There is a call for marketers who are typically relatively young to not think of 35 years old as being the elder cohort and not assume that 65 year olds just sit at home and watch TV.

We are doing specific targeting of channels where we know we have a broader audience and that gives us access to older people.

MW: Emerging markets are important to you. How difficult is it to build your talent base in those markets?

AF: Our goal is to hire local talent who understand the culture. We encourage our people who are coming up through the ranks to work in an international market, but my goal is to be less reliant on the UK, Ireland and America. For example, our general manager for India is Lebanese and a former marketing director, so we do have more of that going on.

In our Nigerian business, we have a history of getting great people out of university and we now run a pan-African graduate programme. We are going to start that in Latin America and Asia too. In some countries, marketing is relatively new and in those places we are likely to hire young people and train them and parachute people from abroad into senior levels.

We spend a lot of money on people and on marketing and we are shifting that money more into emerging markets.

MW: How important is it to balance targeting of new drinkers with alcohol education, especially in emerging markets?

AF: Our product is used responsibly by most people and is misused by a minority. Our job, working with governments, non-governmental organisations and the industry, is to ensure people drink responsibly.

We do need to invest in educating people, but this is not an issue particular to emerging markets. I find the thought that it’s an emerging market issue to be a bit patronising. On average, people have less money there but it doesn’t mean they don’t have the same aspiration to progress in their lives.

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Dana Anderson, Senior vice presidentfor marketing strategy and communications, Kraft Foods

Marketing Week (MW): Your two and a half years at Kraft has been characterised by change in the company’s marketing structure. What has had the largest impact?

Dana Anderson (DA): The senior management at Kraft were serious about changing the way the company did marketing and without their endorsement, it would have been much harder.

They were focused on what they wanted to work on first. We brought in agency planners it’s fascinating to see what planning can do on the client side because you can get into the issues much earlier and you can then help your agencies’ brand teams. If we can be the best agency partner and give them a strategy to work towards, it works so much better.

We then raised the bar on creative output. We started working with new agency partners and people started noticing the work we were doing. It became very infectious within the business and it was the kind of result the management wanted. In the US, 16 of our top 20 brands had new campaigns last year and saw a 4% increase in revenue.

MW: What do you still need to work on?

DA: There are always priority brands that need attention. We’ve just finished some work on how to approach strategy in the company; figuring out how to understand a consumer journey. We invested in brand storytelling a lot of people talk about it, but people can veer away from brand strategy when they don’t use storytelling.

We have worked with a consultant called Bill Johnson, who taught us about the importance of “plot” and “premise”. Plot is, for example in Romeo and Juliet, two teenagers who fall in love against their parents’ wishes and die. The premise is the power of love. If you know your plot really well, you can get really focused on that part, but it’s understanding the premise that helps our customers and consumers make their choices.

MW: How have things settled down following the media attention and consumer criticism over Kraft purchasing Cadbury last year?

DA: I love working with the Cadbury people they are so passionate and the brands are unbelievable. There was less criticism from other markets such as South Africa and Australia but it was so deeply felt in the UK. I hope people feel better about it now because it is a hard thing and I have a lot of empathy. But we’re having a great time. Chris Palengat is the global leader on Cadbury for ad agency Fallon and he has been delightful to work with.

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James Tipple, VP EMEA marketing, Yahoo!

Marketing Week (MW): Cannes marked the European launch of your celebrity website OMG. What part will it play in the story of your brand and content strategy?

James Tipple (JT): It’s showing how we have been working much more efficiently as a global company; we’ve had the Yahoo! OMG site in the US for a couple of years now and it’s number one in the news and entertainment category with 30 million users a month. We are using a lot of what they’ve learned to bring it to life here.

MW: How will you differentiate the site from what magazine brands such as Grazia and Hello! offer online?

JT: From an online content perspective, nobody is doing this as well as we believe we can. We will differentiate the OMG site by having the right balance of aggregated, original and crowdsourced content. We believe we can get to number one in this space in the UK which will further enable us to engage our advertisers with the right users.

MW: You have added portals such as travel and celebrity to your portfolio. Will you keep expanding into new content genres like this?

JT: We are going to keep focusing on verticals and move towards being the number one or number two site behind a specific vertical.

Our sports portal has shown that if we focus on an area with the right content, we can really close gaps in the market. For the last three months in the UK, we have been ahead of Sky Sports online. A year ago we were 2.5 million users behind them. We know from sources internally at Sky that we’re a real threat to them. We need to sustain this and have advertisers see us as a key sports content provider. These are the learnings we will be applying to OMG.

MW: You also announced in Cannes that Yahoo! will sponsor the short film section of the Sundance film festival. What is the added value in this partnership?

JT: Taking on such initiatives shows our commitment to being the market leader in online content. There will be a social element to our Sundance activity which enables people to vote on their favourite videos.

If you want to be number one in the content space, associations with the best moviemakers and storytellers is where we have to play.

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Tom Fishburne is founder of Marketoon Studios. Follow his work at marketoonist.com or on Twitter @tomfishburne See more of the Marketoonist here

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