Coles CMO says marketers need to avoid trap of ‘needing to say something’ on COVID-19

The chief marketing officer for supermarket giant Coles says the marketing industry should have known better and not fallen into the trap of “needing to say something” on the coronavirus pandemic that sent a sea of sameness messaging washing over consumers.

Speaking on Reset Now, an initiative between the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA), Nine and Mi3 for marketers to share their experience and evolving strategies as they manage the COVID-19 crisis, plan for the recovery, and see how deep consumer mindsets and behaviour might shift, Lisa Ronson echoed the sentiments of Kia’s Dean Norbiato and the newly appointed Arnott’s CMO Jenni Dill.

“We should know our customers and we should know our place and our role,” says Ronson of marketers entering the “we’re here for you” COVID-19 messaging space.

“Whenever any of us overreach our place or our role in society as brands in any situation, regardless of whether it’s a dramatic event or a positive one, you’re always going to get into some pretty murky territory by overstepping the boundaries of what customers are expecting from you.

“That’s why it’s important that you understand the sentiment, you understand your role in society in customers’ lives, and don’t try and overplay that.”

For Coles and Ronson, the key was to be timely and relevant.

She said: “A lot of brands have come out just in the last two to three weeks inserting themselves into the conversation when they don’t really have a place in it. It kind of felt like, ‘well, I need to say something so I’ll say just whatever’s semi-relevant’. For brands that are thanking workers on the frontline that don’t have any workers on the frontline and things like that, it’s acceptable to a point. But I think consumers are starting to say, ‘Well, what was your role? How did you act?’

“It’s how you behave in times like this and how you respond and serve your community and therefore the country that’s more important than just coming out, making an ad, putting a nice track on it, and saying something that’s not significant coming from your brand.”

Ronson says “walking the talk and doing the right thing” were key for the Coles supermarkets, with their community initiatives part of the COVID-19 strategy.

“That’s why Coles came through from a brand point of view. We did Coles community hour. We did a lot of those great initiatives that were put in place for the right reasons. It was to allow all of the community to get access to things when we were at the height of panic buying.

“They had their place. Some of them are more enduring and some are finished. I really think that some brands are inserting themselves in the conversation when they probably shouldn’t.”

Ronson does, however, concede it has been an unprecedented time and no marketer, or anyone else, has seen anything like this before.

“I don’t think there were any ill intentions from any marketer that produced any piece of content, thanking frontline workers or anything like that. It was just the feeling, the need to be part of the community. I think that was more of the impetus rather than jumping on the bandwagon. The intentions were right, just the execution probably didn’t land very well.”

Coles expects some pandemic behaviours, especially consumers storing everyday essentials, to endure for at least the next 12 months, particularly if Australia is hit hard with a recession.

“What we’re seeing is people shopping less times per week, with bigger baskets. That’s partly because of social distancing. They’re not going to the store as often and they’re buying more. So depending on how much storage space you’ve got, most Australians would be keeping a bit more of some everyday essentials than they probably did pre-COVID because of the fear it may happen again,” Ronson says.

“Some behaviours will change and others will be enduring, at least for the next year or so, while it’s still quite raw in people’s minds.”

Ronson admits it is difficult to assess just what behaviours will change for good, with the impact to the economy a key point of influence.

“If we do go into some really tough economic conditions – remembering the GFC and the last recession in the early 1990s, for instance – we know that people do go out less and they tend to treat themselves at home more,” she says.

“Those types of behaviours remain to be seen, but I think that with people now used to being at home for an extended period of time, going out once a week or twice a week will be a lot more of a treat than maybe what it was before COVID.

“There are a lot of variables at play. It would be really hard to get the crystal ball and predict it, but my hypothesis as a marketer is definitely that behaviours will change, and they’ll be changed for an extended period of time.”

ANZ’s Head of Marketing wants to break ground and reset banking category

Banking marketing rookie Kjetil Undhjem is pledging to reset the finance category just six months into his role as Head of Marketing and Brand Strategy at ANZ, saying he wants to “break ground and do something that’s never been done”.

Speaking on Reset Now, an initiative between the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA), Nine and Mi3 for marketers to share their experience and evolving strategies as they manage the COVID-19 crisis, plan for the recovery, and see how deep consumer mindsets and behaviour might shift, Undhjem says his lack of banking experience has made him approach the job through a customer lens, a perspective that has proven to be valuable during COVID-19.

“What I’ve been trying to do is use other experiences I’ve had in terms of what the customers look for in a crisis. And what do our employees look for in terms of safety and security?  That really hasn’t changed, depending on what industry you’re in,” he says.

