The recipe for legendary advertising

Kelsey Sullivan

Previously heard on Inside Insights, this interview with PepsiCo marketing and insights leaders Fernando Kahane and Tim McEntaggart covers what creative excellence really means and how you can use consumer insights to make your advertising truly legendary.

🎙️ Putting the consumer at the heart of creative development

If you prefer to listen, check out the full podcast interview with Fernando and Tim.

The interview

Ryan Barry: Hi, everybody. Thanks for tuning in to Inside Insights. I'm really excited for today's conversation. I have the pleasure of talking with Tim McEntaggart, the Director of Brand and Innovation Insights for PepsiCo, as well as Fernando Kahane, the Senior Marketing Director for Walkers Snacks. Gentlemen, thank you very much for making the time to talk to me. I appreciate it.

Fernando Kahane: Thank you for inviting us.

Tim McEntaggart: Good to be here.

Ryan Barry: So I want to talk to you guys about advertising. There's a big theme within your organization at the moment around this being the year of creative excellence. There's a lot of training happening. I'm going to start with you, Fernando. What does creative excellence mean from your perspective?

Fernando Kahane: Big question. I think creative excellence is really about how we not only communicate but we create activities that resonate with people. It makes people feel different. It's really about consumer centricity at the end of the day, how we put consumers first. It's not about a test result.

I think creative excellence is really about how we not only communicate but we create activities that resonate with people. It makes people feel different.

- Fernando Kahane

I would say that the best campaigns we have done are the campaigns that were based on consumer insights. Sometimes a simple insight told in a disruptive, relevant, creative way becomes the campaigns and the ideas that work better. I think we live in a space where we talk a lot about breakthroughs. And being a bit controversial here, I think sometimes creative excellence is more about telling stories in the best possible way, not necessarily to have the most ‘breakthrough’ idea.

Ryan Barry: So he teed you up, Tim. That was controversial. This is the key marketing director, one of the biggest businesses in the company. How does the insights department’s set of tools or approach evolve to balance the art and science of breakthroughs that are needed? What are some of the things that you're seeing and driving within the business to support these needs?

Tim McEntaggart: Well, it's interesting to use the art and science terminology. There's definitely a science component and I think there's a thing with the word creativity or creative excellence that creativity or being creative is incredibly loaded.

You think there can't be any science involved in that at all and really it has to be something that just comes to you when you're sat in a darkened room....a magic aha moment. Actually, I think art and science are super important. You need to bring your judgment, you need to take risks, you need to actually open yourself up, but you should also have consumers as a part of that process as well.

You think there can't be any science involved in that at all and really it has to be something that just comes to you when you're sat in a darkened room....a magic aha moment. Actually, I think art and science are super important. You need to bring your judgment, you need to take risks, you need to actually open yourself up, but you should also have consumers as a part of that process as well.

- Tim McEntaggart

Is your advertising going to have reach? Is it going to resonate with people? Is it going to drive the response that you want? Why wouldn't you ask them? Why would you say, "Right. We don't want to do that. We need to be creative and we mustn't do any research and it must just come to us as a genius moment." So art and science is a huge part of how we think about it.

I guess the other part is probably bastardizing an Ogilvy quote, but he talks about something along the lines of, “It isn't creative if it doesn't sell.” I think creativity for the sake of creativity, or creativity just for the sake of winning awards is not really what we're about. That said, if it wins a creative award it's 12 times more effective at driving sales. So creativity is worthwhile, but it's not just art and it certainly isn't just science. You need to do both.

Ryan Barry: Fernando, how do you balance that? Because what I love about you is you're a highly creative man but you also get this balance. So how do you balance those frameworks when you're developing campaigns and territories with your teams? And how are you using insights to make that happen?

Fernando Kahane: I think a big part of creativity is inspiration. We talk about inspiration and perspiration. And yeah, I do think that it's 99% perspiration, but to be honest, maybe with creativity it's more 50-50, so 50% inspiration, 50% transpiration. What I mean by that is there is no start of a brief that I don't sit with my team and insights.

