Marketers, like chancellors, need time in the job to succeed

Marketers, like chancellors, need time in the job to succeed

Short tenures engender short-term thinking, as the UK economy currently demonstrates. To be successful, both politicians and marketing teams need time to learn what works and what doesn’t.

Why is the British economy so fucked at the moment? Unfortunately, there are many reasons. And they pile ever higher as every sorry week of 2022 passes.

You could make a persuasive case that our problems derive from war. Or from Brexit. Or from fossil fuel overdependence. From leadership errors. Even standard economic cycles of growth and decline. You can combine any and all of these factors and others into a shit-coloured stain that covers pretty much everything at the moment.

But can I point to another additional factor that we rarely take into account? Can I talk about tenure?

In the past financial quarter, the United Kingdom’s economy has been run by four different people. Rishi Sunak left the Johnson government to be replaced, briefly, by Nadhim Zahawi. With a change in prime minister there was a change in chancellor too, and economic legend Kwasi Kwarteng took charge. Within a few weeks he was ousted by an increasingly precarious PM and replaced with Jeremy Hunt, who – at least as I write this on Tuesday morning – is currently in charge of the British economy.

Four managers in four months. Irrespective of the qualities of any of these four men, their abbreviated tenure in the role meant none was able to do a good job. In contrast, Gordon Brown was Chancellor for almost exactly a decade. And I put it to you that, while his long tenure did not automatically make him one of the most successful economic bosses this country ever had, it did allow Brown’s vision and leadership to flourish and thus enable the British economy to do likewise.

We don’t talk enough about long tenures and how important they are to truly successful periods of marketing success.

But it’s not that Brown was a bigger thinker and greater mind than his four more recent contemporaries. It’s that he had longer to learn, improve and then enact a long-term strategy for this country.

And, make no mistake, this is not a party political column for the Labour Party. I very much liked Gordon Brown. I almost voted for him once. But my point is not about political parties, or even Brown himself. It’s about tenure and the fact that, while this crucial variable does not automatically bestow excellence on a manager, it allows leadership potential and success to bloom.

We can, for example, make exactly the same point about Nigel Lawson a decade earlier. Lawson exhibited an entirely different political philosophy from Brown and ran the country accordingly, but he enjoyed a similar extended tenure, which enabled his fiscal excellence and leadership to emerge to the benefit of the UK.

Tenure does not make the leader, but its absence surely stops those with the capability from achieving success and effectiveness.

You can argue that tenure and capability are not independent of each other, of course; that the reason Kwasi Kwarteng had only 38 days in the big job was because he was absolutely useless. I would say that was an accurate summary of the state of things, but it does not diminish my point about the importance of tenure. Particularly if you also accept that sometimes those with middling talent but the ability to learn – the John Majors of this world – can become very good at their job, if tenure allows them the chance.

And I was thinking about tenure when the IPA awarded its prestigious grand prix for the best advertising to Cadbury Dairy Milk and its ‘Glass and a half in everyone’ campaign last week. I love reading IPA case studies. It is the best 50 quid you can spend on yourself. So, I put everyone in the house to bed and downloaded it, then opened a massive red and indulged myself in marketing for a long and lovely hour.

And it is a worthy winner. On so many levels. Faced with declining sales because of a diminishing brand, the Cadbury Dairy Milk team did everything right. They diagnosed the issue with a perfect mix of qual and quant data. They went back to the brand’s astonishing history to find the answers for future success. They did that magical trick of brand revitalisation; of going back in time to remember what Cadbury Dairy Milk was all about, and then jumping forward to the present and asking what these insights meant for a modern market.

Tenure does not make the leader, but its absence surely stops those with the capability from achieving success and effectiveness.

The campaign embraced both the incredibly distinctive assets and the differentiated image of the Dairy Milk brand – almost as if both distinctiveness and differentiation were not just compatible, but equally essential. The team even made brand purpose make sense. They came up with a brand purpose that ticked three boxes that most brand purpose statements don’t. It was legitimate, it was differentiating, and it was what consumers wanted and had been missing from the brand.

Cadbury calls this approach ‘intrinsic purpose’. I think the team are being too generous to those who miss the mark. There are better, naughtier words than ‘extrinsic’ for the majority of ill-conceived purpose campaigns that fail to tick these three boxes.

Cadbury kept its purpose positioning tight and simple – focusing it around generosity. It ignored dickhead columnists like me, who pointed to the accurate but irrelevant fact that Cadbury had been anything but generous in its recent dealings with HM Treasury. Sure, not paying tax for five years in this country is the definition of ungenerous. But the point, lost on idiots like me, was that this was the very issue the team were now trying to resolve – not an argument against the approach.

And, ultimately, most consumers do not understand what corporation tax is, let alone who isn’t paying it. Telly, not taxes, drives brand perceptions and clever-clogs columnists should remember that market-oriented point.

The team then set clear objectives. They did not have too many. And each had a benchmark. They worked with wonder agency VCCP on a joined-up, long-term, creative campaign that had many executions but a clarity of message that was unmistakable and distinctive. And despite what other esteemed experts might say, they saw the value in channel diversity and spreading their message across a wide swathe of channels. And they kept doing it, for years.

The results are so good they almost defy belief. A hockey-stick return to brand strength was then reflected in the ability to sell a lot more chocolate. By 2021, despite no increase in annual ad spend, the brand was enjoying an extra quarter of a billion pounds in incremental sales versus 2017, when the campaign began. For every £1 Cadbury spent, it enjoyed an additional £3.50 in sales. Tasty.

But the point that struck me most about Cadbury’s success was that, while it came from research, positioning, objective setting, agency briefing and channel diversity, it also came from tenure. At Mondelez, there is a team of exceptional women who run marketing for Cadbury. And it’s not just that they are all seasoned, outstanding marketing people. It’s that they have been working on the brand for many years.

Benazir Barlet-Batada, the senior marketing director at Mondelez for the UK, has been working on Cadbury Dairy Milk for 12 years. Claire Low, the other senior marketing director, has very similar tenure, having started out as a marketing manager on the brand in 2011. Gemma Flanigan, the associate marketing director for Cadbury, has spent a decade on the brand. Bryony Tate and Pippa Rodgers, the brand managers for Dairy Milk, have been in various roles at Mondelez for six and seven years respectively. These women have a cumulative lifetime experience on Cadbury Dairy Milk.

We talk about short tenures in marketing and how they promote short-termism. But we don’t talk enough about long tenures and how important they are to truly successful periods of marketing success. Again, that does not mean that any old marketing team, given long enough, can win an IPA Grand Prix and generate hundreds of millions of pounds in incremental sales. They have to be good. Really good. Cadbury good. But they also have to be given time.

Time to learn about the brand, its consumers and its history. Time to learn what works and what does not. Time to grow frustrated at going backwards. Time to plot a way to win again. Time to plan a campaign, to execute it, to wait for the impact. And time to then keep the marketing foot on the throat of growth, pushing for even more. Any proper campaign takes a decade to breed and a decade to succeed.

In a true act of marketing generosity, Cadbury and its team of extraordinary marketers show others the way.