“It’s actually good to not know what you don’t know.”

Undhjem brings to ANZ a wealth of experience in FMCG: more than a decade working for Mondelez, including four years in Melbourne managing the chocolate business. He also spent four years at Oslo-based Statoil, a petroleum refining company, and while he has limited banking experience, he has plenty of curiosity.

 “You need a lot of curiosity. Curiosity should feed your creativity, but a lot of people stop there and that’s why courage is important, because I really want to break ground and do something that’s never been done,” Undhjem says.

“I want to do it across a product, across media, across creativity. I want to try to find things that nobody else has done within the banking category to reset it. That’s the ambition I feed off and it’s been my mantra from the outset. I hope that will drive stronger commercial results and happy customers.”

Having a different perspective is helping ANZ navigate its place in a banking system being disrupted not just by the findings of the royal commission but also the arrival of neobanks and the increasing competitiveness of regional banks.

Undhjem says: “I love a good fight in terms of market share and proving oneself, and I’m comfortable being uncomfortable. I’m taking it from an FMCG perspective and being much more focused again on the customer – having added-value products and services, that competitive edge, and tying it off with great creative. It challenges us every day to be better.”

Undhjem, ANZ and the entire banking industry were focused on one giant challenge in March as Australia’s economy shut down and the country entered lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and for Undhjem the focus first had to be internal.

 “It’s like safety on airplanes, you first put on your own oxygen mask before you help others. And it’s the same thing with us – we had to focus on our employees first and foremost because we needed our people to be ready for what we knew was going to be an influx of customers going into hardship,” he says.

“So with that done, we then set up programs in terms of helping our customers. None of us had ever known the scale of change that we went through. Before COVID-19, we had an average of 50 hardship calls coming through a week, and in the first 10 weeks of COVID we had an average of 10,000 calls a week.”

This explosion meant that care and empathy had to be at the heart of ANZ’s approach to customers, while ensuring the bank kept its brand tone through its messaging.

“We’re very proud of the tone and character we have. We call it playfully clever and it’s something that really sets us apart, but even more so, it’s true to who we are as a company. It was important for us as we got into COVID-19 to look at our marketing assets  to see if we should tone it down a little bit, and we did that in most of our ads,” Undhjem says.

ANZ reviewed its marketing to ensure the humour the bank is known for stayed on the right side of light-heartedness rather than being overly playful or silly.

“We made sure that we added more in terms of light-heartedness instead of playfulness. Our mantra going into COVID-19 was not to lose our DNA and who we are, but do it in a way that was more resonant in terms of what was going on in the marketplace.”

Looking to the future, Undhjem expects a refocus when it comes to money and spending.

“People will want to be have a bit more of a buffer against what else can happen going forward, being ready for a rainy day. Don’t spend more than you earn is a basic principle, but it’s important to put that front and centre as you come out of the pandemic and think through how you are going to plan your finances going forward.”

How Nine adapted its television production for a post COVID-19 world: lessons for leaders

It’s the question I get asked the most: how has this COVID situation affected Nine’s production? Can the show go on? Will we get to air?

For networks and the people who work in the industry it’s been incredibly hard, but I have learned so much from the way my colleagues – producers, camera people, editors, everyone – have all responded to a crisis wrapped in a dilemma: what do you do when your shows are all shut down, especially when more people than ever are turning to you for entertainment.

There was a moment early in the filming of The Block 2020 in Melbourne when host Scot Cam calls the contestants and the foremen, Keith and Dan, into one of the partly finished bedrooms where a TV is set up.

Together, they all watch Scott Morrison outline what will be the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown. They hear: “No more than 100 people together at one time;”; “We want Australians to start working from home”; and that, for the time being, building construction will not be shut down. One contestant turns to her husband and says, with a quiver in her voice, “This is getting really serious, isn’t it?” He comforts her, saying “Don’t worry, darl, we’ll be OK here,” as Scotty watches the television and slowly shakes his head in disbelief.

As we now know, events moved quickly and two weeks later the site for The Block shut down, the contestants were sent home to look after their families, and it was tools down for a crew of 120 as the program came to a shuddering standstill.

For 12 years, nothing ever stopped The Block. Not real estate slumps, contestant walk-offs or even the odd heart attack. Yet our response to this situation that seemed so much bigger than just a TV show was much like everyone else’s in this industry right around the world: how quickly can we get back to making the shows our audience love the way we used to make them? And what can we make in these strange times when so many people are watching television that reflects how we are living now?


