The art and science of creativity
WRITER: Carole Lydon
We've seen enough TV sitcoms and movies depicting marketing as a nebulous, sub-honest, smoke and mirrors kind of thing. We’ve also seen enough evidence to know that it can be all of those things. But does it have to be? Bruce McColl, global Chief Marketing Officer, Mars, Incorporated offers proof that it doesn’t.
Mars is an extraordinary company in a number of ways: it is one of the world’s leading petcare, chocolate, confection, food and drink manufacturers; it is in the Top Ten largest private companies in the world; it remains a private, family-owned business, and; it has retained and grown market share in some of the world’s most competitive markets. If you’re still wondering about its reach, Mars’ iconic brands include: Snickers, M&M’s, Skittles, Uncle Ben’s, Orbit, Extra, Pedigree, Royal Canin, and Whiskas. So if you’re not enjoying their wares, your cat probably is.
Mars, Incorporated can credit some of its business success to shifting the axis of how it approaches marketing. Since 2000, the company has turned to the marketing science approach, pioneered by Andrew Ehrenberg and championed by the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, to drive its growth. With a long history of using science for product development it seemed only natural for Mars to trust that the laws of physical science can be applied to marketing.
“It’s not such a leap to expect that science applies to marketing,” says McColl. “An architect can be visionary and creative, but they are still constrained by the laws of physics. If they ignore those laws, the building will fall down. If we ignore the laws of marketing science, we can expect to spend a lot of money on brand activities that don’t work.”
Committed to embedding marketing science into business practice since 2006 and, more recently, the interpretation of Ehrenberg’s work through Byron Sharp’s How Brand’s Grow, Mars USA, Mars Australia and Mars Europe became corporate sponsors of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science. Hungry for more, Mars approached the Institute to set up the Mars Marketing Science Laboratory - the Mars Lab. At the Mars Lab, a team of researchers work solely to build fundamental understanding and application of the laws of marketing science for the Mars company.
“We were looking for a real academic partnership. A place where the real work begins extending the Laws of Growth into practical application. How do we use them to strategise? How does it change the way we brief creative agencies? Indeed, how does it feed the creative process?” says McColl.
By now, anyone who has spent time in a global organisation will be thinking - this is all great, but how do you actually change the fundamental way that marketing is approached in a global business? Particularly a business with decentralised operations and outsourced creative. Not only do you have to change your own practices, you are changing how you manage your business partners.
According to McColl, there are three key components behind the successful embedding of marketing science into business practice at Mars:
- SHARE KNOWLEDGE AND BEST PRACTICE: combine the power of global scale and local knowledge by strictly standardising 'how' you do business through comprehensive training and information sharing.
- BRING MARKETING TO THE BOARDROOM: a single and credible fact-based voice that can communicate the empirical evidence and the scientific rigour with which marketing decisions can be made.
- TRAIN ALL FUNCTIONS: include other functions and General Managers in marketing science training to ensure that marketing science is at the centre of all business growth decisions.
McColl is pragmatic in his approach, “It’s one thing to be aware of scientific laws of marketing, but to use them in a business takes translation, practice and managerial commitment combined with engagement.”
None of these are frozen in time; this is a continual loop of communication, training and commitment to the capacity and creativity of Mars’ people.
The training is conducted through Mars University, for which McColl has the role of Dean of the Marketing College. Here, marketing science is combined with psychology to offer participants real insight into the disciplines Mars is asking them to use, and into their own capacity to use them.
If you’re thinking all this talk about empirical research, rules and rigour is stomping over any chance of creativity, think again. Mars embraces the critical role of creativity to deliver its growth objectives. It also recognises that creativity is most effective when directed through a process of powerful diagnoses; General Managers and CFOs are more willing to invest in brands when they're confident with the strategy.
For Mars, the results speak for themselves. The company was recognised as the Cannes Lions Global Advertiser of the Year in 2012. This public accolade recognised an acceleration of creative awards over the past five years, and reveals a creativity which continues to drive growth for the US$33 billion dollar company.