In the second of Mi3’s Fourcast 2021 series in partnership with Nine, McDonald’s Director of Marketing Jo FeeneySaatchi & Saatchi CEO Anthony GregorioBrand Traction Director Jon Bradshaw and Nine Director of Effectiveness Jonathan Fox debate the role of creativity in driving effectiveness and where brand marketers go for 2021.

“I think there needs to be more of a focus on some of the fundamentals, [ensuring ads are] simple, emotional, well branded; making sure that the quality of creative improves over time.”

- Jonathan Fox, Director of Effectiveness, Nine


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A full transcript of the interview can be viewed below.

Paul McIntyre: "Welcome to Mi3’s marketing series, Future Fourcast. I’m Paul McIntyre, Executive Editor of Mi3, and this is the second episode in our four-part series, which dives into some of the key themes marketers and the broader industry will need to keep a watch on for 2021. Thanks to Nine for partnering on the series."


"Today we’re going to talk about what’s cool for some and irrelevant for plenty, until they realise it can really jolt business results when it’s done right. We are talking creative and effectiveness. Is the industry too obsessed by media channel and audience shifts between channels and platforms at the expense of the creative work, which actually moves people to buy, or doesn’t because it’s messed up? With us today is Jo Feeney, director of marketing at McDonald’s, Anthony Gregorio, Saatchi and Saatchi CEO, Brand Traction’s Jon Bradshaw, who has worked across Mazda, Diageo, Lion and Virgin in his long career, and Jonathan Fox, director of effectiveness at Nine. Welcome to you all."


Paul McIntyre: "Now I’m going to put all of you on the spot with a quick poll. Is Darrell Lea’s recent parody of the iconic Cadbury gorilla ad effective? For the audience who may not have seen it, Darrell Lea used an orangutan drumming to the beat of George Michael’s track Freedom in a rainforest to promote its noble decision not to use rainforest-busting plantation palm oil, which is destroying, of course, the habitat of orangutans. Jo Feeney, what’s your hunch on this one? Did it work? Is it effective?"

Jo Feeney: "In simple terms, it’s a no from me, Paul. I think they have a really important message that they were trying to get across, so it was almost overshadowed by the fact that it is a parody of a super-iconic piece of creative. I think the branding wasn’t strong, and they could have done a much better job of actually landing the message if they’d done it in their own way, not being a follower of a different brand strategy. I don’t know that the insight linked to what they were trying to do. I think it was asking Aussies to overthink what was probably a really important message for them, or equally a message that maybe not a lot of Australians care as much about. So for those reasons I don’t think it’s super-effective. I think it’s not the first time. I think Darrell Lea tried to imitate other advertising and that’s a bit of a watch-out for them potentially. So it’s a no."

Paul McIntyre: "Thumbs down from Jo Feeney. Jon Bradshaw, what’s your sense on this one?"

Jon Bradshaw: "Slightly reluctant thumbs down from me because I really liked the work, but that’s just a view of the creative idea. I think at an advertising level for most of the reasons Jo was talking about, I’m the same. I think the branding is really light in quite a long ad, and that’s a real problem. I think the message is overly complicated for your laidback in the sofa, scrolling through YouTube viewer, and also chocolates, the most impulsive of the FMCG categories. Really all you’re trying to do is get those distinctive brand assets in the head of someone when they walk into a store. It’s just working too hard unfortunately."

Paul McIntyre: "Anthony Gregorio, what’s your take on this one?"


Anthony Gregorio: "I have to agree with Jo and Jon. I think the message  it delivered, okay, it did it in an engaging way, admittedly mimicking a key competitor. I think if I was advising Darrell Lea, I’d have to say you fouled on the long-term brand effect with this spot. I agree with Jon that I don’t know that consumers wanting to buy chocolate  care that much about these issues in a TV sense, but I would tell them don’t spend money recreating a competitive ad – spend the money on building your own assets and differentiation. So to me it’s a foul on a number of counts."


Paul McIntyre: "Jon Fox?"

