Q&A: Mars CMO Andrew Clarke on transparency, faith in the Super Bowl, and fighting for your agencies

In his first interview, the chief marketing and customer officer gets tough on digital visibility and explains why BBDO's Snickers work is "the best of Mars" in a Q&A with PRWeek's sister title Campaign.

When Bruce McColl announced his retirement from Mars in April, the marketing world lost one of its most admired CMOs. A former Cannes marketer of the year and One Show client of the year, McColl had earned a reputation as the kind of boss you want to work for: collaborative, inquisitive, and unabashedly in favor of trusting (and paying) your agency partners.

McColl was replaced by Andrew Clarke, a 16-year veteran of the family-owned company who was largely unknown to outsiders. Formerly the chief customer officer, Clarke stepped into a newly created position that combined his old duties with McColl’s, an attempt by Mars to bring its sales, marketing, and customer strategy functions into closer alignment.

"Retail and shopper trends are moving at a remarkable pace and digital is providing new routes to reach consumers that blend advertising and selling," said Mars President and CEO Grant Reid, in a statement at the time. "We’re evolving our approach to advance the way our marketing and customer strategies work together to address these trends."

Since assuming the role July 1, Clarke, 44, has maintained a low public profile, reviewing the company’s vast portfolio of brands—from dog food (Pedigree, Iams) to gum (Extra, Orbit) to candy (Skittles, Starburst) to chocolate (Snickers, Maltesers)—exploring partnerships with publishers such as Google and Facebook and getting to know his agencies.

"We’re genuinely excited about Andrew’s arrival," said Wendy Clark, North American CEO of DDB Worldwide, which shares Mars’ creative accounts with sister Omnicom agency BBDO Worldwide. WPP’s MediaCom handles the brand’s media planning.

"He combines the marketing and commercial lens, and our responsibility as the agency is to manifest those 360-degree opportunities," Clarke said. "The potential of doing that is what gets us up in the morning."

In his first interview since taking the job, Clarke, who was born in the U.K. and based in London, talked about honoring Mars’ 5 Principles (quality, responsibility, mutuality, efficiency, and freedom), his frustrations with digital visibility, and where he differs from his predecessor.

You occupy a combined role at Mars that was created to bring sales and marketing closer together. What was the reasoning behind that? And how is it being brought to bear throughout the company?
We just felt that it was a good time at the operating board level to put my customer role together with the CMO role and really drive an integrated approach to how we grow our business and partner with our customers. But this is at my level—I’m on the operating board. We don’t plan to change this as we get into our segments and our markets. We are a decentralized business, and we absolutely want to retain and build our functional brilliance from a marketing, customer, and category point of view. But this does give us an opportunity, from my perspective, to integrate our approach, really think about the new capabilities we need to win in the future and to be much more agile. 

So the flat hierarchy of your marketing structure, the empowered regional brand directors, that isn’t changing?
Correct. We’ve got global brand directors for all our big brands, and we have chief marketing officers in each of our segments really getting close to the consumers and the customers there. That’s always been in play, to really make sure we leverage the best of Mars, both the global scale and linking in with our priority markets. What we’re really expecting our marketers to do is be brilliant, agile business leaders that can break down those functional silos and really drive new ways of getting category and brand growth.

McColl was a big adherent of evidence-based marketing: fewer package redesigns, fewer brand extensions, fewer ads that run for longer periods. Are you a follower of the faith as well?
Absolutely in terms of evidence-based marketing. Bruce and I were working together in the leadership team for about a year before he left, and I’ve picked up the mantle. I absolutely want to follow that. It gives us real confidence in our growth strategy. And not just from a brand and consumer perspective in marketing, but how we can drive the whole enterprise, our sales associates, our R&D associates, all the way through to supply, procurement, everything.

But that doesn’t necessarily translate into what you just said. Of course we’ll innovate and drive our brands to grow the categories in which we operate. But what we want to do is reduce the level of subjectivity, use data, use analytics, use evidence to enable us to invest and free up our energy and our associates to be much more creative.

So in simple terms, I’m absolutely a big believer in what Bruce started. I inherit a fantastic legacy. But I believe we can take it to the next level using data and technology and really partnering externally to further our knowledge.

Are you satisfied with your partner relationships? Are you planning on keeping the agencies you have?
I spent the first six months heavily involved in this. As you know, mutuality is one of our five principles, and our agency relationships, no question have been critical to our success, particularly on the creative side. So I have reviewed that with our CMOs. We all continue to partner on the creative side with BBDO and DDB—in fact we’ve re-signed some new contracts in our tenure. And we’ll continue with MediaCom on our media-planning side. So they’re our big three strategic partners.

I want to continue what Bruce started with the CMOs, a real open and transparent relationship, and I really want to put some positive tension into the system. We don’t always agree. I think that’s very positive in a mutual relationship. If we get it right with our strategic partners, no question we get better campaigns, we get better results, we can engage much better together. So our big three strategic partners will remain our strategic partners for the foreseeable future. 

Bruce won a lot of fans in the agency world for talking about his belief in empowering agencies and giving them creative freedom. Would you say you’re ideologically aligned with him on that?
One hundred percent. Hence the long-term relationships. How do we get the best out of those long-term partnerships? It’s three things. One is the challenge element. We really want our agency partners to bring an alternative perspective, to have a real deep understanding of our business and our brand and our consumers and categories. We want them to bring that to the table and challenge us. But of course you can only do that if you have that trust and that partnership and that talent.

