Our Impact


Episode 04: Bruce McColl (former CMO Mars)

This episode should be mandatory listening for every CMO, aspiring CMO or for all who interact with CMO’s. Learn from Bruce’s remarkable tenure of over a decade in the CMO role at Mars and discover how he came to apply scientific approaches to the marketing functions – and how these became part of everyday culture at Mars. The approach took Mars from seeing about 40% of its ads working effectively (measured through best-in-class single source data) to well over 70% being effective following the new approaches – delivering benefits on many fronts. An episode you won’t want to miss!


Duane: Legends of Media Research is a podcast series featuring interviews with the media industry’s leading researchers, where we go behind the scenes sharing stories from their greatest achievements and challenges. Brought to you by MediaScience, the leader in media and advertising innovation research.

Stay tuned at the end of the podcast for more information about MediaScience, but for now, I’m your host, MediaScience CEO, Dr. Duane Varan.

Welcome to another exciting episode of Legends of Media Research. I’m really excited today because we have a true legend in our midst in Bruce McColl, who’s the former CMO of Mars.
You know, we talk about this exclusive club that we have within our legends of people who generated at least a billion dollars in value to their company. There’s no question that Bruce falls within that camp. In fact, by my [00:01:00] estimation, he was doing about half that on an annual basis every year, and you’ll discover why.

As we go into the podcast today, Bruce is one of those people who I think every CMO should really learn from. There are lessons in today’s podcast that I think every CMO and everybody who interacts with CMOs would really benefit from. So I think you’re going to really enjoy today’s podcast.

So, Bruce, without further ado, thank you for joining us on Legends of Media Research. You truly are a legend and we’re thrilled to have this opportunity to get to interview you.

Bruce: Thanks, Duane. I’m not sure about the legend monigot, [Duane laughs] but I’m happy to be here. Always good to talk to you.

Duane: I was joking with you because, you know, when I asked Bruce to do the show, he said, ‘I don’t know if I’m a legend’.

And I said, ‘you see, that’s the difference between an Australian and an American. You know, the Australian says, “I don’t know if I’m a legend”. And the American says, “don’t you have a category for super legends?”’


So, welcome to the show. Bruce, now, you [00:02:00] know, your career is remarkable. I mean, almost all of your career, except for your first job for maybe five or six years, really the rest of your career was with Mars. With one company. How did you go from your entry level job, which as I understand it, was really as a brand manager for kind of like a second tier brand, within the Mars community.

How did you go from, you know, getting a job as a marketing manager kind of in Australia, you know, all the way to becoming global CMO at Mars? How did that happen?

Bruce: I really scratch my head often try and figure out that as well. I think I put a lot down to, you know, when you see opportunities, you respond to them.

Yeah. There was never a structured glide path for me to get from one role to the next. But I think if you continue to enjoy what you’re doing, you continue to learn and when opportunities present themselves and you’ll say, ‘I’m read the move’, and your family really have to figure out the– [laughs] The contribution of the family who are sitting happy to move from Australia to New Zealand, to Russia, to England, all around the [00:03:00] world. Then you can take advantage of those opportunities.

Duane: Now, the pivot really in your career really was your appointment to the Russian gig for Mars. Maybe you can tell us a little bit a about.

Bruce: Sure. As it was, I look back and I think that probably transformed my thinking from a purist brand manager, marketing thinking to really understanding what you need to do to manage a business. And I was on a massive steep learning curve and surrounded by really incredibly capable people there. But you know, about a month after I landed in Russia, and after a week my family joined me, the Russian economy collapsed. That was back in 1998.

And that was just an amazing period of time, both individually and personally. And how do you cope with that when, you know, basically you’ve, you’ve moved to a country under one scenario and then, you know, it’s very different. And from a business point of view, Mars was, you know, as a privately owned firm, [00:04:00], it had taken a long term view on Russia and had invested hundreds of millions of dollars. So we’re on track that year to make our first ever profit.

But in the space of three or four months, we were lost over 50 million dollars. So, you know, it’s a significant impact from a country the size of Russia. And I think what was unique was that we had the owners at the time– the owners of the business who were also running the business at the time, John and Forrest Mars visited us and their feedback was liberating.