Of course, there were no easy answers. However, thanks to some brilliant producing on behalf of the makers of The Block, that emotional moment above is now a central part of the storytelling of the show in 2020. That look on Scotty’s face, when he turns to camera and realises just how big this thing is, is fascinating to watch now that we all know the trajectory COVID-19 has taken in Australia and around the world.

The Block – adhering strictly to Victorian government guidelines – is now back in full swing and I have to say it’s a better series for having the story of how this pandemic has affected all of us at its core. Our other big shows like Australian Ninja Warrior and The Voice have been fundamentally changed too, but it’s been a wonderful creative challenge that all our producers have risen to.

The Voice has started as the show we know, which Australia is loving again, but in upcoming episodes George and Kelly will be mentoring live from their loungerooms. When we get into the studio, while Delta and Guy will be in the big red chairs, George and Kelly will inhabit their chairs live from studios in LA and London. Keep watching for how we make it work. We think it’s going to be amazing.

But you’ll note that Nine is not making shows about being trapped in lockdown. Although I’ve been pitched Australia’s Loungerooms Have Got Talent and Celebrity (in their loungerooms) Squares many times over the last three months, the best of our reality shows have taken the absolute reality of what has happened to Australians, and all we’ve achieved as a society at containing this thing, and woven it into the stories we tell.

We now know that our content slate for the rest of 2020 – The Voice, Australian Ninja Warrior, The Block, Travel Guides and Halifax Retribution – is going to be as strong or stronger than ever. We were lucky to anticipate that Lego Masters would be the perfect tonic for a nation in lockdown and we’re already planning for 2021.

What the last few months have taught me is that sometimes the solution is embedded in the problem. Don’t try and find a way around the issue. It’s much more authentic to go through the middle, just like the audiences who engage with our journalism, entertainment and sport have. Australians have been incredibly resilient through all of this and it’s our job to honour that story.

Adrian Swift is Nine’s Head of Content Production and Development.

Telstra focuses on ‘economic patriotism’ as it supports Australian society through COVID-19

Telstra has taken its role in Australian society seriously throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, says the telco’s chief marketing officer, with the company focused on how “economic patriotism” can support customers and the broader community to weather the impact of the virus.

Speaking on Reset Now, an initiative between the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA), Nine and Mi3 for marketers to share their experience and evolving strategies as they manage the COVID-19 crisis, plan for the recovery, and see how deep consumer mindsets and behaviour might shift, Jeremy Nicholas, Telstra’s CMO, says early on in the pandemic the telco decided to take a position to “actually do something about” the suffering of Australians as a result of its impact on society.

“It’s not just important now in a crisis, it’s an important part of marketing and doing good business by doing right by your customers,” Nicholas says.

“You can say all the things you want about caring for your customers, and how we’re all in it together, but until you actually do things or change your product or your service proposition to something that actually helps people, those words really don’t matter.

“We wanted to take a position of knowing that with people and businesses suffering and things not being well in society we needed to do something positive about it, not just say that we care for everybody.”

Nicholas cites Telstra’s investment in capital expenditure, moving $800 million out of the 2021 calendar year forward to 2020, as part of its commitment to “actually doing something”.

“It was important in terms of helping the economy and stimulating jobs,” he says.

He also cites Telstra’s various initiatives designed to help individuals and businesses in need, from providing extra data in your mobile plan, unlimited data in your home internet and allowing small businesses to put their accounts on hold to discounted plans for people  on unemployment or JobKeeper benefits.

Nicholas’ comments follow on from a fiery warning by Jenni Dill, the incoming CMO of Arnott’s, for brands to back up their marketing promises with action for customers, predicting those that do will exit COVID-19 with more market share.

Nicholas says the choices Telstra has made throughout the pandemic didn’t face debate within the company, due to what CEO Andy Penn refers to as “economic patriotism”.

“It goes a lot to the charter and what Telstra sees as its identity and role in Australia,” Nicholas says.

“Our purpose is to create a connection, to connect to the future so everyone can thrive – and the ‘everyone’ is really important. We’re here to not just support our staff or our customers through this, but all of society, and we have a role to play there. When you follow that purpose it leads you to those right decisions and they become really easy.”

Nicholas says Telstra’s commitment to its 2020 sponsorships underlines this all-embracing connection.

“We did a couple of things early on with our sponsorships which were important. The CEO announced our commitment to renew any of the sponsorships due this year so that none of those organisations had to worry about it,” he says.

Telstra sponsors a number of sports and art institutions including the AFL, NRL, netball, Australian Ballet, Museum of Contemporary Art and National Gallery of Victoria, as well as the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award.