So the second key piece—the most important, actually—is to be able to attract and retain the best possible talent. We need to create a partnership where we have the best talent on the agency side wanting to come work on the Mars account, to grow, develop, and enhance their careers, and in doing so get a real depth of knowledge about Mars. I’ve spent a lot of time with our agency partners and their top talent, and they’re very impressive individuals.

The third is that we expect real collaboration here. With BBDO and DDB part of the Omnicom stable, MediaCom part of WPP, we’re increasingly looking to partner with the likes of Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc., bringing in the PR agency, a number of different agencies sitting around a table working on either creative problems or growth-driving initiatives. We expect them all to play ball and really collaborate in the service of being the best we possibly can be, and I think we have the combination of those things right. It’s a bit of magic here.

Concerns about media transparency and digital measurement are obviously top of mind right now. Are you satisfied with the level of accountability you're getting? And have you taken steps to make sure you're getting what you need?
The simple answer is no, I’m not satisfied. We invest billions of dollars each year to drive growth, and frankly, we still don’t have the visibility we need to make sure we’re getting the best possible return. In advertising terms, we’ve done quite a nice job with single-source measurement over the years, particularly on TV advertising—20 seconds, 30 seconds—so we’re pretty good at measurement there. But of course media consumption habits are changing, and we’re now investing significant amounts of money in new-media channels. We simply need better visibility of the key metrics, and we don’t have them.

We are partnering with the likes of Google and Facebook, etc., to get the transparency we’re looking for, so we can better invest to drive our intelligent reach. But we haven’t got the transparency of audience numbers, we haven’t got the transparency of viewability across channels, and that’s important for us in terms of how we make our creative. We need to know how long our adverts are being watched for. Along with the publishers, we’ve got to figure that out in order for us to invest transparently. Otherwise, quite simply, we’re going to have to cap our investment, because we need to know the return we’re getting. This is a tough space and we, as a big advertiser, need to get involved to help drive the industry.

How does your 2017 marketing budget look compared to your 2016 budget?
This varies market by market. Brand by brand, depending what we’re trying to achieve. But in broad terms, increasingly we are upping our spend in new digital channels. This is now a significant spend, and we need to be clear on the return we’re getting for that spend. 

TV remains very important for us. It’s still a very, very important way for us to drive mass reach, and the right reach as well. But that needs to be supplemented in other areas. The overall budget will be up. But we have to makes sure we’re getting better visibility, the key metrics to enable us to continue that journey investing in new channels.

Snickers and Skittles are back in the Super Bowl this year. Why does that continue to be a good investment for those brands?
It’s just a brilliant way of getting the reach we want. The level of interest in the advertising at the Super Bowl is still unmatched anywhere in the world. Increasingly its before, during, and after the event as well. For us, it’s still a very key opportunity for us to drive reach and get talked about.

Internally, it inspires some tough conversations with our agency partners, and it forces us to raise the bar. We have to have outstanding creative that really delivers in such a high-profile event, creative that gets talked about, that stands out from other competitors. That’s a pretty tough ask. How do we stay on campaign? How do we push our teams, our associates, and agency teams to new creative levels? If we get that right, that enables the whole campaign to be amplified across the world. It’s a big event that not only delivers in the moment, but if we get it right, has an ongoing impact across the world for our global campaigns.

We’re particularly excited for Snickers this year. We’ve got a pretty ambitious campaign, doing a live 30-second commercial to drive our ambition to be the most talked-about brand on the planet.

So you knowingly play to a global audience when you put together a Super Bowl campaign?
Yeah, exactly. The ad and the concept is absolutely owned by the local U.S. market, but it gets huge visibility internally, through the presidents, to me of course, to our CEO, and in fact the family takes a real interest in it, as well. So it’s a big thing we can use to make sure our marketing is front-and-center internally. But externally, we can use it to drive our brand and drive growth. 

You oversee a huge number of brands in different categories around the world. Where do you see the opportunities for growth in the coming year?
On the petcare side of the business, we’re the global leaders. We just made a big strategic acquisition. From a brand point of view, I’m delighted to say the big brands in 2016 all exceeded their targets. So we’ve got some nice tailwinds on petcare. We’re seeing good growth in the U.S. market but also around the world. Emerging markets are really going very, very strongly on petcare.

On the confectionary side, we are in the process this year of integrating our chocolate and Wrigley business together to create the world’s largest confectionary company. We’ve seen good growth in the U.S. particularly, which is very encouraging, good growth in our emerging markets, and actually a return to growth in China, which is a bit more of a challenge the last couple of years.

On the gum side, we’ve had very good success in the U.S. for Extra, really bringing that brand back to growth in a tough market. 

Is there one piece of Mars advertising that represents the kind of work you want to see more of?
The Snickers work, "You're not you when you're hungry," is the best of Mars. It’s now in 75 countries, it’s multi-award winning, and for me, it gets the best of global, working with our partners to create a real global platform, but also enabling enough flexibility for our local markets to adjust it and make it culturally relevant, to really amplify it, to use digital, and we’ve seen some brilliant results.

Personally, I actually really, really liked the Temptations work we did for the Christmas/holiday season. It was a digital-only execution that went pretty viral, made it into the top 10 of Christmas ads in a number of markets. Obviously we’ve got a real heritage in 20-, 30-second television, and this was digital-only, pretty disruptive, and very much on-message. I really personally liked that spot. 

This story first appeared on campaignlive.com.

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