They said, ‘we’re here for the long term. We can absorb some losses’. And you had publicly listed companies pulling out of Russia, and they told us double down. So, you know, you need to find the solutions. You need to find, how you’re gonna sustain a business that is just basically been cut by 70%, and how do you regrow that?

But we had, the luxury of being a privately owned business and said, ‘we’re looking 10 years, 20 years out, and the investments we wanna make now are gonna be payout in that time’. And it [00:05:00] has. So Russia’s a very important market for Mars.


Duane: So you went on, I think around 2006, you got elevated into the CMO role you held for a good decade before you retired. Now a decade is a long time in CMO lifespan. [Bruce laughs] CMOs are generally measured in, you know, two years. Ten years, you know, a decade. I mean, that was a long haul.

But, you know, Bruce, I want to tell you. The first time I met you, you had invited me to speak at an event that you had in a gorgeous chale outside of Paris in France. That was really special. And I remember how impressed I was by you. Not, you know, not just by, you know, your swagger. I mean, you’re a very cool guy.

Not just your swagger and the talks that you gave, which were very inspiring, but I want you to know what it was. [00:06:00] It wasn’t actually you, it was the team that you had and the extent to which your religion was infused in the way they then looked at the world, and what I mean by that, Bruce, is that you came to Mars. I mean, you evolved at Mars, and developed a very particular view about the role of empirical generalization in science and how decision making needs to be governed by that that evidence.

And you know, it’s one thing for a leader to hold that view. It’s something entirely different to see that very particular worldview infused in the way the team thinks about stuff. More particularly at Mars because Mars is actually a relatively decentralized kind of company. You know, it’s not the kind of corporation where you have this central think kind of like prevail. These are independent thinkers who have drank the [00:07:00] Kool-Aid [Bruce laughs] and came to to believe in your particular worldview.

And of course, that was highly impactful for the organization. But I remember thinking how impressed I was that here is a leader, a CMO, who has all these people in this room who share his particular worldview and that is just such a huge achievement. And, you know, the achievements that you scored from Mars were not just on the empirical side of what you did.
It was also what you did to the culture at Mars. And we really want to talk about that in today’s podcast, about how it is that you actually helped cultivate a very particular kind of culture and an environment around how things were done, not just around kind of like a lot of the crucial decisions, you know, that went in.

Bruce: I think that probably sums up the Mars leadership culture as well. Because we, as you said, we’re a very decentralized organization. ‘We’, I’m still saying ‘we’ five years after leaving. [Duane laughs] They’re a very decentralized [00:08:00] organization. That means you’ve got a small peak amount of people in the center and it also means that you can do things yourself.


So I remember the first lesson I got as a brand manager for a pharmaceutical firm I was working with: I was a pretty competitive brand manager, [laughs] I used to, you know, go up and fight the colleagues, do all that type of thing. And my marketing director pulled me aside and he gave me this piece of advice.


So it was very early in my career. And he said ‘your personal success is gonna be wholly dependent upon what you can encourage and get people to do around you, not what you do yourself’. And that stuck with me. It took awhile for me to learn about that, [laughs] but I realized when I came into the CMO role, that we’ve got thousands of marketing associates around the world making decisions every day that I cannot possibly think to get involved in, but I had to figure out a way to influence it.


So selling the culture was very important. And the team that you saw, the leadership team from each of the segments, they came on that [00:09:00] journey with me and I think that was it the key thing. It wasn’t me discovering this myself and going out and saying, you know, from top of the mountain, ‘this is how you shall do it’.


It was, you know, opening the doors and letting them come and discover the things that I had time to learn about as well. I think that is a key element that if everybody’s part of that discovery and feel comfortable to put their hand up and say, hang on, ‘you know, I’m not comfortable with this area. I wanna challenge this area’, then you get to a better place.



Duane: Now let’s go back in your journey. You came into the role as CMO and you walk into this new gig, and of course, you’re going to– you’re trying to figure out what your approach is gonna be about. Somewhere along the way you discovered the Ehrenberg Bass Institute and their particular, you know, religion, again around marketing as a science and about this evidence, you know, that has to be there to kind of like guide those decisions.

