“I’ve got the best job in the world,” says Michele Oliver, global corporate brand and purpose director at Mars.
“I work for a company I love. I work on stuff that really, deeply matters to me. I work at very senior levels of the business and it really matters to them. I’m a massive supporter of inclusion. I work flexibly; I get to take my son to school, I get to go to school events. I really feel blessed.”
A year ago, Oliver was promoted from UK marketing boss to the newly-created global purpose role as Mars looked to make diversity and inclusion a bigger part of its marketing and communications globally.
Fired up by a genuine passion for inclusion, Oliver already had a track record of championing diverse campaigns. She spearheaded Maltesers’ award winning ‘Look on the Light Side’ campaign, which celebrated people often omitted from advertising such as older women, lesbians and those with disabilities. This message of inclusion resonated with consumers and the industry alike, becoming Maltesers’ most successful campaign for a decade.
In her current role, Oliver is now combining her insight into setting a purpose-driven agenda with her experience of running big consumer marketing teams to influence the direction of travel of an entire organisation, spanning 115,000 people across 80 countries.
Despite being conscious of the fact she could have left Mars many times over the past 25 years, Oliver always found “excellent reasons to stay” because her values match the values of the business. Now her aim is to make Mars a force for good in world and a positive model for business.
This isn’t a marketing gimmick, this transcends every single part of the organisation, from our supply chain, all the way through to our recruitment and talent.
Michele Oliver, Mars
This thinking has inspired the global roll-out of Mars’ purpose statement and visual rebrand. Defined by the tagline ‘The world we want tomorrow starts with how we do business today’, the Mars rebrand is a public commitment to do business in a way that positively contributes to society, with a focus on sustainable sourcing, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and animal conservation.
This is the first time the Mars brand – and its purpose – has been front-and-centre of a campaign. However the company believes that in an “increasingly polarised and divided world”, brands need to step up, have a point of view and take action.
This call for action is being driven by consumers. Oliver states: “Some of the products we sell are under £1, so do they really care about the ethics, values and principles of the company behind it? We did some research and absolutely, fundamentally, the resounding answer was yes,” she explains.
“In fact, not only do consumers say they care about what’s behind the brand, they actually expect brands to behave responsibly and ethically, and so they should quite frankly.”
Mars is clear that authenticity matters just as much to current, and potential, employees. This means that if Maltesers creates an advert featuring a woman with a disability, for example, it is crucial that the organisation behind the brand is actively supporting people with disabilities. The rebrand is not, however, intended as an employer branding campaign.
“This isn’t a marketing gimmick, this transcends every single part of the organisation, from our supply chain, all the way through to our recruitment and talent,” Oliver adds.
After making the decision to publicly articulate the Mars brand purpose, it also felt like a good opportunity to update the company’s visual identity for a digital-first world, says Oliver. A new typeface, logo and colours were chosen to connect the food, confectionery and petcare divisions.
It was a conscious choice to bring all Mars’ segments under a single brand with a coherent look and feel that would communicate to consumers the breadth of its offer, from Pedigree dog food to Dolmio sauces and Mars chocolate bars.
The updated shade of blue was chosen to reference Mars’ heritage, while green was selected to represent the planet and yellow to denote optimism and positivity.
How to set sustainability targets
Mars believes the great strength of being a 100-year-old independent family business is that it can think in terms of “generations”, not business quarters.
“What is fundamentally different when you have a privately-owned business is that choices can be made because they are the right choices for the next decade or generation, but might not pay off in the quarterly report,” says Oliver.
“It is unique for a business of our size and scale, and global impact. That is completely our point of difference and what we’re trying to communicate is you can trust us to take a long-term view.”
The push towards sustainability, for instance, is being driven from the highest levels of the organisation. The company has made a number of promises in its Sustainable in a Generation Plan, including to invest $1bn in ensuring the sustainability of its business, as well as cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 27% by 2025 and 67% by 2050, in line with the UN Paris Climate Change Agreement.
There is absolutely no reason why we can’t have successful businesses and help make the world a more positive place for people.
Michele Oliver, Mars
Oliver explains that all Mars’ targets are based on rigorous science and not numbers invented to “sound sexy for a press release”. She is also clear that making a public statement about these targets is important.
“That doesn’t mean to say that it’s not a bumpy road. That doesn’t mean to say sometimes you put a target out there and you don’t exactly know how to get there, but that’s fine if it’s done with great intentions, with a view that we’re going to put all our effort into working out how to do it,” says Oliver.
“This is all about transparency and authenticity, what you would expect from any brand. You want to be able to trust it and if you say you’re going to hit a target you hit it, and if you say we’re going to overachieve it or underachieve it you explain why.”
Mars has also joined forces with the Humane Society International (HSI) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on the Lion’s Share Fund, an initiative developed to generate funds to support global wildlife conservation and animal welfare. The collective hope is to raise more than $100m a year over the next three years by asking advertisers to contribute 0.5% of their media spend every time animal imagery is used in an ad.
The idea originates from the fact that eight out of the top 10 animals used in advertising are on the endangered species list and yet no money from the use of their images goes into conservation.
“That just doesn’t feel right. If a person were in an ad they would get paid,” argues Oliver, who confirms that any time Mars uses an animal in its advertising the company will donate to the Lion’s Share Fund, which will then distribute the money as it sees fit.
Why marketers need cheerleaders
As a senior figure within the Mars business, Oliver is well placed to appreciate the values of great leadership. She says two of the most underrated of these values are honesty and kindness, which is why she believes marketers should reach out more often to offer each other support.
In her own working life Oliver tries to live up to this rally call. A case in point is her support of the female marketer behind the Libresse/Bodyform Blood Normal campaign, which she describes as “one of the best campaigns ever”.
Oliver happened to arrive at the same advertising agency just after the Libresse/Bodyform board had – yet again – refused to sign off on the Blood Normal campaign. Upon hearing what happened, she filmed a video to the marketing manager – whom she had never met before – reassuring her it was the right thing and to keep going.
Oliver is adamant that marketers sometimes need a cheerleader to support their creativity and give them the confidence to surge forward.
“I’ve had people do that for me. Cilla Snowball from AMV BBDO has been an amazing cheerleader. When I’ve said ‘I really want to do this’ she’s given me the confidence. Syl Saller at Diageo is like that, she and I will have conversations where we give each other support and confidence,” she explains.
“There is absolutely no reason why we can’t have successful businesses and help make the world a more positive place for people. Those two things are entirely compatible and the more people there are out there who support that agenda then I believe there will come a time when marketers will go in [to meetings] with these ideas and it won’t feel scary. It will just feel like, ‘There’s a taboo we haven’t broken, there’s something we need to be doing. Great let’s do it.’”