And it's not only about hearing what consumers are saying. It's social listening. We run ad hoc research to understand what they are saying about the product, but also they'll talk about the location that we are trying to tap in. We also look at how other brands have tackled similar issues before.

I think it's really important for a marketer to not think that no other brand has ever thought about that before. I'm a believer in recycling ideas, there is nothing wrong with that. Basically, the inspiration is through data, but also quant and qual. I think some of the best campaigns that we have landed on Walkers, they initially came from some qual feeling we later proved. One of the ones that I really like is about parents hiding snacks:

We looked online and we started to see a lot of parents saying, "Oh, I hide the snacks from my kids. Otherwise, they eat all my snacks. I also deserve a snack." It's very, very funny. And kids and actually teenagers were talking back and said, "My mom is hiding the snacks again..." And we said, "There is something here." We didn't know what the scale was. And we partnered with insights to think about how we could learn more about that. We probably conducted the biggest research ever in the UK about parents hiding snacks. We found out, after partnering with insights, that two-thirds of parents hide snacks from their kids. And it's not because they don't want the kids eating snacks. It's just because they really want some for themselves.

I think there is something interesting about empathy, because when you find these nuggets of insights that people don't talk about, they are the ones that probably generate more creative campaigns and resonate better, because it's kind of the thing that everyone can say, "Yes, I do that," but they never talk about it.

Tim McEntaggart: What's great for me is having a senior marketing director talking and basically saying out loud the vision for how we want to be as an insights function at PepsiCo. We don't just want to be the guys who show up and assess stuff and test stuff and say, "Yes," "No," "Stop," "Go." It's about sparking and inspiring and getting to the rich insight that creates the work in the first place.

And then when we do classic market research with consumers to look at advertising, whether that's quant or qual, we're about nurturing the creative idea and making it better and assessing it and optimizing it. That's basically our philosophy on it. So we spark and inspire, but also when we have the tool to say, how good is this, we don't just use it to kill or proceed. It's about nurturing those ideas and making them bigger and better and more resonant for consumers.

It's about nurturing those ideas and making them bigger and better and more resonant for consumers.

- Tim McEntaggart

Fernando Kahane: It's very interesting, because it's a journey. But I have to say that so far there was no idea that started with a good insight that later failed in execution, or that we haven't been able to make work in execution. I think if you start with a good insight, execution will follow, and you can work with insights to refine, refine, refine.

Ryan Barry: That was always the problem with advertising research before technology gave us its gifts, because it was a test. You go back to your old days at Millward Brown, I don't think the intention was to be the homework grader. It was just the way that it played out, where it's like, "Hey, I got to go dark on you for several weeks and then I'll tell you if it's good or bad."

Tim McEntaggart: Yeah, exactly.

Ryan Barry: So Tim, talk a little bit about some of the stuff that you've curated to fuel the big idea, but also to help refine it.

Tim McEntaggart: We have a big consumer empathy program across Europe, where we speak to consumers every month in our top eight markets and we just listen to them. Now, more than ever, there's never been a greater need to actually understand what's going on in people's lives and the felt experience of this crazy world that we're living in. Because there’s lots of overused cliches, like we're all in the same storm but different boats, but really stuff has never been more volatile and fragmented.

But then in terms of the art development and the tools that we deploy, job one is to get the best possible tool. Make sure you're asking the right questions to the right people in the right way. That's what we do with our Amplify TV tool that we've developed with Zappi.

We make sure we're measuring the right things, it's validated as the right way of assessing reach, does the ad resonate, is it going to drive the response that we want? And then when you've got that tool, it's then all about what you do with it and the mentality. Tim Warner, our current VP, talks about the risk of these research quant tools for advertising being the condom of creativity.

Ryan Barry: That's hilarious.

Tim McEntaggart: That is absolutely what we want to avoid. It didn't come across well when he first said it. I think everyone was kind of scratching their head. But when you think about it, it can be the case.