I understand that when you first encountered, you know, Byron and the [00:10:00] team at Ehrenberg Bass, you had a little bit of a tussle with them. [Bruce laughs] You didn’t quite buy into a lot of what they were saying.


Bruce: No, you se, I was very– I mean it’s, and again, you know, serendipity. These things connect. About a year earlier I was VP of Marketing for Petcare in Europe. And so yeah, my career was pretty well established by that phase. But we’d invited Ehrenberg Bass and another guy, Thomas Bain.

Byron and Thomas Bain, they come in and run sessions for us called Creating Australia Desire. And they were basically there to challenge us. But Byron, for those that have not met Byron, he doesn’t hold back in terms of when he sees something and he believes something. So he spent a couple of days basically telling us we were wasting the Mars family money.

We were not doing appropriate marketing approach. We didn’t really know how brands grow or how you should invest behind them. And he got under most of our skins, he got under my skin. And I spent the next three months going back and looking at data from a point of view I’d never looked [00:11:00] at before, trying to prove him wrong.

And much to my horror at first, I realized that he was right. 50% of what I’d done before was ill informed and it changed my whole approach. Not many markets come up from a scientific background, so just having the discipline of how do you look at data, coming up with a hypothesis, going out and testing it and learning from that isn’t something that you are taught.

So, you know, that was a big shock for me. And then a year later I roll up on the first day of my job at CMO and I sit down with the other, the other team on the leadership team, members of leadership team and ask them, ‘what can marketing do better?’ And I’ll always remember the response I got from the CFO, Olivier Goudet, a French guy who’s incredibly bright, and he said, ‘listen, brother. Yeah. I have a lot of respect for marketing. You guys do a great job. You know, you really [00:12:00] drive our media and our advertising and yeah, produce brilliant ads. And I sat and I said, ‘come on, I’m not the chief advertising officer. I wanna be thinking we have a bigger influence than just, “what’s the next ad we do?”’

And he looked at me and he said, ‘listen, there are certain individuals I have a lot of respect for. Our CEO at the time was an ex marketer, brilliant guy, Paul Michaels and Olivia said, ‘if you put 10 marketers in a room and ask them how do you grow a business, you’ll get 11 different answers back’. [Duane laughs]
And he said, ‘I see this all the time, but there is no you framework to sit there and say, “this is what drives growth”’. And so when I combined those two things a year earlier with Byron challenging me around the frameworks for growth and the evidence of how things grow, and then Olivia basically saying he doesn’t trust marketers to have an input on growth because it depends on who you talk to.

You get, you know, 180 degree different philosophy . That kind of set my whole agenda for the next 10 years, which was how do we drive an [00:13:00] evidence-based culture that, you know, the CFO can look at and say, ‘I trust you have credibility coming to the table to talk about growth’.

And so we had to align the organization around an evidence-based approach to doing that. And evidence for me… I hear this word, this term banded around, ‘evidence-based’ is not this thing, listening to a couple of folks’ groups and coming back and saying, ‘yeah, I’ve got 12 people saying I love to do this’.

Evidence is actually: yeah, you can actually get some repeatability around what you perceive. Classic science, you know, you see something happening, you repeat it, you repeat it, and that gives you predictability. And you know, when we’re sitting and managing a large multinational business and figuring out where we spend billions of dollars of resources, you want some level of predictability when you’re spending somebody’s– spend these money on that.



Duane: And I think you’re raising a really important principle, and again, this is one that I would implore the audience to really spend some time [00:14:00] reflecting on and not just kind of like think they understand this cause it’s such an important part to your story. Certainly that not all data is the same, that when we say evidence-based, that doesn’t mean just data.

There are a lot of people who are going out there getting lots of data. Maybe crap data. [laughs] Might be good data. Who knows? Like it’s just data and really this is the start of, I think, you know, your success, Bruce, was, you know, you went with this data. And for the benefit of the audience, what we mean by single source is measuring the same people in terms of both their exposure to the advertising and media, but also their ultimate purchase, ideally consumption of that product.

