Mars CMO: Stop agency imprisonment and achieve sustained creativity

Global marketing leader of FMCG brands discusses his four rules of brand/agency relationship and shares lessons on how to drive sustained creativity as a marketer

Marketers must stop using fear as the basis of agency relationships and put more emphasis on curiosity, collaboration and profitability if they hope to achieve sustained creativity, Mars global CMO claims.

Speaking at the AANA Reset conference in Sydney today, the FMCG company’s global marketing leader, Bruce McColl, used the analogy of imprisonment to describe how many brand/agency relationships are currently run, and why it’s time to change attitudes to drive performance.

According to McColl, there are four damaging behaviours commonly employed in agency partnerships today. The first he described as “subsistence ratios”.

“There is always this question of what to pay agencies. We have to pay enough to ensure agencies make a good profit, so they can get the best talent to work with our businesses,” he told attendees.

The second no-no is relying on mandatory rules around creative briefs and advertising, McColl said. “What this does is ensure agencies produce exactly to the rules. At Mars, we’re trying to break through that,” he said.

The third behaviour to be overcome is what McColl called “layers of prison wardens”. “At Mars, we have introduced one designated advertising leaders per development – it’s not always the most senior person, but they’re in charge over4all and are making that call,” he said.

“It’s no use having death by committee in the ad approval process. You have to be clear about who are your leaders with responsibility for final decisions and have them accountable for that, attending every key meeting.”

The fourth and arguably most damaging behaviour impacting creativity is the “threat of death row”, McColl said. He compared brand/agency relationships to a marriage, arguing that they go through ups and downs and need to be driven by conversation and ongoing engagement if they’re to produce true creativity.

“I can’t understand anyone who thinks they can get the best out of partners if there’s the looming threat of dismissal,” he said. “We don’t want fear and passivity from agencies, because then they won’t challenge us, or push us. You need to remove these barriers from your ongoing agency network.”

This doesn’t mean there isn’t room for other partners within the collaboration, and McColl pointed to the raft of new partners Mars has brought on in recent years, ranging from X Media Lab to MIT Media Lab and University of Geneva, as examples of its efforts to ramp up innovative thinking around its brands through new technology, data-driven and academic insights.

But the absence of fear is not enough to produce good creative on an ongoing basis either, and McColl had several key lessons on achieving sustained creativity as brand.

The first of these was that performers continue to perfect their craft. Mars’ expanded external partner relationships, along with its work to understand its consumers better, were vital in achieving this, he said.

“We’re dealing with light buyers who are substituting brand and category benefits,” McColl commented. “The first obstacle we have to overcome is that there’s no audience. So we have to overcome that indifference.”

To do that, Mars has to create great content outside of just the 30-second TV ad spot, and that makes the consumer cry, laugh or is useful, McColl said.

McColl pointed to the 1960s supergroup, The Beatles, for another big lesson in sustaining creativity, which is that dissatisfaction drive creative ambition.

“What did The Beatles have to do to sustain success past 1963? They had to fight complacency,” he said.

With confidence in success also comes a belief you can reinvent yourself, McColl said. “Sustaining creativity is about being satisfied with success today, then move forward,” he said.

McColl also advised marketers to be “curious and collaborative”, and pointed to the inevitable need to “fail spectacularly, and fail cheaply” in order to achieve creative success time and time again.

“Just don’t fail ignorant,” he said. “The reality is you won’t get this right all the time. Think about honing your craft, and driving that to the edge.

“We have to work out how to push boundaries but do it in a way we can learn and move forward.”

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