Fernando Kahane: But I think a big difference as well is how we see testing. For a long time, you’d usually see an ad test as the last part of the process. It was really about, let's see if it works. The mentality, I think, is quite different. Now it’s: Let's see how it can make it better. It's very important that you shift this mindset... I think about the Christmas ad a year ago. The first test was awful. The results were awful. Probably, most companies would’ve killed this idea. But we thought it was something culturally relevant for Christmas, a time for sharing. And who owns Christmas globally? Mariah Carey.

Tim McEntaggart: We thought it was a really interesting idea, and he said, how do we make this work? I think this idea of freely moving from research as a way to validate to our way to learn, improve, refine, it's the big change.

Fernando Kahane: Yeah, I think creative excellence is about really putting your ego aside and putting consumers on the throne to hear what they are saying. I think there is a real change in the way we use research. And I think it's that journey, how we move from go, no-go, to an idea where we are learning to make the best ad that we can.

Tim McEntaggart: Just to build on that, I think how you work as well is super important. We sit around the data within a couple of days of having done the work, done the consumer research, and we say, what does this mean? What does this mean for our brand? Do we think there's potential here? How can we make this advertising better?

It's a totally transparent, open conversation, almost sitting around the table together with marketing and insights and the agency saying, how can we make this better? Not something that disappears that comes back as a formal set piece. So that, I think, is a catalyst for better creative, because you're honest with yourself.

Creative excellence is about really putting your ego aside and putting consumers on the throne to hear what they are saying. I think there is a real change in the way we use research. And I think it's that journey, how we move from go, no-go, to an idea where we are learning to make the best ad that we can.

- Fernando Kahane

Ryan Barry: That ‘ways of working’ point you make is so important, because we could make a tool that's faster, cheaper, but not change the way we work, and so we still are testing, not learning. So let's stay here for a minute, because I think this is the thing everybody's struggling with. There is a ‘how’ component. How do I get my agencies onside? How do I bring my insights team along? Obviously, you guys are way ahead. And Fernando is being modest. That Mariah Carey ad was brilliant.

So I guess take it from both sides. Fernando, you take it from what marketers and agency partners need to do. And then Tim, obviously, from a corporate insights department, what are the step changes people need to make?

Fernando Kahane: I think marketing agencies, to be honest, need to be humble and stay humble. I know that is quite simple and straightforward, but I think staying humble is how you create space to test and learn.

If you look at some of the ads that we have tested on Walkers, some of them I was really passionate about, some of them I was not. But even when I didn't believe in the creative ideas that agencies presented, I said, "Let's test. Let's learn. Let's see what customers are going to tell us. Maybe there is something there that I cannot see, or maybe there is something that we can leverage for the campaign."

Ryan Barry: What about marketers running brands? What are some things that you feel like, is it the same, be open to learning mentality? Are there changes you see in your peer group that are like, "Hey, folks, we need to do a better job at this," that are worth noting?

Fernando Kahane: At PepsiCo, we have a scale to assess the impact of the creative. This scale pretty much starts from something that is confusing, is not working, to something that is ownable, fresh, to something that is legendary. We used to think that some campaigns were on the rise to be cultural phenomenons or legendary advertising. I think we live in an era that all campaigns should be born to be contagious. All the brands, all the campaigns should be born to be legendary, no matter the budget, no matter what talent you're going to have in your campaign.

I think there is a mindset to what makes legendary advertising. Sometimes we think that it is about super production or having a talent, but I can tell you that it’s not. It's about finding fresh, creative angles to tell the story. Because the thing is, sometimes the story is quite simple, but the way you tell it matters. I can tell you an example:

We have a new campaign now that we are launching about sandwiches. Lunch is a big part of the consumption of crisps in the UK (or chips if you are in the US). We had a big opportunity to drive high penetration at lunchtime...We found out that 30% of Brits add crisps inside the sandwich. We found out that 30% hate to add crisps inside of a sandwich. They think this is awful. And the other 30% are sometimes in, sometimes out. So we created this whole campaign about, are you crisp in or crisp out? That itself is a great campaign. But we said, "How can we make that more culturally relevant?” We thought, who owns sandwiches in the UK, or even globally? And we decided to partner with Subway. During the campaign, you can eat your crisp in any sub in the UK. Last week we had a 15-minute session on a TV show in the UK talking about crisp sandwiches and talking about Walkers partnering with Subway.

