The push-pull between achieving scale while delivering ads that are more personalized and relevant to consumers has long dogged packaged good marketers that oversee up to dozens of brands. Procter & Gamble in 2017 famously pulled back on targeted Facebook ads, believing them to be an ineffective tactic even as messages were informed by more granular behaviors.
Four years later, the category still contends with many of the same headaches while also grappling with the deprecation of key ways of keeping tabs on consumers online, namely third-party cookies. At Mondelez, executives have implemented a strategy that looks to evolve past the idea of "personalization at scale" by narrowing in on the concept of empathy — an increasingly common theme in the sector that competitors, including PepsiCo, have also endorsed.
"If we were going to ultimately go from being a $25 billion company to being a $50 billion company, marketing was going to have to pull a lot of weight," Jon Halvorson, global vice president of consumer experience at Mondelez International, said during an Advertising Week panel moderated by Innovid Wednesday.
"When we looked at ourselves, we were big on mass reach. We targeted everyone who had a mouth, and we showed everyone the exact same message," he added. "When we really reflect on that, that doesn't make sense. I think every CPG marketer intuitively knows that that doesn't make sense."
The strategy for Mondelez now is to communicate human qualities without falling back on audience targeting tactics like mirroring that land in a "creepy chasm" that turns people off in an era of heightened privacy awareness, per Halvorson. In November last year, Mondelez dubbed its newfangled outlook on marketing "humaning," a turn of phrase that drew jeers from some industry watchers.
In threading a particularly tricky needle, the company has tried to better iron out the purpose of its individual brands without strictly defining that quality around the social or political causes with which purpose is typically associated. Persevering a degree of "human tension," to quote Halvorson, was also viewed as essential to avoid creating a position that's not overly saccharine or manufactured-feeling.
"Not every brand purpose needs to be to save the ocean ... When you look at Oreo, it's about playful connections, when you look at Cadbury it's in generosity," Halvorson said. "Our best brands — Oreo, Cadbury, Ritz Crackers — they know who they are now, and you just see it continually work and you see it in the creative support, you see it in the ROI and then ultimately [sales]."
And Mondelez sales have been strong throughout the pandemic, up 12.4% year-on-year in the second quarter to $6.6 billion. At a time when more of the industry is shifting focus to performance-driven media and utilitarian messaging, the executive's comments also affirmed the power of smart creative execution and brand-building.
"One way to drive efficiency is actually the creative excellence," Halvorson said before illustrating by example. He said that if Ritz and Oreo activated on the same platform, targeting the same audiences in the same time frames, Oreo would ultimately pay lower rates due to its "higher creative excellence."
"Creative is one of my greatest levers to lower my costs," said Halvorson. "As I personalize and I increase my relevance to consumers, I am rewarded with lower media costs over time."
Mondelez's larger "empathy at scale" project technically launched at the tail end of 2020, but had the groundwork laid over years, speaking to the often slow turn of gears at sprawling international marketers.
"I'd like to think that it takes one year to get everything down one level of the organization," Halvorson said.
The executive stated Mondelez oversees 852 brand-country combinations, with roughly nine brands making up 50% of sales and then another 45 accounting for the other half. In terms of marketing, those products invariably produce high volumes of assets, which has put a bigger mandate on automation tools that can help speed up the execution process.
"You don't have time to review 1,000 assets, you don't have time to version all of it out," said Halvorson, before dinging what he viewed as shiny-toy solutions.
"Where are we going to get the unlock from it?" he added. "It's not going to be by mirroring or demographics. It's not going to be from weather, it's not going to be from sports scores. You can do all that, but that's a 20% lift. I want double."
Instead, Mondelez has tried to prioritize media simplicity and a smaller partnership purview, an approach other CPGs have pursued in the quest for greater agility. The Oreo owner had 100 partners in the U.S. alone in 2017, when the seeds of the empathy at scale project started to be planted. Today, it has fewer than 100 partners globally, according to Halvorson, including just five creative agencies consolidated under WPP and Publicis.
"Simplifying what we do in media allows us to do the complexity elsewhere,” said Halvorson, noting that he's averse to the idea of a 360-degree campaign, believing it quickly leads to diminishing returns.
"In all of your marketing models, you are allowed to have a certain level of complexity somewhere; you cannot have complexity everywhere, otherwise you will be average everywhere," he said.