One-to-one Q&A with Ann Lewnes

Click here to read the cover feature: Ann Lewnes, senior VP of marketing, Adobe
Click here to read about Adobe’s CSR


Marketing Week (MW): Your tools are expensive, and some go up against cheaper alternatives. Does any of that force down your price points?

Ann Lewnes (AL): Our products are the best in every category, so we do charge a premium. We do price research, and we feel the pricing is fair. Who else can work across every possible new format? We work across BlackBerry, we work with the slew of products that are emerging for Android, we work with Symbian for Nokia. The whole big controversy around HTML5? Well we’ve traditionally been proponents of Flash as the distribution mechanism for video but if the market wants HTML5 then we are going to do that too, because pleasing the customer is our job. We don’t feel threatened by any competition, it keeps you healthy.

MW: There’s been a stand-off over Apple refusing to install Flash capability – you still can’t run Flash content in the browsers of the iPad and iPhone. How damaging is this?

AL: We’ve moved past it. It’s unfortunate because Apple has traditionally been a real partner to us. But we believe people should be able to develop using whatever tools they want and run content wherever they want. If you use an Apple device you’re missing out on access to 75% of the video on the web – a lot of customers complain about it and I feel their frustration. I think Apple is missing a huge opportunity.

MW: Apple ceded some ground last September by allowing developers to use Flash to create apps and content. What was behind that?

AL: I think it was due to customer pressure. It’s a real gap in Apple’s strategy. The great thing is that the market is still to blow open and there is still so much to come. Look at the new tablets and smartphones that are emerging. There are a lot of really cool things coming onto the market. Those manufacturers see having Adobe products as a competitive advantage – and market them as such.

MW: You describe wanting to build relationships between the brand and your customers. Being so dominant in your market – is there need to make the brand fun and engaging?

AL: Even if you are the clear leader in a category, there is always a need. From an asset standpoint we have all the most relevant products that people want right now, yet the big story about Adobe isn’t out there.

People love this company though they don’t know a lot about us. Our assets are super relevant and super sexy. We just have to be louder and prouder about them. The story of the company is what we hope to address this year.

MW: You have an enormous range of responsibilities – how do you do it all?

AL: I came from 20 years at Intel and was looking for a job where I could do everything. It all fits together in my mind, it’s inextricably linked, although I know many organisations don’t see it the same way Adobe does. It’s a privilege as a marketer to have control of all these things. The more marketing progresses, the more all of these disciplines and responsibilities blend together. Social media is widely seen as the latest and most evolved incarnation of PR. But then I would also qualify anything I do on Facebook as advertising, not just social media.


MW: Adobe finished 2010 on a high, reporting over $1bn in sales in the fourth quarter. Is that success seen as a validation of Adobe’s marketing strategy?

AL: Absolutely. My boss [chief executive Shantanu Narayen] drives growth but we have a very close executive staff consisting of myself, my boss, the CFO and the heads of the businesses. We spend a lot of time together. Decision-making is very collaborative. This is part of the thrill of my job. In many cases the CMO is not consulted on strategic decisions for the company. I’m very privileged it is part of my role.

MW: How vital is it for you to have a close relationship with the CEO?

AL: My boss is incredibly supportive. He really values marketing, and gives me tremendous trust and autonomy. We consult one another every day. This for me is critical to success for marketing. If you are disconnected from your CEO or if your CEO is not a believer in marketing, that’s when the job becomes a real slog.

MW: You’ve been credited with inventing interactive advertising with your Super Bowl ad in 1998. What was that ad?

AL: It was pretty basic by today’s standards but yes, at Intel we created the first internet Super Bowl ad. The TV ad invited viewers to go to our website and vote on their preferred ending from two choices. We had no idea at the time whether people would bother. It wasn’t like it is today where people are constantly multi-tasking online while watching TV. We had 400,000 people go to the website to vote. Frankly, we were unprepared for that; the servers crashed. It was incredible. We got 5% of all Super Bowl viewers that year coming to engage with our ad.

MW: Can you talk about creating the iconic ’Intel Inside’ campaign.

AL: Well, the audio signature, that was me. My boss had the brilliant idea to do a sound and we needed to do it quickly. I called a sound and audio guy I knew in LA, Walter Werzowa, and he came up with a number of ideas which I didn’t really like. It didn’t take long for him to come up with one I did like. And now it gets played every five minutes somewhere in the world. Because Intel was embedded, nobody could have a real experience with the brand. The audio identity became part of the experience with the brand.