And so for the same people, we’re tracking both kind of inputs and outputs, if you will. And Bruce, you know this, at a time when many in the industry are really moving away from single source data, you know, it’s expensive, certainly.

And so a lot of people thought, ‘oh, you know, it’s just too expensive [00:15:00] for us to really justify’. Especially with a lot of the new metrics that are now kind of like easily and cheaply available in the marketplace. And at that very point in time, you know, you pursued, building up this evidence-based approach using single source data to understand whether your ads were succeeding or not, in terms of translating into sales.

Bruce: Yeah, and I think we were drowning in data. I think most companies do drown in data. And I remember, you know, sitting in Europe when I was in an operational role, days on end with, 20 or 30 people sitting in rooms going through brand health trackers. Honestly, I’m telling you, were not giving us any sort of predictability.

They would change from meeting to meeting. They were never predictive of what would happen. The opportunity cost of that is huge, not just in the dollars you spend, but in the management time that it absorbs. And then in the bad decisions you make based on the data, which [00:16:00] is not predictive.

So when I got exposed to the single source and we had we had a think tank team of different types of, I suppose academic heroes, within Mars that were tasked with different challenges, whether that be predicting crop prices on coco years out, and well, how can we do that more reliably through to predicting which advertising works?

And they were really pushing us as a marketing group around single source. And when they showed me the results out of some pilots I’ve done in France, in Europe, sorry, I realized: one, there is a big need. And for me, when I look at research, there’s always, ‘why do we want to do the research. What’s this business challenge that we’re trying to overcome or shine a light on? And then when and how do we apply it? And then how do I know it’s working?

So that’s the kind of framework that I always applied when they showed me this data that basically said about 40% of our media money was behind [00:17:00] effective advertising. Advertising actually had a big impact at the household level when they saw our ad.

Which meant about 60% was doing marginal or nothing, that’s impact on our dollars. And when you’re talking in billions of dollars of ads spend per year across the globe, then you can quickly see how much money you’re wasting. So, we championed that we looked at–

Duane: And to be fair, Bruce, you would have to say that Mars was doing a better job than most of the other players on the block. Even–

Bruce: It was pretty equivalent, actually. No one was, you know– in our categories, no one was, yeah, 70% of their media spending was behind effective advertising. We set ourselves a target to say, ‘okay, we want to at least target 70% and move beyond that’, albeit this is on video format advertising, whether it’s free to air or whether it was online, but it was video format advertising.

But it was, it was so [00:18:00] stark. And we did get pushback. We did get pushback from certain markets that talked about the expense and it was gonna cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars to put this in place per year. But they were spending hundreds of millions of dollars. The US market did push back and we looked at the media budget, it was hun– literally hundreds of millions of dollars that we’re spending, and we don’t know which creative works, and we’re not quite a hundred percent sure on what the media flagging or waiting frequency is really impacting within that category.

But that’s a no brainer. So this is predictable, predictive. We’ve gotta take the guesswork out of this.


Duane: For the benefit of our audience let’s flash forward. So you started at the start of this challenge, you did this exercise, you worked out that 40% of your spend was effective, 60% waste. You set a target for 70%. Did you ever reach that target?

Bruce: I think, and again, I look at the CMOs of each of the individual segments who are driving this relentlessly, and yes, we did.

We’ve [00:19:00] exceeded this, the 70%. It becomes quite easy when you’ve done it. Sounds easy. When you actually know in your portfolio of advertising what’s highly effective, then it’s easiest. Keep advertising the stuff that works and stop advertising the stuff that doesn’t. And we never went and said our target was trying to get to a hundred percent because we know we’d need new advertising and we didn’t have a way of confidently predicting at that stage what would be highly effective advertising ahead of putting out on air.

So, you know, there was some clear, we did a lot of research using single source data, but we employed Ehrenberg Bass to look at over 500 copies of ours and our competitors and try, and we had a set of hypotheses away on what would be great advertising.

We didn’t think we’d ever get a color by numbers approach, but we wanted to shorten the odds of producing great advertising and we got some good feedback on that. Some good correlation in terms, for example, generating an emotional response was a highly correlated driver of [00:20:00] effective advertising. Not always, but a highly correlated driver, which said, that’s part of our ambition.

