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A Renegade's Guide to Marketing: Volatile Factors

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In this chapter from his book, The CMO's Periodic Table: A Renegade's Guide to Marketing, Drew Neisser shows you how to identify the elements that have high potential to precipitate trouble, making you much more able to handle them like a pro and nip disasters in the bud.
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If you’re far enough along in your career to have found this book, you already know that marketing isn’t for the faint of heart. We can apply all our smarts and experience to predict outcomes and anticipate surprises, but sometimes we just need to throw it all into the pot and stir it up.

Sometimes a million-dollar breakthrough bubbles to the surface, and sometimes...the whole thing goes boom. Hope you remembered to wear your safety goggles.

This is the volatility inherent in marketing. This is how we play with fire (or, if you prefer, Pop Rocks and Coke). And let’s be honest, this is a big part of what makes our jobs so much fun. No, there’s nothing fun about your campaign blowing up in your face. But once you’ve tasted the intense satisfaction of one of your big “mad scientist” bets paying off, you know it’s a risk worth running.

And there’s a big upside: Like any risk, this one can be mitigated. How? Step one is identifying the Volatile Factors that are part of modern marketing. Identifying the elements that have high potential to precipitate trouble makes you much more able to handle them like a pro and nip disasters in the bud. Step two is listening to what today’s most intrepid and level-headed marketing leaders have to say about turning the elements’ volatility from a cause for fear into a competitive advantage.

That’s what this section of the Periodic Table is about. Get set to make the acquaintance of eight folks who don’t waste time in their comfort zones, nor do they succumb to panic when things start to get hairy. These are men and women who are energized and inspired by Volatile Factors, as we all should be.

These natural leaders don’t shrink from the challenges presented by tiny budgets, retailer relationships, sharing creative control with agencies, and crisis management. They know that change is natural and good in marketing, and it’s also inevitable despite the potential disruption. To see this brought to life, look no further than this section’s no-holds-barred conversation with Barbara Goodstein on the whys and hows of changing agencies, a quintessentially volatile reality of our business.

Perhaps the embodiment of Volatile Factors is the topic that closes this section, crisis management. Doug Duvall’s cool head and deep, quiet confidence in the face of potentially brand-destroying chaos is something that we should all aspire to, no matter how big the crises we face day-to-day. And he’s very forthcoming with his methods in our interview.

But if you’re not staring down a crisis right now, please don’t skip to the end of the section. Because then you’ll miss my conversation with Terri Funk Graham, longtime CMO of Jack in the Box, who faced down a branding nightmare and won...with the vital help of an agency partner. Nor should you skip the insights of Julie Garlikov who truly did more marketing with less money at Torani, and shares how this elusive goal is possible for all of us.

Of course, there are more volatile factors than just these eight. But the mindsets and transferrable techniques you’re about to discover will equip you to manage them all with the poise a CMO needs for success.

A Pairing as Perfect as Burgers and Fries

  • “Approval by committee is the death of a campaign.”

Terri Funk Graham

Jack in the Box

For most CMOs, sharing creative control with outside agencies requires putting ego aside for the sake of the best final outcome...not to mention shouldering a share of the risk should the chosen agency miss the target. Often, it’s a less-than-appealing proposition.

But a big gamble was practically required when, over two decades ago, fast food chain Jack in the Box was facing a potential branding apocalypse in the wake of a nationally publicized E. coli outbreak. Looking to turn things around, the marketing team, along with the help of creative director Dick Sittig, who spun out of Chiat/Day into his own agency (Secret Weapon Marketing), brought back the beloved smiley-faced “Jack” character—who had been “killed off” in the 1980s.

Sparking a renewed engagement between customers and the brand, the “Jack” campaign endured for nearly two decades, much of that under then helm of CMO Terri Funk Graham, whose partnership with Dick Sittig remains a model for highly productive client/agency collaborations. Here’s how they did it.

Can you describe how the Jack Campaign came about?

Well, it came out of the E. coli crisis back in 1995. The reality was the company needed to do something to revitalize the brand and make the brand relevant again in the marketplace. So it came from a crisis. When you’re in a situation like that, you’re willing to put a lot more on the line. I think it actually drove the ability to take more risks.

How did the campaign launch?

The very first spot had some controversy around it because it showed Jack coming back. He’d had plastic surgery and he blew up the boardroom, because the folks from the boardroom are the ones who blew him up in the ’80s. So Jack reintroduced himself in the marketplace as coming back, better than before, and he was going to be a big advocate for the consumers.

What was Dick Sittig’s role?

Dick was really the creative mastermind behind the Jack campaign. We constantly challenged him to keep Jack relevant, and because he used this sense of humor that was a bit unconventional and irreverent, he kept rising to the occasion. Of course, he’s Jack’s voice in the ads. He had done the voice for the initial pitch, and then we hired an actor to do it for the ads. But there was this gradual realization that everyone liked Dick’s voice more, so that’s what we ended up sticking with.

What does it take to keep a campaign like this together for so long?

One is that I was always willing to take a risk and be unapologetic about who we were. Dick Sittig would present things that would make us feel uncomfortable. But we knew that it wasn’t going to hurt the brand as long as we were true to who we were. I am not a believer in dealing with any sort of pretesting of advertising, and we never did anything of that nature. One key reason I don’t like to pretest is that we live in a politically correct world where you’re always guaranteed to upset someone, which can hold you back from developing great creative work. I also think that approval by committee is the death of a campaign. You end up with mediocre work that way. Dick and I truly trusted and respected each other in our work, and we would constantly challenge each other to keep it relevant.

Were there any other factors instrumental to this relationship?

The account director at Secret Weapon Marketing—Joanne O’Brien—was a critical, integrated part of my leadership team. Joanne and her team spent two or three days every week at headquarters.

What do you think were some of your most risky efforts?

Running Jack over...that was a trying moment. We were essentially taking the biggest brand equity that the company had, Jack, and putting him on the line to see if people cared. Because if they didn’t care that he got hit by a bus, we were going to be in trouble. So we took a chance and introduced “Jack Gets Hit by a Bus” in 2009. It proved to be quite a success.

How did you develop that campaign?

We only showed the ad one time and it was on the Super Bowl. And then everything went digital and social from there. That was our way of stepping into the whole social media arena. So all of a sudden it got millions of views on YouTube, and it was talked about all over the place. We had amazing press and impressions on that. We had people sending cards, teddy bears, and flowers for Jack’s recovery. Then we created a storyline. Multiple ads followed up that talked about how he was doing. It became a campaign within a campaign.

So what about the hallucinating kid who sees Jack on his dashboard? That must have stirred things up.

Yes it did. We really wanted to focus on selling our 99-cent tacos. There is a real following to those tacos. Young people, after they’ve gone to the clubs, tend to head to Jack’s for their tacos. So we played off of that, if you will. We had a young guy in a van come up and he wanted to order as many as 30 tacos. Needless to say, that got quite a bit of attention.

You took a rather unique approach to handling the protestors, right?

Well, that’s true. We had heard that these protestors and media were going to show up at our corporate headquarters. At that time, we had grass all around the building so that afternoon I suggested we turn on the sprinklers! I thought it was a good way of stalling their activities and sure enough, after we became a “water park” no more protestors showed up the rest of the week.

Further reading:

David Ogilvy, Ogilvy on Advertising

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