“And regardless of whether the galleries have been open, be that the National Gallery of Victoria or the Museum of Contemporary Art or the art gallery in the Northern Territory, and sport not being played, we were committed to paying all our fees for the year. We supported those sponsorships because we saw that as essential,” Nicholas said. “They’re part of our long-term partnerships and we want to make sure they are there for everybody.

“We’re in these partnerships for the long haul. We want our partners to come out of this in the best shape they possibly can, and we appreciate the role that those sponsorships play in sporting codes, galleries and Australian society.

“We have a job to do, as one of the biggest companies in Australia, to support them and ensure that they continue to thrive for our customers and the broader community.”

Brands with ‘empty platitudes’ won’t win, says new Arnott’s CMO

Brands need to back up their marketing promises with action for customers or risk falling short, a veteran FMCG marketer warns, saying brands that are trying to solve customer problems will come out of COVID-19 with more market share.

Speaking on Reset Now, an initiative between the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA), Nine and Mi3 for marketers to share their experience and evolving strategies as they manage the COVID-19 crisis, plan for the recovery, and see how deep consumer mindsets and behaviour might shift, Jenni Dill, the newly appointed chief marketing officer for Arnott’s, says “empty platitudes” from brands have been rife during COVID-19.

Dill is set to join Arnott’s in July and was previously the former marketing officer for McDonald’s Australia and also worked for PepsiCo.

Speaking to Reset Now prior to her appointment at Arnott’s, Dill says: “People are telling me they’re here for me and we’re all in this together, and they all look and feel the same and they’re just not connecting – because I don’t know what they’re doing for me.”

“I don’t know how they’re solving a problem for me. They’re just talking at me in the TV and it feels like it’s falling a little bit short. Brands that are literally trying to solve problems and make consumers’ lives easier in these times are doing really well and they’ll come out of it with more market share and a strong brand and a better business model for it.”

Dill’s comments come a week after Kia General Manager of Marketing, Dean Norbiato, told Reset Now he believes many consumers have misattributed “we’re here for you” style messaging because many brands jumped into the territory in the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia.

Dill, however, is full of praise for brands using creativity to drive their businesses into new areas as industries react to restrictions and changing environments because of COVID-19.

“It’s about being creative when it comes to new business models and new ways of working, and the agility we’ve seen,” she says. “Some of my local businesses have been forced to pivot really quickly to a delivery model or a takeaway model, whether you’re a restaurant or a café or a bar. They’ve done it overnight and they’ve done it with tech that makes it pretty cool.

“There’s a lot of good things going on out there literally at the grassroots, and those businesses should be celebrated, applauded and supported.

“I think a lot of big businesses have been forced to take a long hard look at some of their forward plans and put them on ice or completely rethink them in the current environment. A lot of traditional bricks and mortar retailers have had to pivot very quickly to the delivery and takeaway businesses and click and collect. It’s been phenomenal to see how quickly that’s happened with some successful businesses.”

For marketers, Dill says COVID-19 presents a “true test” of their ability to “work through a business that’s in decline or a brand that’s in decline and turn things around”.

“It forces you to rethink everything, it forces you to focus on the stuff that matters most, and it forces you to do things differently if you want to succeed.”

Looking to the future, Dill is hopeful that client-side marketing will invest more in the development of its people.

“We need to build – the market is for the future, whether it’s using new tech platforms or new skillsets or new ways of thinking. We’ve got to invest as an industry in smarter, sharper marketers that can drive meaningful business results,” she says.

“And for me, working on the client-side in marketing roles, if you can’t prove your business results of your marketing, then you’re going to be constantly challenged, time and time again. You’ll be challenged on every budget and every decision you make.

“As soon as you can demonstrate those really strong commercial links to what you’re doing as a marketer and the business results, everything gets a lot easier, and every conversation with a CEO or a board or a CFO. It helps build positivity for marketing and further investment down the track.”

To do this, Dill stresses the need for marketers to avoid jargon and talk “in the language of business”.

“You’ve got to be talking about how investing in this brand campaign or this new product launch or this media spend or sponsorship is going to drive a real business result that’s going to impact profit and loss, market share, top-line revenue growth, and will help you reduce costs by shaping the way customers interact with your business.

“Whether you’re moving things more online and more digital, you’ve got to be able to speak the language of business boards and CEOs to be successful. You’ve got to be able to speak the language of marketing to your agencies, your teams. It is being able to shift gears between those two languages and communicate effectively with your key stakeholders.”