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Aunt Bessie’s Head of Marketing shares insights on Creative Courage with McCann Leeds


Since opening its doors a year ago, McCann Leeds has made it its mission to celebrate the region’s creative sector, with its Creative Courage series of webinars and blogs.

Designed to fuel optimism, prosperity and people, while harbouring a new creative community, Creative Courage has fast become the go-to place for the region’s talent to share wisdom, be inspired or simply enjoy a moment of collaboration in this work-from-home world.

Over the past 12 months, the Leeds-based agency has joined forces with a host of marketing leaders, to provide an insight into what Creative Courage means to them – the latest of which will come from Samantha Dolan, Head of Marketing at Aunt Bessie’s, when she joins the McCann Leeds team on November 26th to share her experiences in a live webinar.

However, if you can’t wait that long, or just want a taste of what the Creative Courage series is all about, then here’s a sneak peek of some of what Samantha will be talking about.


SD: Before we get started on what Creative Courage means to me, and why, let me say this – there’s not enough of it around!

My views are largely formed by advertising and marketing in FMCG food, as it’s all I’ve ever known and I’ve witnessed it getting a bit safe over the years (I’m getting on a bit now). By safe I mean risk-free, seen before, and almost passive creative that purely serves to lay functional advantages at the door of the shopper or consumer.

There are, of course, exceptions, but I want the passive creative to be the exception. The rule should be the ones that stand out for shouting “this is why we do what we do!”

Creative Courage should be a skill on LinkedIn, a line on a job description, a trait every hiring marketing director looks for – it’s that important. Today we’re bombarded with so many messages (I read we are hit with over 5,000 per day) so how do you make sure you get through? Certainly not by using the Chinese water torture technique of buying up every rating you can until the consumer gives in.

You learn from mistakes

The answer, my friends, is great creative, and here’s the not-so-secret secret: it’s really hard to achieve because it’s not a process or a formula. It’s a mystical blend of brand truths, gut feel and faith – yes, faith.

While I’m on my soapbox, great gut feel should be a skill on LinkedIn too. We have become too reliant on spreadsheets and research results. Go with your gut sometimes, and always ask yourself “what’s the worst that can happen?” Great companies employ people who recognise that we learn from failure – although I did once have a boss who said, “but if you fail again, you’re fired.”

However, I know from personal experience this is a hard gig for marketeers. My most stressful time was trying to convince a room of suits (albeit lovely supportive suits) that launching an advert for milk featuring cats with thumbs was the best idea ever – you can imagine their faces.

But the rewards were huge; we spent less on media because the creative was standout, it totally fit with the brand purpose, the ad was recognised as the advert of the year, social media exploded, media went crazy – but most importantly, it all led to a 3% increase in base sales – it was ace.

Trying new media

Now I’m not advocating putting a brief into your agency that says “do something crazy so we get noticed”, by any means. Of course the creative has to have a brand truth, deliver your purpose and have some form of research attached to it, but courage and creativity come in all forms – from the actual creative platform through to the touchpoints you use to get it out there.

Consider using a part of your budget for test and learn. Be first adopters to some new media out there – Lord knows there’s enough of it, so what’s the worst that can happen?

I always struggle to think of brands I love that do it well. The age old examples like Apple have been done to death (not saying they’re not brilliant ones), so I’d urge you think about more achievable success – we haven’t all got multi-million pound budgets!

I mentioned touchpoints – this is the area where creativity need not cost a fortune. New and exciting media, especially digital, often comes at a reasonable cost and as a first adopter you can drive fame not just for having kick-ass creative, but by being an early adopter of media. Again, the media channels must be aligned with your brand strategy – nobody wants to see Aunt Bessie rocking it on Snapchat!

Who’s doing it well?

Fever Tree tonic has had a tough time of it in recent months (yes, I know we all have), but they’ve responded with a very out-of-character TV campaign. The brand has been around since 2003, and this is only its second TV campaign – surprised?

Often when a brand hits a bump in the road they turn to traditional media that can give a quick injection of penetration and it’s true that TV is probably the most effective at that. But what made it famous? Creative Courage made it famous, that’s what.

Fever Tree used social, OOH and roadshows to get close to the consumer. It’s media that gives you more than 30 seconds to tell your story and create a real connection – one that will drive loyalty far more cheaply and effectively.

But what about reach, I hear you cry! I’ll admit it’s a slower burn, but for me it’s quality vs quantity. PR can drive tremendous reach and is often a neglected channel. In this case, it drove fame for the brand and some of that reach we all crave. The rewards are there to see – the brand was worth £155 million 10 years in – and that’s a result.

Another favourite of mine with TV very much at the heart of it, is IKEA. The reason I love their approach is because the ‘why’ is always at the centre of everything they do… Question – Why do we buy a decent bed? Answer – to get a good night’s sleep. Why? To feel refreshed and tackle the day, of course.

The why always provides the focus of the ad and it’s the genius bit. Most other furniture adverts stop at the answer to the question with a functional list of why their bed is better. IKEA show us they can connect with us on an emotional level – hugely powerful and very brave. Check out their latest print ads – simply brilliant.

I’ll leave you with something that is obvious but not widely talked about. Agencies, and I cannot stress this strongly enough, are an extension to your team and should be treated as such. Nurture them, keep them informed, encourage them to be brave and push the boundaries – just as you would your own teams.

We have a responsibility to get the brief right, set the tone, arm them with all the good stuff, but then sit back and let them do their thing. As brand marketeers (and this is not a popular opinion) we are jack-of-all-trades and master of, quite frankly, none. So trust your people, people!

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