Jonathan Fox: "I’m afraid it’s four out of four, Paul. I’ve been spending some time trying to unpack the key elements of creative effectiveness. I’ve landed on three really important things, simple, emotional, and well-branded. And I think all of you guys have touched on that, which is the branding. As Jon mentioned, it comes very late in the ad. It doesn’t necessarily mean putting a logo on everything. You’ve got to have key, distinctive brand assets. So I think there’s a danger of misattribution here, and ultimately you end up growing the category leader, although in this instance it’s not that obvious that it’s confectionery and it’s about chocolate or other confectionery goods. So I think Cadburys is likely to benefit from this."

Paul McIntyre: "Right. So Jo Feeney, you touched on the fact that it wasn’t original and I guess my question is, and I’m the amateur amongst the four of you, do the punters even care if it was not original? Yes, in industry terms and in advertising, we award new thinking, new executions. Do people care that it wasn’t original? And I guess we’ll start there with that question."

Jo Feeney: "I think sometimes we underestimate, and sometimes we overestimate, consumers and how they absorb the advertising. And I think they do when there’s something iconic. I think they think, “Why are you doing that? Why are you replicating another brand so exactly?” I think there’s one way to do that, which is now there aren’t many new or unique insights,  a lot of advertising has potentially shared X insights. Sorry, but it’s the execution  that differs. So in this case, I do think there are a lot of people who would recognise that spot as a reflection and a direct replication of Cadbury. I think that actually makes them look like a real follower and not a leader, and brands have to be careful of that. When you’re replicating or remaking your own work, that’s different. But when it’s a direct take of someone else’s work, it’s a real watch-out for brands. And I think consumers pick up on that."

Paul McIntyre: "The brand purpose of it, the authentic part of trying to do some good stuff for the world and the environment in this case – I recognise that’s a big move for a company like this. You also suggest that it’s not landing, or people don’t necessarily care about that either?"


Jo Feeney: "I think Jon tapped into that – when you’re looking at the product, and it’s an in-house product, and if you’re the only person in the market who hasn’t followed that path, for example. If everyone was removing palm oil and you hadn’t been, absolutely, it’s a real watch-out to make sure you’re doing that. It’s a hygiene factor I think. And I guess you would like to think that they’d done their research. But working in the industry with similar products in some ways, sometimes I think we already overthink what people really pay attention to. Sometimes we overthink what’s going tip them over the edge to buying your product. How many people weren’t buying Darrell Lea because of palm oil? I’m not sure, but I think we sometimes overthink that as well."


Paul McIntyre: "Jon Bradshaw."

Jon Bradshaw: "I’ve thought about familiarity in advertising a lot. It’s one of the most complicated bits. We actually like things are familiar. There is a reason why there’s a hundred Marvel Avengers films, but you’ve got to do it with the other side of that coin, which is really distinctively, so that it’s your version of the familiar. I talk about distinctively familiar and it’s a real challenge. It’s why advertising is difficult, right? Because you want both of those things to lean on things that people can process in a low attention way, but also do it in a way that’s clearly from you, clearly about your product, and clearly in your category. And this ad’s working, using parody, which is a thing we all understand as a mechanism. But it’s making the audience work very hard to understand what the parody is, and why it should be funny, and how that connects to chocolate, and how that connects to Darrell Lea in particular."

Paul McIntyre: "Anthony Gregorio, you’re the CEO of a creative agency. You like originality, and it’s historically what ad agencies do, it’s got to be big ideas that are brand new. To my earlier question, do the punters care that it’s not original? It’s important for you and your industry, but to the punters?"

Anthony Gregorio: "I think it’s less a question about originality and what works for the brand. I suspect that some of the people that may have watched that ad could have taken that message out for their competitor. Like,  Cadbury are no longer using palm oil because it was such a well-known ad for a segment of the audience that would remember it. Parodies are a legitimate technique to use, and we’ve used it in the past for clients. But ultimately the fundamental tenet of creating a brand and creating preference for a brand is creating differentiation for that brand to your key competitors."

