Bedbury laments loss of creative core in many firms

JAIPUR: “There has been a hollowing out of the creative core in most companies.”

That, in a nutshell, was what Scott Bedbury, CEO of Brandstream and the man who drove two of the most visibly successful brand strategies in recent business history - Nike's "Just Do It" campaign and Starbucks' reinvention of the coffee category – said lay at the root of all the problems facing the advertising and media industry. Brand success and brand longevity in particular depended on continuous reinvention and creativity.



Scott Bedbury

Bedbury stressed the point that Starbucks was due for a brand reinvention, especially since the competition was gaining ground.

The line Bedbury took was a complete antithesis of yesterday’s hardball talk delivered by Sergio Zyman, former chief marketing officer of Coke. According to Zyman, what was lacking today was clarity of purpose in marketing and advertising. Marketing is science not art, the principal purpose of which was “to sell more stuff to more people for money and more efficiently.”

Zyman made it amply clear that he didn’t have much time for the creative in his comment that, “You build the brand through consumption and not through winning awards.”

One of Nike's 'Just Do It' ads

Bedbury’s response, “It’s a nice line to use when you want to acquire clients for your consulting business.” The fact that there was little love lost between the two was amply borne out when Bedbury, in a private conversation with this writer, referred to Zyman as an “acquired taste.”

Bedbury’s recipe for results was not less of creative, but more of it. “The team that has the most creative people and manages them well, will succeed,” he said. “The aim should be to create an environment in which creative people thrive,” which was essential to successfully managing a company, he added. Bedbury took up the example of Coke to press the point when he remarked that if Coke were to cut its advertising budget, the company would probably be able to cruise without barely a blip for the first year.

But from year two, the fall would be steep and painful, he said. And once market share was lost, it would be more than doubly hard to regain lost ground.

Bedbury recounted his experience with Nike to make his point. When he joined Nike in 1987, it was a distant Number 3. The story of Nike and its agency Wieden and Kennedy and the creation of the 'Just Do It' campaign has been well documented. But the key message that went out to within the company was that there was a respect for intuition and personal creativity linked to a very high level of accountability.

"You can take brilliant creative minds and mismanage them. It is very hard to discipline creativity but it has to be managed," Bedbury said.

And while Bedbury was clearly against creativity for creativity’s sake (a point more than one speaker made over the last two days), he also faulted clients’ “obsession with relentless research that beat the living daylights out of an idea.”

In this, he likened the over dependence on focus groups to that of unnecessary spending on very expensive toilet paper. The objective being to cover the behind in case the ad fell flat.

This also provides an exit avenue for the creator of a lousy campaign in that he/she can always hide behind the fact that research had cleared the concept.

So what is Bedbury’s recipe for building a “new brand world?” Brand development has to be looked at as a 10-year plan with a clear set of brand initiatives – no more than five or six for each company, he says. And every employee from CEO to receptionist should feel she/he has a stake in the process.

Absolute “no-nos”? Lack of respect for intuition, over-focus on short-term profits (the quarter to quarter syndrome), low pay and the squeezing of margins by clients to a point where mediocre work is almost guaranteed.

“For best results, dig deep, slow and wide around your brand,” he exhorts. The Starbucks example is a case in point. Before the actual work of reinventing the brand went on-stream, a broad spectrum ethnocentric survey that covered 12 countries was carried out. The survey covered everything from lifestyle choices, to music. It was only after this sociographic profiling had been done that the question of what the consumer wanted out of the coffee experience came into play.

So there it is. Respect intuition, do not over-focus on short term profits, continuous reinvention and creativity tied in to a very high level of long-term accountability is the Bedbury way to go.

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