So our ambition from a creative sense became ‘we want to make people laugh or make people cry’. That’s our creative goal, which gives you a framework how to assess advertising, how to brief it in and how to drive that. And we wanted to make sure we were not separating our media strategy and our advertising strategy.
That was very clear that they are intertwined in terms of, you know, how do we think about what we need within each medium to make this work? And how do we look for those big campaign ideas that drive that.

I think, and again, I look at the CMOs of each of the individual segments who are driving this relentlessly, and yes, we did.
We’ve [00:19:00] exceeded this, the 70%. It becomes quite easy when you’ve done it. Sounds easy. When you actually know in your portfolio of advertising what’s highly effective, then it’s easiest. Keep advertising the stuff that works and stop advertising the stuff that doesn’t. And we never went and said our target was trying to get to a hundred percent because we know we’d need new advertising and we didn’t have a way of confidently predicting at that stage what would be highly effective advertising ahead of putting out on air.

So, you know, there was some clear, we did a lot of research using single source data, but we employed Ehrenberg Bass to look at over 500 copies of ours and our competitors and try, and we had a set of hypotheses away on what would be great advertising.

We didn’t think we’d ever get a color by numbers approach, but we wanted to shorten the odds of producing great advertising and we got some good feedback on that. Some good correlation in terms, for example, generating an emotional response was a highly correlated driver of [00:20:00] effective advertising. Not always, but a highly correlated driver, which said, that’s part of our ambition.

So our ambition from a creative sense became ‘we want to make people laugh or make people cry’. That’s our creative goal, which gives you a framework how to assess advertising, how to brief it in and how to drive that. And we wanted to make sure we were not separating our media strategy and our advertising strategy.
That was very clear that they are intertwined in terms of, you know, how do we think about what we need within each medium to make this work? And how do we look for those big campaign ideas that drive that.

Duane: So I wanna highlight that because I think that was a really important point that you made, that going from 40% to 70% ultimately sounds hard, but you know, without measurement, certainly it would’ve been probably impossible. Let’s be real.

But with the benefit of now the sudden clarity of measurement, now you look at it and now that you know, this one succeeded, this one failed. What do we see in this one? What do we see in that one? That gives you [00:21:00] a path, if you will, to improvement. That gives you a path to getting your weaker performers performing better. Your stronger performers doing even better.

You know, I mean, you start to get something that you can really learn from in terms of the campaigns that you’re doing instead of kind of like just being left with gut feel, which really is probably where you were before, you know, in terms of not really knowing.

Bruce: it opened up stuff we didn’t realize. ‘Cause what was happening is we have got micro tests happening all over the globe. Every time we’re airing something or changing our media flighting strategy, you know, we’re actually getting real tests happening. Now unless you’re collecting data around that, you are missing a massive learning opportunity.

And so what we realized is that, we started off with single source and it helped us understand that the rate of decay within certain categories of messages in terms of when did it stop impacting sales performance and we could measure that. And that told us a lot to do with our media flighting. [00:22:00] A lot of it told us around the creative power of, of each individual copy.

You start marrying those up with cost of media in a market with your brand profitability and your brand size. And then you can start to get down to, okay, each individual brand with a— we had one to four star advertising with three and four being effective advertising. If you’ve got three star advertising on a big brand, we know that it’s covering the media costs, it’s generating surplus funds to reinvest back in.

Even if you’ve got three or four star on a small brand, it’s not going to gener– it’s not gonna cover your media costs, simply cause the size of the brand. How many latent users you have out there that you’re gonna prompt their memory to use, which tells you from a portfolio point of view, you have to invest in your core brands and be very selective about which small brands you want to grow, and then you need to invest on those year after year to make them large brands.

But often we would see marketers and brand managers [00:23:00] get excited by little niche brands and drive all of their investment behind these, which you can never cover your media costs and your big brand starts to decline and the message impact decays and suddenly you’re losing revenue to be able to reinvest.

So, yeah, lots of things came out when you start measuring these things in a way that we never understood.


Duane: And I think you raised a really good point there, which is– I mean, you raised a number of points, but one of those is that the benefits of this evidence-based approach was not just to the ad creative. It also impacted things like your media buys, your media schedules, your approach to flights, like how long should an ad stay on air?

