Content Marketing on a Planetary Scale (from Mars)

an interview with
Rob Rakowitz Global Director of Media, Mars

By 5pm, I’m typically famished. If we don’t eat dinner until 8 or so, I’m approaching demonic, ready to rage at the slightest provocation especially if it threatens to come between me and my pointy fork. So you can picture the scene the other night at an otherwise lovely restaurant as our persnickety waiter decided to take several minutes to describe the white wine reduction sauce with locally grown shallots in interminable detail. Let’s just say I wasn’t in my happy place.

I tell you all of this because my interview below with Rob Rakowitz, Global Director of Media at Mars is a feast of insights on content marketing you’ll want to ingest without delay. Rob, by the way, was a winner of the Content Marketing award from The CMO Club. In the spirit of an amuse-bouche, here are a few of the delectable nuggets to seek out in the passages below:

  • How Uncle Ben’s tested its way to success with video content
  • Why Whiskas created Kitten Kollege
  • Why even big brands need to stay opportunistic with their media budgets

Drew: Media is a really hard and complicated job these days. It must be very challenging to sort all of these choices out for all of these different brands.

Rob: Absolutely, it is. And the main thing that you can actually do in a very large global organization is give teams the resources to navigate because we are dealing in a complex world especially in terms of the multitudes of tradeoffs and the marketplace pitfalls. And then you shift over to the dialog on measurement, viewability, fraud, agency compensation – there is never a dull moment in the media business! And the only thing that you can do in this role is really equipping teams with the right navigation tools so that they can actually wade into this unknown and increasingly complex territory and be able to actually drive growth from it.

Drew: Tell me one story about you in your personal life or professional life that will help me understand what makes you tick?

Rob: I’m part of a competitive cycling team and these days there’s a lot of data available thanks to the Internet of things and sensors that can help analyze individual and team performances. I love being able to distill this data down to useful information, which is pretty much the same thing I do when I’m in the office. And of course, cycling brings multiple functions together just like the office. This is especially true when approach a big race, having people on a team actually work together in a high-performance capacity, determining distinct roles, much in the way that you would for launching a really great campaign. I have found it really helps to bring multiple perspectives around the table. Also from racing comes the understanding that there are certain points in times that you’ve got to peak. For brands, this means being able to actually stand for something that you recognize and knowing when is the right time to engage in topical social media and moments in culture that actually matters.

Drew: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received from a peer and how has that influenced your career.

Rob: Keep things simple. Media is starting to hit more and more functions both within marketing and outside of it so it would be easy to make things complicated. I find that the more you can simplify down what it is that we’re trying to do from a vision perspective, the better an idea travels.

Drew: You received The CMO Club award for Content Marketing. What’s your overall approach to content?

Rob: We’ve done some absolutely fantastic content programs for Uncle Ben’s, Pedigree and Snickers. These brands truly understand that they need to reach more and more consumers and the way that they’re going to do that is not just by throwing advertising out there, but it’s by actually really figuring out what is their brand’s purpose, what is understanding culture and how can they actually provide the solution that brings the brand, consumer and customer together. It’s what I really like to call that idea of 4C Conversion, where we bring consumers, customers, communications and commerce closer together.

Drew: Let’s talk about Uncle Ben’s because I think some readers might scratch their heads and say, wait, Uncle Ben’s has a purpose?

Rob: Uncle Ben’s is about helping consumers make sure that they’re making great food choices, on a daily basis. It’s really interesting because when you get into the data. We find out that consumers who start meals with rice are more likely to choose a lean protein or a vegetable to go along with it. This actually leads to healthier outcomes from an eating perspective. And that’s actually what stands behind a lot of what we do from a content perspective and with a program like Ben’s Beginners, which aims to get kids and parents cooking together.

Drew: Got it. So what did you end up doing for Uncle Ben’s?

