CMO50 2021 #17: Ben Hill

  • Name Ben Hill
  • Title Marketing director
  • Company Mars Wrigley Australia
  • Commenced role February 2020
  • Reporting Line General manager
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Marketing Function 25 staff, 5 direct reports
  • Industry Sector FMCG
  • 2020 ranking New to CMO50
  • Related

    Brand Post

    The onset of the pandemic in 2020 significantly impacted local EXTRA® sales because consumers associated gum with freshening breath outside the home. 

    “The result was double-digit declines my first month into the role just after after Covid arrived,” says Hill, "And EXTRA® is the gum category leader and Mars Wrigley Australia’s strongest driver of net sales value . 

    To demonstrate the benefits of gum beyond ‘freshness’, in 2019 Mars had transitioned to an occasions-led marketing strategy, embedding EXTRA®’s brand proposition of ‘confidence’ into occasions relevant to target consumers such as ‘study'.

     “Communications were already planned for 2020; I decided to not cut funding to EXTRA® - instead to increase investment and evolve marketing so we engaged via the right channels for the product,"  

    “Most marketers have been exposed to some research regarding the importance of maintaining investment in brands during times of economic uncertainty or crisis,” says Hill. “Yet, we are still faced with the inevitable decision to cut spend to support the bottom line. By refusing to cut spend on our core business, despite initial requests from above country to do so, we managed to outperform Mars Wrigley business’ around the world in our gum portfolio and buck the trend of category declines. This model has held us in good stead for yet another year of disruptive lockdowns in 2021.” 

    As students’ learning environments changed, Hill adapted Mars’ messaging and channels to encourage students to chew EXTRA® to help them focus.  Insights revealed people faced more distractions studying at home and  everyone saw the rise in time spent online. 

    “So we took a new approach  -  user-generated content (UGC) and paid TikTok-ers to use their content and tag the EXTRA® advertisement.  The campaign reached 95 per cent of students, exceeding the view-through rate three times over  with 22.5m impressions.”
    Mars’ marketing and sales team doubled down on activation plans, rolling out the ‘focus from home’ message via in-store displays which included tips on how to study at home. Over the activation period EXTRA® grew by 10.52 per cent versus the previous year - driven by new customers.

    Now, in 2021 Mars Wrigley Australia is driving the category’s recovery, Mars’ highest market share for the last decade (96.1 per cent ) and leading Mars Wrigley globally in category performance. 

    Business smarts

    Hill’s approach is underpinned by pillars  enabling Mars to continue to grow its category share: digital, consumer-led, sustainability and team engagement. Hill worked with Mars’ factory director and R&D director to build out a technology and capital investment pipeline to ensure sites are equipped to drive innovation and grow brands in line with values and sustainability objectives. 

    “All the great insights and strategies in the world don’t come to life if you don’t have a growth-minded R&D director,” says Hill. “And I’m lucky to have one at Mars. We share similar risk profiles and support each other on a shared agenda.”

    Linking creative plans to long-term business capital growth plans has unlocked investment for Mars’ regional manufacturing sites, supported jobs, innovation, and volume growth. Most recently, this has resulted in significant capital investment for projects at the Ballarat factory, including a USD$29.5m investment to install a new filled bar line and $300,000 for new technology to make new M&M’S® innovations.

    Hill ran provocative leadership team workshops created by external firms and Mars’ local, regional and global insights teams to help leadership run the business and its transformation for the next five to 10 years.

    “Our 2023-2027 plan will have a heightened focus on data signals, sustainability, health and wellness, supply chain and capability and I’m working with my cross-functional peer set to bring this to life,” says Hill.

    Data-driven approach

    In 2020, in partnership with Fetch TV and Quantium, Mars pioneered Q. Measure TV – a new way to close the loop on TV advertising effectiveness for consumer goods brands. Marrying Quantium sales data and viewing data garnered from Fetch TV, the firm was able to directly attribute advertising exposure to purchase. 

    With results available via an interactive portal, Mars accessed critical data points such as conversion rates, demographic breakdowns of consumers reached with real-time comparison of other relevant category campaigns. This program helped Mars make changes to on-air copy for more effective campaigns in the future. 

    Similarly, Mars has been using real-time data to test the effectiveness of consumer behavioural signals linked to consumption. 

    “We tested media plans with broad demographic reach against a signals-based reach plan,” says Hill. “We found that when we target consumers in moments where they are more receptive to messages from our brands, they are significantly more engaged with the message. 

    “Some of our initial results on our video plans have delivered an 87 per cent decrease in cost per completed view and a 22 per cent efficiency in the effective cost per impression. As we continue to learn in this space, the signals proving most effective for our brands will fuel learning for future sales impacts.”

    Customer-led thinking

    When he joined Mars,  Hill realised there was a gap in communication between marketing and customer teams. He partnered with Mars’ sales director to establish a ‘One demand leadership team’ – a cross-functional group designed to ensure campaigns deliver for the consumer, customer, and Mars. Through this work, Hill invested in local, third-party research to develop a customer and marketing framework for innovation, activation, and communication over a three-year horizon to make category growth strategies consistent. 

    “This consumer-led approach, incorporating local insights, has transformed how we bring products to market and has allowed us to be more agile with customers,” says Hill.