And I guess there are dividends there as well, because if you have a great ad, maybe it can stay on air a little bit longer, you know, which of course is delivering another value [00:24:00] proposition because ads are expensive to produce. So if you have less of them but they’re great– I mean, they’re just so many different ways that you see the benefits of this in terms of the value proposit…

Bruce: That was huge, yes. Portfolio management, the whole lot.

But you talked about how long can you leave an add on. So we all had our own individual beliefs and, you know, naturally, and I was as guilty as anybody. I became a brand manager, I worked on a new brand, I wanted to do what I wanted to change of packaging, I wanted to do a new ad. Got to marketing director.
Yeah, your same thing. You start to say, okay, well I wanna stamp my, personal impact on these brands by producing great new advertising, but often that’s not the issue that’s impacting your opportunity to grow. And so if you’ve got a measurement that can tell you your advertising’s not the problem.

Your media fly’s not the problem, you can start to look elsewhere. And we actually found in all of the work we did in the decade that I was in charge, I think we found one copy, in one brand, in one market that started to [00:25:00] decline in its impact. It basically had wear out. We never found any other copies that had worn out in that period of time, which really challenges us in terms of how much new creative do you need in that environment.

I’m not saying you didn’t have to look at other mediums on how you do that, but in the video form of advertising you could reduce what we call ‘non-productive media’ and reinvest that in reaching more people, which would drive your sales more, rather than churning out more ads that reached the internal audience, ‘cause we liked to watch it on but we didn’t spend enough behind them to reach more and more people.

This wasn’t something I was pointing a finger at other people. I’d come through a career of behaving a certain way, which was free of evidence and a lot of subjectivity in there and a lot of gut, and sometimes you got it right. Often you didn’t. But you didn’t know when or why you got it right, or when or why you got it wrong.

And I think that that’s the power of the discipline of bringing, you know, some good evidence-based scientific approach to this.[00:26:00]



Duane: There’s another strand in that story around the creative as well, which is when you decide that you’re gonna focus on great creative in your star rating system that you talked about, the threes and fours and not the ones and twos. If you look at what’s happening in the industry today, Bruce, it really feels like the industry is going the other way.

It really feels like the industry is all about more ones and twos. You know, it’s about targeted ones and twos, it’s about saying ‘instead of spending half a million dollars on one commercial, let’s go out there and spend, you know, lots of $10,000 ad spend for lots of campaigns that can be highly targeted’.

Maybe not as moving emotionally or something. And that just feels like the direction that we seem to be going as we move to all these new platforms and try to spread our creative dollar a lot further. But, you know, at the expense, I think, of great creative.

Bruce: And this is one of the things I really encouraged across our agency networks, was that I wanted our media agencies [00:27:00] working with our creative agencies, not receiving creative, and then just going off and doing what they wanted because we wanted to look for opportunities there.

And at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how effectively we buy the media, how we fly, the how well targeted it is. If the product we’re putting in front of the potential consumer isn’t engaging them, then it’s all waste of money. So they have to work hand in hand to say, ‘how do we know where we’re really challenging different ways of buying media?’

And target media, but doing it with a product that is actually gonna work and a piece of copy in whatever format it is that’s gonna work. If we don’t know that, then it’s just, you know, I’d never let somebody handle my personal finances from that point of view. If they have no idea of what you know, or what we’re investing in and whether that’s worthwhile, then you know.

I don’t really want you handling my finances and we were custodians of our shareholders money, so we had to take the same approach.

Duane: And I guess since it’s a privately held company, you felt that maybe even a little bit more directly, you’re [00:28:00] talking…

Bruce: I had coffee with some of them.


So yeah, you did see the shareholders. And they were passionate people about the business. But you just fair felt, therefore felt that, you know, I feel like this is part– I don’t own the business, but I feel connected to that business.

Duane: So Bruce, you had an approach, and I can’t emphasize this enough, that it wasn’t about data. Because again, I think a lot of people are moving to data very aggressively, but it’s very different from what we’re talking about in this conversation in terms of, you know, evidence-based empirical generalizations.