Paul McIntyre: "Well, if you pardon the pun, there’s our sugar-hit conversation. We’ll move on. Jo Feeney, you’ve been judging the advertising council’s effectiveness awards of late. What are some of the key observations you’ve made so far on the entries and this broader conversation we’re having about creative effectiveness?"


Jo Feeney: "It’s been a real pleasure to be able to judge some of those awards and see some of the great work that’s out there in the industry. For me personally it was such a reminder that you don’t need shiny new things to be able to shape and shift a brand and drive growth. I think  too often we think we have to have a brand new product or something that’s different to drive growth. It was a great reminder, certainly from a long-term effectiveness point of view, that we don’t need some of those things. What we do need is great advertising, a great insight, and things that really resonate with consumers, that connect with them. So what I saw, and the best work we saw, was that which was born out of a real truth, a real human truth, and executed in a great way that drove that impact, relevance and emotion. Emotion is such a big part of some of those longer-term pieces that drives the effectiveness."


Paul McIntyre: "Jo, I think you’ve done some econometric work at McDonald’s which says maybe 50 per cent of the effectiveness of a media channel is the creative. Is that the number we’re looking at?"

Jo Feeney: "Absolutely. It could even be a little bit more on the creative side. My media manager at the time said, “What? What creative has got more to play in?” When you think about ROMS and ROI, etcetera, and the creative component of that is significant. From a McDonald’s point of view, I’m part of a global creative council team, and we’ve been talking about this for the last couple of years, how do we make our work far more effective from a creative point of view. Creative excellence is a topic that’s critical for us,  something we’ve been working on to build. How do we make sure our work is more creatively excellent, so that it gives us a much better return more broadly? So absolutely, creative plays a far bigger part, dare I say it, then even the media component, which I think is a new level of understanding for a lot of people."

Paul McIntyre: "Well, it would. It’s going to smash a whole bunch of perceptions about how things work. Jon Bradshaw, is there too much of an obsession by industry about media channel and audience trends versus creative and impact? And why is that? Is it the same for marketers and or is marketers as guilty as the rest of us for that?"

Jon Bradshaw: "The answer is both, because of course the answer is both, right? And there’s other work that echoes exactly what Jo is saying, about half is to do with the creative itself and the other half is where you put it. And to a surprisingly little amount, the brand that’s being advertised in the first place. Big brands advertising works harder because they’re big brands. That’s just a slightly sad truth. But yeah, I think we are obsessed as an industry with media. We on the Mi3 podcast have talked more about media than anything else in the last 18 months, two years, so we’re guilty of perpetuating the obsessive interrogation of the complexity that is media. And it is only half of the advertising equation at least. It’s like it’s refreshing to be here to be less than in different."


Paul McIntyre: "Anthony Gregorio, you’ve got some very well known brands in your portfolio, Arnott’s , St George Bank and Toyota to name a few. Where are they at in their thinking around creative and what's been happening for them through COVID? What’s been the conversation there?"


Anthony Gregorio: "They’re all doubling down, for one of the better ways of putting it, around creating not just short-term but long-term campaigns. And I think as Jo and Jon have mentioned, creative is about half the effect. But actually when you get creative right, it has much more than just half the impact. It can have a huge multiplier effect. One of the great things about the conversation is that there’s a ream of evidence from great academics, Peter Field, Les Binet and others, that proves that when you get a campaign right, if a campaign is highly awarded, one of the stats is that it’s eight times more likely to drive a general business result over lesser rewarded campaigns, and 16 times more likely to drive greater profitability for a brand. That’s data you can’t afford to ignore as a marketer. And smart marketers obviously don’t ignore that."

Anthony Gregorio: "So I think the other thing that is unusual for this time, and actually a great opportunity, is that it’s all about share at the moment. If you’re in a category that’s facing some declines, share is  crucial. And you’re never going to get a better time when competitors might be distracted, competitors might not be spending as much, they might not be focused on brand building, and these are the things that, if you can focus on the job at hand, you can really drive an advantage in the marketplace."

Paul McIntyre: "Are you having those conversations? Are they landing with your clients?"

