Cast your mind back to 1989, and an ad for Milky Way that featured a red car and a blue car having a race. It was a firm favourite at the time and one many kids born in the 1980s still remember fondly today.
But times have changed, and Mars brands including Milky Way, M&M’s and Maltesers have all “grown up considerably” as the business moves away from marketing directly to children under the age of 12, one of the core commitments of the Mars Marketing Code.
This has driven the business to make some “very deliberate brand decisions” over the decade since the code was introduced, leading to a complete shift in how it approaches marketing.
Maltesers, for example, has tried to break down taboos around disability, while M&M’s has broached the subject of infidelity.
As a result, Jacqui Stephenson, Mars’s global responsible marketing director, says of the 1980s Milky Way ad “you will never see advertising like that coming from us again”.
“Making this stand means, from a marketing perspective, our business has taken a different direction to other companies. We absolutely see the benefit of driving universal brands, not just brands that appeal to children. This results in much more longevity and credibility,” she tells Marketing Week.
It’s a strategy that appears to be paying off. Maltesers’ ‘Look on the Light Side of Disability’ campaign, which featured disabled people discussing awkward encounters, led to an 8% boost and was its most successful in more than 10 years.
Writing a marketing code
Mars has just introduced the fourth version of its marketing code, which Stephenson describes as a “living document” that has to evolve as the environment changes.
As well as not targeting children under 12, Mars also looks to provide parents with information to make informed decisions about their children’s diet choices; is transparent about compliance both internally and externally; keeps track of competitors’ codes and marketing to ensure it is in line or exceeding industry standards; and reviews and updates the code every three years.
If marketers know we will be externally validating and communicating our results, it certainly provides a comprehensive review of their performance.
Jacqui Stephenson, Mars
The updates this year, for example, reflect the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), while Mars has also committed to strengthening its governance practices.
“We see this as a very important area for Mars, because it’s one thing to have a policy and another thing to deploy it, operationalise it and actually show the world that you’re living by your commitments,” says Stephenson, who is also chair of the World Federation of Advertisers’ Digital Governance Exchange, which helps companies manage their digital footprint.
“Given all the brand safety issues that have been presented over the past 18 months, it’s even more important to show there are procedures in place and that you’re measuring them as well.”
Mars carries out regular internal monitoring as well as doing a third-party annual audit, both of which are shared internally and externally. The firm tracks two key areas – the content of its communication and media placement.
“We have 24 different measures that we look at, which reflect the principles and commitments within our code,” she explains. “We track that every quarter. The other area is around media placement, working with our media planning agencies around the world to show that we are delivering our commitment of not marketing to children under the age of 12.”
Monitoring all activity in this way is important, both from an internal perspective as it drives the right kind of behaviour among the marketing team, but also to show people externally that the company is delivering on its results and can be relied upon to self-regulate.
“If marketers know we will be externally validating and communicating our results, it certainly provides a comprehensive review of their performance. We make sure we share our results with the markets and that we mediate and learn from those results. It gives marketers that checkpoint to know how they are doing, and there are some markets that are 100% compliant. It also drives pride in our associate base and that’s very important,” she says.
Giving marketing ownership
While policies like this might be managed through corporate or public affairs in other businesses, Stephenson is adamant it must be marketing’s responsibility.
“For marketing to really take ownership you have to give them responsibility to lead it,” she says. “If you have ownership you are in collaboration with your function actively; you’re involved in the critical decisions; you’re made aware of how the marketing practices evolve.
“If you think about marketing 10 years ago and marketing today it’s very different. Being connected to that function and how that function evolves is important for providing governance and assuring that the quality is adhered to. You only gain a full awareness of what marketing is doing by being fully involved in the function.”
Continuity is also key. Stephenson has been in the role for more than seven years, which she says is crucial as it is “quite a complex area that is ever-changing”.
She works closely with the company’s category business leaders and the vice-presidents who run the business from a marketing perspective, and engages with them and their teams of global and regional marketing directors who help govern the code.
If you have ownership you are in collaboration with your function actively; you’re involved in the critical decisions; you’re made aware of how the marketing practices evolve.
Jacqui Stephenson, Mars
While there is one policy that applies across the entire business, Stephenson says it’s important governance sits at a local market level as there can be cultural sensitivities.
Given the evolving nature of the code, Stephenson also has to ensure all Mars employees across marketing, corporate affairs and sales, as well as its agency partners, are up to speed.
This is done via an annual driving licence-style test that consists of 20 multiple choice questions. People can get no more than two wrong otherwise they fail.
“This is to ensure they understand the code and have full rights to drive forward and market a brand,” she says. “It’s very much like driving a car; passing your test gives you the license to go on the road but you are not necessarily an expert at driving.”