That’s science. That’s like the application of science. So you came into the role, you brought this religion of science.

I mean, of course it was there, but you heavily sharpened, you know, its focus, you brought this science. But I think the greater achievement that you had was in how you managed to cultivate the culture. [00:29:00] You know you had a culture of people who thought like that, you had your AVI score.

So for the benefit of the audience, this four point system that Bruce was talking about, about whether it was a one star, two star, three star or four star creative, and again, three and four is being kosher and acceptable. A good creative and ones and twos, you know, being things that needed to get waste, basically, that had to get out of the system.

So you had this AVI system. Everybody in your culture began breathing AVI. Everybody thought of their campaigns in terms of AVIs. I mean, you cultivated a culture around that AVI score. How did you do that? How did you go from, you know, a company that really had none of this, specifically around that, and then suddenly everybody is talking to each other and the whole conversation is all AVI. [laughs]

Bruce: But it does go full circle to the conversation with the CFO, which was suddenly there with different discussions happening around the boardroom, around each management team discussion that there was transparency. You know, instead of–

Duane: And accountability

Bruce: Accountability. Our poor manufacturing colleagues would have to go through the hoop for hundred thousand dollars investments and really do thorough post-analysis of, you know, what we’ve done in the factory or a new line or whatever.

We were spending billions of dollars across the globe and not being held accountable. So I think it changes the perception of the marketing organization when you are sitting there saying, ‘yes, we’re at 45% of three and four star advertising, but we want to improve and we’ll give you that credibility and it’s no longer, you know, we’re [00:31:00] self-reporting on that’.

And I think everybody in marketing got very good feedback from the other disciplines from people who were possibly seeing us as a little bit flaky, [laughs] up until then, ‘till now. Okay, well these guys are running the business. And it goes back to my time back in Russia. What I found was I had to move from talking marketing speak to actually talking business speak.

Where should our next investment go? Should it go to route to market? Should it go to a product improvement? Should it go to increasing advertising? How do we make those trade offs? Well, you needed to have the right data to make better informed– you’re never gonna get exactly perfect solutions, but better informed data.

And I think the team that I was working with, and their teams responded to that because they wanted to be taken seriously. And I think you can’t deny the power of having informed discussions with other divisions to have a combined approach to growth and growth as a team sport. It’s not marketing’s responsibility, is not sales’, it’s not R&Ds’.

It’s not a matter– if you don’t have all of those divisions working together and saying what [00:32:00] trade-offs do we need to make and where do we need to make that investment, then you can’t drive a true team approach to growth.


And what was interesting, I was just gonna reflect, we’re talking a lot of science.

One of the big things we had to overcome culturally was this idea that, okay, we’re going to be looking at data and making every decision based on the next piece of data we can come in, right? I try to say marketing is much closer to something like architecture. [laughs] So if you are building brands, or like if you are building big, you know, amazing structures or buildings or bridges, then you have to have an understanding of laws of physics and you have to apply your creativity.

Your creative solutions to overcome some of those challenges. And so the same thing we want to drive through is we’re not sitting here saying, okay, we wait for the next data point to make a decision. What we’re saying is, what is the data telling us where we need to focus and how do we apply our creative solutions to [00:33:00] solve that and then how do we measure those solutions and make sure that they actually are solving it?
And if they’re not, we keep going through the creative iteration. And that helped enormously, both within, internally and with our external agency partners to tell ’em that I actually want you to push the creative needle harder.

Because what we know about our user base is that they don’t know much about us and they’re not interested in us. There are few people out there loving us, and so our advertising, both in the media approach and the creative approach has to really get the disinterested person to take notice of us. So that’s a huge creative challenge, but the science tells us that is the challenge.
Stop thinking that they’re brand loyalists out there that are just loving everything we do and we’ll build this ridiculous level of loyalty. ‘Cause we can’t.


Duane: It’s a really important principle; one of, I think, Ehrenberg Bass’ real contributions was, in moving the industry away from the Pareto principle, you know, which is kind of like 20% of our [00:34:00] customers deliver 80% of our value, which basically means ignore the rest. Just focus on that 20%.