Anthony Gregorio: "Absolutely. And it’s tough because there’s always competing agendas in organisations. But I think the brands you mentioned all have incredibly strong marketing functions and smart marketers who have a seat at the table, and can argue their point well."

Paul McIntyre: "So Jonathan Fox, back to the media conversation. You’re in the hot seat now because you’re in a media company with a creative effectiveness remit. How was that working? What are the conversations you’re having with the market around that?"

Jonathan Fox: "I view my role as an in-house consultant, advising brands on how to effectively advertise, making sure they really nail those fundamentals around simple, emotional, well-branded. And then if I think about, I sit within  Powered, Nine’s marketing solutions division, and they have the goal of creating big ideas that make advertising famous. And when I think about fame, it’s not necessarily awards, which are great and good recognition, not fame amongst the marketing community, but fame amongst consumers by having those really big, bold ideas."


Jonathan Fox: "Nine recently announced at their Upfront the State of Originality, which is a very exciting new call to arms amongst the creative community, to make sure that people are willing to take a bit more risk and try and almost create Australia’s own version of say the Super Bowl or the Christmas ads in the UK, to create those really big famous advertising events. So Nine are giving away a million dollars worth of advertising across TV, radio, publishing and digital. And that will be based on the winner of the most creative ad that will be aired within State of Origin in 2021."


Paul McIntyre: "So what does that do for you? You’re going to go for that million bucks? Any interest? And what do you make of it by the way?"

Anthony Gregorio: "I think anything that stimulates the opportunity to create great work is a good initiative.  We’ll certainly talk to our clients about spots that might go well."

Paul McIntyre: "I’m personally thinking of doing something myself, because I’m quite creative, and I’ll give the million dollars to charity or whatever it is. But listen, Jon Fox, what else is on the effective  horizon for you? I think there’s some interesting stuff that came out from Professor Karen Nelson Field in the last week around attention, I think that’s got your attention. What do you make of that? In a creative context as well."

Jonathan Fox: "Really exciting stuff. I’ve been following what Karen has been doing for a while. A new attention, active attention metric. Trying to move from buying an opportunity to actually buying someone’s attention. And I think that could create a step change to provide that accountability for planners to start realising the right channels to really gauge or to gain a consumer’s attention."

Jonathan Fox: "I think to link that back into the creative it will be interesting to see how the quality of the creative starts to impact on attention, because intuitively we know the ads that start with a bit of a bang and capture your attention should be more effective. It’d be really interesting to see that link between creative and attention."

Paul McIntyre: "Jo Feeney, what’s been your focus at Macca’s through COVID around creative and messaging? And what does that look like in the next 12 months? I think you’re definitely a fan of what has been talked about here before, Peter Field and Les Binet work on short-form retail style ads versus long-term investment branding. What’s been happening with you and where’s the investment mix  going?"


Jo Feeney: "I am a big Liz and Peter fan. I think Anthony touched on that previously as well. And I think what we’ve seen through COVID in particular, we all know we’re feeling beings, that’s the heart of who we are. And I think where we focused is leaning into that from a brand point of view. So we’ve leaned into our brand proposition in a bigger way. What we’ve seen is a shift in some of the other more retail-focused work that we’ve done. I talked a little bit before about tonality, and I think just being aware of how consumers are feeling. Not shifting to the point where you’re actually saying, “Hey, it’s COVID times and therefore we’re doing this.” I think it’s just being cognisant of what you need to be telling people and how you need to be making them feel."


Jo Feeney: "We’ve been very importantly focused on reassurance and trust, building those trust messages and making people feel safe during this time. So we built some work around that. We’ve seen our trust scores go up during this time. Shares we talked about is critical. So making sure that we’re investing in the right way from a media point of view has also been really important. All of those things combined is how we focused."

Jo Feeney : "And it’s not about changing your strategy, it’s about making sure your strategy is still on the right course. I think we’ve seen things accelerate because of COVID. So far bigger investment in digital channels, just because of the way we’ve had to interact with consumers. And I don’t see that changing, I think that will continue to accelerate, the growth and delivery platforms, etcetera. Three years have come into one and we’ve accelerated in a big way. So I think just leaning into the right things, but making sure that the work you’re doing is connecting with the consumer."

