It’s time to reveal the Power 100 2021 – Campaign’s pick of the 100 most influential marketers. In this issue, we’re celebrating their achievements, looking at what lies ahead and getting them to take the temperature of this new – and still shifting – consumer environment in which they now operate, due to Covid-19’s unwelcome and ongoing presence.
The defining story of last year’s Power 100 was brands putting purpose into action to help fight the pandemic. Whether it was BrewDog making hand sanitiser or Samsung distributing free handsets to NHS workers, 2020 was the year of not just saying but actually doing.
In tandem with this, to varying degrees, brands also bolstered their activism, pledging their support to movements such as Black Lives Matter and efforts to combat the climate crisis or throwing their weight behind Marcus Rashford’s laudable campaigning to fight food poverty.
Fast-forward to now and, while the scars of 2020 remain and will for some time, brands are figuring out how to survive and thrive in a post-pandemic world.
The Power 100 2021 cohort has emerged imbued with grittiness, uncovered during a year when the old ways of doing things were swept away and woolly wishes to move fast became mandatory.
While I’m certain they would wish away the pandemic in a heartbeat, it’s apparent that these marketers believe the conditions forced upon them have improved some aspects of how they work.
Asked to share their thoughts on the challenges ahead, Paddy Power’s Michelle Spillane implores brands to keep the “sharpened level of focus” on digital transformation.
“The pandemic gave us all the impetus to challenge not only the timeframes for delivery of key digital enhancements for our businesses, but it also put digital firmly at the heart of our thinking for customer centricity. We need to solidify this approach and double down on it,” she says.
Similarly, TUI’s Katie McAlister is eager to keep “the pace, agility, sense of urgency” and the “care and empathy” that has emerged over the past 18 months.
This year’s Power 100 also display a keen awareness of the need – more than ever – to place themselves at the centre of culture, with sitting on the sidelines in a world brimming with knotty issues no longer being an option.
At Unilever, this has acted as a catalyst for a new marketing philosophy, “Get on the frontline”. While its emphasis on doing good means it’s not wholly distinct from the FMCG giant’s longstanding commitment to purposeful communications, there’s a harder edge.
Launched at Cannes Lions in June by Unilever’s Conny Braams and Aline Santos, both of whom once again made the Power 100 list, the initiative has as its premise the idea that consumers care little about advertising. So there is a need for the industry to “burst the marketing bubble” and get closer to their real lives. Furthermore, Braams and Santos believe brands can and should fill the gaps left by governments and NGOs to solve society’s ills. While these may sound like high-minded, lofty ideals, there’s a recognition from the pair that the plan will work only if their brands are creatively famous and accessible.
Not sure what this means in practice? “Reverse selfie”, a campaign for Dove created by Ogilvy London that turns its fire on the harmful effect selfie culture has on young girls, epitomises the approach, Braams revealed. If “Get on the frontline” results in more work like this, Unilever’s marketers will be well on their way to achieving their goals.
So congratulations to all who made the Power 100 this year. Agile, grounded, focused, empathetic and determined, you’ve changed and it’s for the better.
Gemma Charles is deputy editor of Campaign