Mars CMO blasts clients for locking agencies in 'creative imprisonment'

Bruce McColl.
Bruce McColl.

Bruce McColl cites low pay, creative restrictions and stifling bureaucracy

Too many brands are keeping their agencies in "creative imprisonment," said Bruce McColl, Mars global CMO, at the Australian Association of National Advertisers conference today.

Low pay, creative restrictions and stifling bureaucracy are preventing agencies from doing their best work, he said. McColl called upon clients to reevaluate their agency relationships and ask themselves if they’re providing the respect an empowered creative partner requires.

"Are we creating conditions where they are prisoners, or are we creating conditions where they can perform at their ultimate ability and we can have mutual success?" he asked. "We have to free our agency relationships from creative imprisonment."

Speaking at the annual gathering in Sydney, McColl pointed the finger at brands that seek to pay as little as possible for agency work, yet expect them to offer best-in-class creative. "We want our agency partners to make a good profit," he said. "If they don't, they can't recruit the best people to work on our business."

"We know creative makes an impact on our profit," he continued, "so we need to make sure we’re giving them enough money to reward their own team."

But paying them fairly is only a start, he said. Agencies must also feel secure in the relationship if they are to produce quality work. "The guiding principle is for them to have predictability of revenue, to make sure they are fed and can reward the best talent."

"I can't understand how anyone expects to get good work from partners if they are under constant threat of dismissal," he continued. "We don't want a culture of fear and dismissal from our agencies."

He criticized brands — Mars included — for placing too many creative strictures on agencies. To illustrate his point, he showed a commercial for Wrigley’s Extra gum that was made several years ago using a strict formula that the brand imposed on its creative partners. The ad followed the rules (show the package, include the message), but "didn’t work" because it lacked creativity.

He then showed an ad for the same brand, released earlier this month, that was produced from a "freedom brief," meaning the agency was encouraged to "break rules and unleash creativity," he said. That spot, produced by BBDO Chicago, has already been viewed more than 10 million times on YouTube.

"You need to have your agency give input and to let them challenge you," McColl said.

On the creative side, Mars has lately consolidated most of its accounts with BBDO and DDB. Last year it consolidated its media-buying business with MediaCom.

McColl’s comments come in stark contrast to those of PepsiCo’s Brad Jakeman, president of the global beverages group, at this month’s Association of National Advertisers conference in Orlando. Jakeman delivered a controversial speech that criticized ad agencies for failing to adapt to new marketing realities, warning that the agency model was in danger of breaking.

"The big kind of global alignment agency is a dinosaur concept," Jakeman said. "The big issue is, are we as an industry, on both the agency and the client side, structured to be able to deliver this?" He even suggested dispensing with the term "agency" because it no longer carried significant meaning.

McColl’s "freedom brief" approach was brought to life earlier this year through Mars’ work with BBDO in launching its first-ever global campaign for Pedigree. After more than a year of trying to evolve the brand’s existing campaign, "We’re For Dogs," into a global idea, the creative team settled on a single idea, "Feed the Good," that individual BBDO offices around the world have been given creative license to interpret for their individual markets.

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