Paul McIntyre: "Jo, give us an example.  of what temptation you’ve had to resist in terms of the tonality and creative execution. Where could you have gone, but didn’t? And then how does the creative look?"


Jo Feeney: "An example is our brand, sorry, our value work, where our platform was the song I Need a Dollar, a famous Aloe Blacc track. We reassessed and thought  is that the right message to be giving people during this time, where people are struggling and there’s a lot of hardship? So we adjusted that and we have continued to do that during COVID. We’ve actually seen a really positive response to that, which is one example of how we’ve pivoted. And the longer-term focus on our brand work over the last couple of years, seeing a compounding impact on the creative effectiveness of our retail work. So I guess leading perfectly into the long and short of it, as Liz and Peter would talk to, it’s really coming true for us as a business."


Paul McIntyre: "Anthony, how are your blue chip clients viewing the next 12 months? Are they the preparing for more activity in the market? And you’ve sort of touched on it, but how forward are they getting? How aggressive?"

Anthony Gregorio: "I think all our big clients are now in a recovery mindset and they are exactly like Jo   at McDonald’s, focusing on short and long-term and not one at the expense of the other. It’s a funny quote, but I think it was a guy called Hugh Jonson at PepsiCo who said, “Any idiot can do short-term and any idiot can do long-term. The trick is doing both.” That is really what Macca’s is doing, what the likes of Toyota and Westpac group and Arnott’s some of our other clients are doing, because if you take your eye off that ball you’re going to suffer, whether it’s short-term or long-term. Our job as marketers is to ensure that a business doesn’t get into that position."

Paul McIntyre: "Jon Bradshaw, what’s your hunch? And what happens in the next 12 months on the creative front, more of the same, or will we get better or worse? And what are  the conversations you’re having with brands?"

Jon Bradshaw: "Look, I think we’re getting better, but I think we’re getting better slowly, and this room is a fabulous confirmation. Advice from people all agreed on the same stuff who have read the right books and have thought the right thoughts. We’re not normal, this is not what [crosstalk 00:23:35] talked about or looks like. So I’m really conscious that I can’t get out of my bubble to find out what the real world’s really like, but I am seeing more people talking about Lez and Peter’s work, Byron Sharp’s work, Mark Ritson continuing to stir the pot in an appropriate kind of way that at least gets people engaging with these concepts."

Jon Bradshaw: "So I would hope we’d see improvement, but I’m not expecting anything dramatic. For a marketer, it’s such a small amount of their job, the advertising bit, for most marketers, and yet when you come to do it, it’s a huge amount of the budget that you’re playing with. The fear of mucking that up is enormous, so the market is hyper-cautious."


Jon Bradshaw: "My experience of a large percentage of the creative community, present company excepted, is that they really care about the famous and the motive bit of it, but less about the branding and the message bit of it. And the clients, the reverse. They’re obsessing about whether the message is exactly right, and getting the brand in the right place, and missing the fact that if the thing is interesting and engaging, then it’s not going to work in the first week. And all of these forces are pushing against what is happening, which is that most people go, “Oh, hang on. This is a bit more complicated than I thought it was. And we need to think about it a bit harder, and we need more subtlety and thought in the way we do this thing.” So I’m seeing improvement, but I think it’s a long road, not a fast transformation."


Paul McIntyre: "Jo Feeney, fair points there?"

Jo Feeney: "A hundred per cent. I’m nodding furiously because I couldn’t agree with Jon more. I think when you look at an ad and it’s amazing, no one thinks about the work and the thought and the strategy that goes into actually building that great creative. So I couldn’t agree more.?

Paul McIntyre: "That’s it for our second edition in the Forecast 2021 series. We’ll have another in two weeks, so stay tuned. Thank you, Jo, Jon Bradshaw, Anthony, and Jon Fox. You’ve got a big job to do cracking this message into the media and media sector. So good luck with that and stay safe. Thank you."


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