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Creativity in snack food marketing

How do fast food, soft drink and snack brands put creativity to work in their sector?

Some of the world's biggest brands share the secrets of engaging their customers

created on Thursday 13 Apr 2017

"Every single minute of every single day, the world’s toughest juries are judging our marketing efforts. They’re the billions of consumers from around the world who buy our products."
Bruce McColl, Chief Marketing Officer of Mars, Incorporated

Back in 2012, Bruce McColl collected the Advertiser of the Year Award (as it was then known) at Cannes Lions for Mars, Incorporated. During his acceptance speech, he highlighted just how difficult marketing is for snack brands as they have to continually fight for consumers' attention.

“We have to get noticed and we have to get remembered,” Bruce told the audience. And in the years since Bruce made this statement, fast food, soft drink and snack brands have continued to do well at engaging their consumers in ways that surprise, delight and, most important, result in sales.

With the exception 2014, there’s been at least one brand from the sector in the top five highest performing clients at Cannes Lions every year since Bruce made his statement. How do they do it, what are their concerns and what does the future hold for the sector? We’ve been talking to some of the sector’s leading marketers to understand exactly what goes into the campaigns that work.

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Innovate. Innovate. Innovate

"We were a 50-year-old brand stuck in time, and we needed to make a significant change to move the brand forward and stand out from the competition."
Karen Kaiser, VP, Advertising, Domino's 
At the first-ever Lions Innovation event in 2015, Domino’s VP of Advertising, Karen Kaiser, summed up exactly why innovation has become such a big area of focus for brands in the sector. Many are heritage brands with a rich history they need to maintain. But at the same time, they need to keep pace with their consumers and always appear new and interesting. 

For Domino’s and many other brands in the sector, the answer has been found in technology. When used effectively, new digital tools allow these brands to tell their classic stories on new platforms and reach completely new audiences. It worked for Domino’s when the brand won the coveted Titanium Grand Prix in the same year we spoke to Karen. In this clip, Titanium Jury President Mark Fitzloff, Partner and Executive Creative Director at Wieden+Kennedy Portland, explained why ‘Emoji Ordering’ was worth one of the Festival’s top prizes.

"We built an internal start-up culture and relaxed some of the rules for our younger millennial employees. We do hackatons and fast problem solving, and work closely with Silicon Valley"
Pete Blackshaw VP, Global Head of Digital at Nestlé 

However, it’s not just innovative work that moves the needle for these multi-national brands. Pete Blackshaw, the VP, Global Head of Digital at Nestlé, also pointed out that it’s important for these brands to work hard to build an innovative internal culture within their own organisations.

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Pick the right partners

"It comes down to the people that work on our side and the people who work on the agency side having a very common goal: to create the best advertising of our lives."
Matt Biespiel, Sr. Director, Global Brand Development at McDonald's

Relationships between agencies and the brands operating in this sector don’t always last and there have been some high-profile changes for McDonald’s in recent years, but the brand’s Sr. Director of Global Brand Development hit upon an important point when he said that the best work emerges when brands and agencies work in harmony. When there’s a share value system and objective, better ideas emerge and, in such a competitive environment, it’s only the best ideas that generate measurable improvements in sales.

"How can we do better marketing? We think more and more it involves working with start-ups that can bring in new technology that can help us connect."
Bachir Zeroul, Global Director, Marketing Ventures , Coca-Cola
Of course, these partnerships don’t have to be the traditional agency/brand partnerships that have thrived in the past. Speaking at Lions Innovation, Coca-Cola’s Global Director, Marketing Ventures, Bachir Zeroul, explained how the brand was increasingly looking to tech companies and start-ups to help them reach their consumers.
Despite this seemingly endless focus on new partnerships, sometimes old methods simply need to be updated. Speaking on stage at Cannes Lions 2016, Dana Anderson, from Mondelez International revealed how the brand has completely revolutionised the way it works with its existing partner agencies to get better work on a smaller budget.

Be disruptive

Faced with a consumer base that can be fickle and hard to reach, many brands in the sector have embraced the idea of disruption. They know that the best way to reach consumers is by doing something unexpected and new, whether that’s leveraging Snapchat or moving into branded content.

As Gatorade Chief Marketing Officer Morgan Flatley explained in 2015, “people are inundated with new ideas and have very short attention spans”. 

"In today’s market place, the speed of culture and the speed of change mean that only disruptive ideas maintain the relationship with our customers."
Morgan Flatley, Chief Marketing Officer, Gatorade
It was a strategy that certainly worked for Gatorade when the brand embraced the newest social media platform wowing brands and creative agencies alike: Snapchat. The ‘Superbowl Dunk’ campaign featured a 3D representation of the iconic Gatorade cooler seen on every NFL sideline and allowed fans to experience a famous sporting moment for themselves. The disruptive idea captured the attention of the juries at Cannes Lions, who awarded it a Gold in the Cyber Lions last year.

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Another area that brands in this sector have managed to be particularly disruptive in is branded content and entertainment. Since awards honouring this discipline were launched at Cannes Lions, Coca-Cola, Nestle, Kraft, Burger King, Wendy’s, Wrigleys and Mondelez have all won Lions. But perhaps the biggest disruptor in the branded content sphere has been Chipotle, who won the first Branded Content & Entertainment Lion Grand Prix back in 2012 for the ‘Cultivate Campaign’.

At the time, the jury president, Avi Savar, the Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Big Fuel, praised the "emotional connection with an audience" and noted that "one of the debates was 'is the film in that piece an ad or content?' The fact that it's both is the best thing in the world".

"We wanted to celebrate work that showed brands can build identity or deliver messaging through content rather than advertising; that they can tell people stories rather than product stories."
Avi Savar, Founder, Chief Creative Officer, Big Fuel

This move towards brands as content providers has continued at pace since Chipotle won the Grand Prix in 2012. Perhaps it reached a peak with the Pepsi tie-up in the Empire TV series, which Leslie Moonves, President, CEO and Chairman of CBS Corporation, described as one of the best examples of brand integration he'd ever seen.

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