Rob: In the UK is we had this new ready-to-heat product that comes in this little pouch and is really quick and easy to make. What we found out was that consumers weren’t aware of it; they didn’t see it as being relevant. So luckily enough, we had smart agency folks and smart marketing folks — BBDO, MediaCom, and then our own internal associates, what we call our triads, working together. And what they decided is that a typical TV spot would fail, because it wasn’t going to reach the right audience and it wasn’t going to overcome the relevancy issue. So what we ended up doing was creating a series of short videos. Then we put them up online, looked at the behavior metrics, figured out which videos were popping and what recipes were actually working. The video idea, by the way, centered around a celebrity chef who shows up at a park, starts cooking meals, engages people who are living healthy and active lifestyles and shows them in two minutes how to actually cook a healthy meal.

Drew: Fun idea. What then?

Rob: With these eight videos that we had out there, we looked at the performance metrics. We then figured out how to take that two-minute video and cut it down to 30’s, which we could put on TV and various social channels (Twitter, Facebook and Instagram). It was a very content-driven idea backed up by behavioral data. We were able to use social media to make sure the content was as personal as possible. And it actually yielded some really nice business results for us.

Drew: Interesting that the whole program wasn’t 100% digital and that you ended up deploying TV as well?

Rob: I think that any marketer worth their salt today knows that if you’re dealing with mass audiences and mass reach, I think it’s not a question of “or” but it’s a question of “and.” What you want to have is a video-neutral approach where you’re thinking about multiple channels in combination. Are there certain brands where a digital-only approach will make sense? Absolutely. But for Uncle Ben’s, a combination of TV and digital was optimal.

Drew: How did you measure the success of the Uncle Ben’s program?

Rob: The two measures that we’re obsessed with are reach and sales. First, we look at the overall reach of the content program. And then also did some testing to actually make sure that there was a positive lift in sales. That’s generally, the way that we look at measurement. Now, within the campaign we look at behavioral metrics including likes, shares and comments. What we did for Uncle Ben’s was 100 percent behavioral, digital metrics that are available to a lot of marketers. And the question is are we truly leaning into those as the marketing community and embracing it as much as we could and should be. And I think that’s very much an agenda I had where a lot of my colleagues out there is taking more and more advantage of things and to drive better planning strategy and activation.

Drew: Let’s talk about what you did for Whiskas.

Rob: For Whiskas, we actually rolled out one of our first global content plays. Recognizing that people who are adopting cats or kittens rather weren’t equipped with all of the knowledge and insights that they should have as new pet owners, we created Kitten Kollege. Featuring irreverent tongue-in-check videos, we equipped kitten parents with all of the insight that they needed to understand the life stages and the leaps forward that their kitten is going through. Partnering with Google and YouTube and eventually some of our retail partners in local markets, we raised the brand’s profile, simultaneously educating and entertaining and then closing the gap with commerce.

Drew: I love that story because it fits into a framework that I call Marketing as Service in which marketing actually has value, inherent value, both obviously the entertainment but also the education. One thing that someone might say is well, you educated everybody about kittens, but what connects that to the brand Whiskas?

Rob: We did that via a serial content series that was done with a lot of the insights from our Pet Institute in Waltham, UK. This is where a lot of our pet research happens. So a lot of the insights that we shared were actually proprietary to Mars and we were able to connect that back to Whiskas.

Drew: So you mentioned global for Whiskas–did that mean that Kitten Kollege got translated into multiple languages?

Rob: Yes, it did. And we have been rolling it out market by market. In certain markets, I think we have it dubbed and other markets we actually have it subtitled. But yes, it is a global program.

Drew: From a media perspective standpoint, give me two “do’s” and one “don’t” for 2017.

Rob: First on my do list–get obsessed over the business challenge. Don’t be lazy about briefing the agency and really being able to uncover where your growth would be coming from and how that translates down to a real tangible consumer behavior. My second do — embrace the ability to be agile. Don’t plan your full budget to the last cent, hold some funds back for a timely opportunity. And my don’t — don’t message push. Think about creating an experience and a solution.

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