    With just over half of market share, ECLIPSE® is the #1 mints brand in Australia. During the pandemic in 2020, sales across the category were behind and set to decline further due to people’s limited mobility and face-to-face connections. In Victoria, where sales were down 12 per cent quarter on quarter, and ECLIPSE®’s research into ‘mask breath’ revealed that more than half of Melburnians were more aware of their own mask breath and a third had been surprised by the smell of their own breath.

    So Mars partnered with Coles and Woolworths to position out-of-home panels near stores to remind Victorians to ‘Freshen up behind the mask’, amplifying this message with delivery partners, paid social and earned media. The sales uplift in Victoria was an average of +5 per cent higher than other states, none of which were in lockdown.  

    The campaign delivered over 12 million impressions, delivering 95 per cent reach in Victoria and an ad-recall uplift of 46 per cent. Most importantly, with unprecedented levels of customer support, sales for ECLIPSE® bounced back +15 per cent from -12 per cent. 

    Commercial acumen

    “Joining the business with a fresh perspective allowed me to re-energise the marketing team to re-focus and participate in cross-functional programs to ensure Mars’ big bets came off in year one,” says Hill.  

    “Following three years of decline, I worked with a team of internal and external experts, to reprioritise our product portfolio into strategic cells to determine advertising investment and recalibrate investment in people and roles to deliver results aligned with strategy. 

    Hill  led a cross-functional team to launch 24 new products to Australian consumers, including 5® Gum and EXTRA® White Range ($14.8M retail sales value) in Australia resulting in Mars Wrigley achieving highest market share in gum in the last decade (96.1 per cent ) 

    “Despite Covid, I’ve managed to increase my advertising budget by 50 per cent year on year. Instead of removing ad spend from EXTRA®, as our global counterparts had done, we increased it and continued to move forward with pivoted communications plans, resulting in Australia achieving the best category performance globally.”
    These achievements, coupled with a more engaged and higher performing marketing function, helped Mars Wrigley Australia grow its bottom line significantly in 2020-21 and the turnaround remains strong.


    Hills has guided marketing to transition from a consumer-validated approach to a consumer-led approach. This has resulted in a significant investment in local research to understand Australian consumers and local trends that should influence Mars products. 

    “An example is the launch of M&M’S® Pretzel in July 2020,” says Hill. “Using validated consumer research, we secured a $300,000 capital investment to locally produce M&M’S® Pretzel and maintained full investment on the July 2020 launch, despite Covid.”

    Mars also pivoted marketing communications throughout the year to ensure it continued to gain relevance with consumers and growth.

    In March 2020, shopping behaviours changed overnight as Australians followed stay-at-home orders; Aussies were visiting shopping centres less often and ecommerce sales had increased +57 per cent.  M&M’S® was at risk of losing the ‘unplanned purchase’, essential for the impulsive ‘bite-size’ category. 

    "This new business context required a fast pivot to adjust communications to ensure M&M'S® mental availability for consumers," says Hill. 

    M&M'S® holds strong associations with shared occasions in front of screens. To lift the spirits of Aussies during the pandemic, M&M’S® partnered with the Melbourne International Comedy Festival to broadcast Australia’s favourite comedians to living rooms in ‘The game show’. M&M’S® was the presenting partner whose distinctive brand assets featured in content. 

    The game show itself received almost 550,000 views, with users spending on average 6:13 minutes with the content, giving huge media value for the investment. The campaign also had a significant business impact with M&M'S® growing at 9.7 per cent retail sales value and an increase in mental availability with reach goals exceeded by 12 per cent (91 per cent  total reach against people 18-44) and 32.1m impressions (people 18-44).

    People and culture

    “When I joined in February 2020, my priority was supporting my team’s engagement,” says Hill. “Doing this as the ‘new boss’ is difficult in person and the virtual situation made this more challenging - for most of the year. The experience has made me a better listener and more empathetic leader.”
    “When you have an engaged and motivated team, the results follow,” he says. 

    He formed a marketing leadership team to align capability to business strategy and ensure associates were working on what they do best to unlock business impact. Hill also redefined the marketing team’s purpose and identity as part of the business. 

    “The marketing leadership team defined six behaviours to benchmark our team’s progress: always be led by consumer insights; keep people, planet and profit in harmony; maintain integrity – if we aren’t proud of it, we won’t do it; be brave in unchartered territory to create meaningful change; advocate to ensure marketing influences broader business decisions; be digitally capable to stay relevant. 

    “We asked our agency partners and internal stakeholders to give feedback on these behaviours, and we embedded the feedback into our team engagement planning."

    This people-first approach is reflected by Mars’ business results and its team Gallup score which saw a +15 per cent increase in team engagement to 86 per cent and a positive shift in the ‘team purpose’ question from 3.4 to 4.5.  

    “Ultimately this drove engagement, productivity and performance so marketing transitioned from a reactive player to one driving the strategy,” says Hill.  “This has put the consumer at the heart of our strategy planning, so the business solves consumer problems before its own.”

    Hill believes that, with all the uncertainties of Covid, the most important capability has been confidence. “It was imperative that we stay confident we were on the right path and didn’t get distracted. Of course adaptability, resilience, agility were important – but I believe our secret was remaining confident in our people and what we know about marketing great brands, in either promising or uncertain times.”

    Share this article