So sometimes I think what we need to do more of is push ourselves to stop thinking that budget is a constraint to creativity and really think about how we move ideas to ownable territory, to a more culturally phenomenal or legendary territory.

Ryan Barry: That's awesome. So Tim, what do you think insights people need to do better to be the right type of partner for Fernando? What do we need to do to rise to this new time?

Tim McEntaggart: I think Fernando used a super important word, which is being open, and maybe it's being brave. Be prepared to not have a 100% correct answer, or to use a bit of what you've learned, a bit of the data, a bit of what you've heard, and your own judgment.

So being brave, being open to learning, I think, is hugely important. Another big one, we're particularly guilty of this, is just to be simple. Cut to the chase. What is it you're trying to say? I still see 50, 60-page PowerPoint decks, and I think, what are people going to actually do with this? So bring the consumer to the fore, be super simple.

And then I think there is one which is a lot more intangible, which is around organizational cultural shift, change management from the top down, that customer centricity is important and it's everybody's job. That's something we're trying to push. It means everybody should be obsessed with the consumer, whether you're in finance, sales, commercialization. Whatever your role is, the consumer is at the heart. Because if you don't listen, then you don't exist. These are things we're constantly working on.

We spend too much time trying to prove the idea instead of getting to good ideas.

- Fernando Kahane

Fernando Kahane: I think being simple is so important as an input and output as well. It's the same thing with an idea, if an idea is good. I was recently speaking with an agency on all the data and they said, "How can we better sell ideas to you?" I said, "You don't need to sell anything." If an idea is good, the idea sells itself. Sometimes you see one image and you say, "I get it. I love it." We spend too much time trying to prove the idea instead of getting to good ideas.

Ryan Barry: That's a good point. You should be spending more time on creativity, knowing that the consumer can ground it and help it make it better and everything else. And we, as an insights department, don't have to control the keys to it as much as we think we do.

Tim McEntaggart: Yeah, exactly. What you can't do with that is just totally relinquish all control and just say, "Right, go for it." You need to have a shared understanding of what matters, what are the key important things that we need to look at? You can't just pluck the numbers that look good and say, "Let's crack on and make this out."

But when you get to that shared understanding of the simple things that make great advertising, or even identify if you've got an insight that's going to spark legendary advertising in the first place, then you need to be brave and open and just get around the table and look at what you know and what you think and bring all of that stuff to the fore. So I totally agree. We kill a lot of stuff by being formulaic as an industry, I think.

Ryan Barry: The truth is there's still huge behavior change work to be done within the advertising agency community, because for years market research engagement equaled a scorecard of their work. I've lost count of how many times I've talked to planners, creative directors, who were like, "I want to be able to test something on a napkin and see how I make it better." That's always been the ask of the community. So to your point, Tim, it is now about level-setting and getting the teams to work together in a more productive way so that this can happen.

Tim McEntaggart: Exactly.

Ryan Barry: Gentleman, you've said it all. And I am, by the way, somebody who likes chips in my sandwich. How about you two?

Tim McEntaggart: I'm in. Crisp in or chips in, every time.

Fernando Kahane: After hearing so many consumers talking about crisp in, I became a crisp in guy.

Ryan Barry: I love me a Turkey sandwich with melted cheese in Cool Ranch Doritos smashed on a bun. It's pretty good. You got to try it sometime. Gentlemen, thank you so much for making the time. We really appreciate it.

Fernando Kahane: Thank you.

Tim McEntaggart: Thanks, Ryan.

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