But of course your growth comes from, you know, your growth actually comes from that 20%. I mean, it’s actually not really a 20/80 principle, that’s just an icon, if you will. But your growth actually comes from your light consumers, not from your heavy consumers.

And so, you know, to your point, if you want to communicate with light consumers, they’re not gonna be the people who are gonna get excited when they see the product up on screen. [laughs]

Bruce: We’re not Disney or, you know, Warner Brothers. They’re not waiting for next installment of a Pedigree ad or a Snickers ad.

They’re just not sitting there doing that. So we really have to delight and surprise them in how we reach them. And always have, you know, a simple gauge as to what’s great creative evidence. You know, don’t wanna watch this again. Am I gonna call my wife in from the other room to see this ad because it’s just bloody funny or it’s making me cry or whatever.

I mean, you know, if it can do that, then we know emotion helps you [00:35:00] encode memory as well. And I think our whole media strategy is about nudging memories. That what we’re about. We’re just trying to nudge and refresh those memory structures built around our brand and our category. And if we can do that successfully, then in the next purchase occasion will come to mind. And it’s as simple as that.


Duane: So back to the question of the culture. How did you– I mean, you fought at it first, but eventually you embraced this new truth and it became part of how you came to view the world. But how did you get the organization? I mean, how is it that you got that culture happening all the way down to, you know, the coalface all the way down to the grassroots of the organization?

How did that change happen so pervasively through the culture?

Bruce: I don’t think it was a single approach, but you have to engage at every level. As I said before, I had the score of a great CEO at the time of starting this journey, who was [00:36:00] marketing— incredibly marketing savvy, and he was interested in pushing us through.

For me, you have to set this up for people to, as I said before, to explore themselves and to fail as well, and to be, and to argue back. ‘Cause we never had all the answers and we’re not saying we do. So if people could genuinely come and say, ‘I want to challenge this element of what you are pushing’ and they could bring data to us, then we would learn better.

And so we encouraged that the team that I had around me, the segment CMOs, they went on their own journey of pushing this down. So it wasn’t ‘Bruce saying this’ or ‘Bruce saying that’. It was, you know, it was them learning along the way, and I think you also have to make sure people are allowed to fail and we learn from failure.

I hope that I’d come through Mars for so long. It was 14 years before I was in the CMO role, so I had done a lot of things, a lot of failures in my career. [laughs] Some six spectacular ones. Luckily on small markets. My two years in New Zealand was pretty terrible, but we swept those under the carpet and that’s not a learning organization, so [00:37:00] we had to encourage people say ‘we did this’.

We now understand why it didn’t work. Let me share that with you. And that was very liberating, so people could be rewarded as much of a success as they were for failure. Now we didn’t get all the way there and it’s hard to change that culture, but, and I would say that if I had to advise anybody going forward in terms of the culture you want, you do want people to be confident enough to go out and fail and, but fail cheaply.

Fail spectacularly but fail cheaply. So don’t bet the whole house on red 23, go out and learn about that and then bring back, and if you’re not failing, you’re not learning. So I know that’s a cliche, but it’s truth because you’ve got to push the boundaries of whatever you’re doing, whether it’s a media strategy or a product strategy, a copy strategy, a route to market strategy.

You want to push those boundaries. And if you’re not failing, you can’t be pushing the boundaries ‘cause no one can get a hundred percent right. So you can’t– you gotta reward [00:38:00] people for taking that jump, doing it efficiently so they’re not losing a lot of money, but then spreading what we learned. If I could be proud of one thing that was the culture I tried to build was that, you know, you can stand up in a room and say, ‘I did this, it didn’t work, but this is what we learned’


Duane: It’s wonderful.

Bruce: And you should get applause for that. [music]

Duane: Going back to the story of the Chateau [laughter] in France, outside Paris. The way that we first began collaborating was that, you know, you had the AVI data, and you wanted to learn more about, ‘okay, well these ones were successful, these ones were not successful. Now let’s get at the next layer’.

Why was something successful here and why was it not successful over here? And, you know, for the benefit of the audience, it, you would not be able to pick the difference. Like if you looked at two ads, it’s not obvious. That one succeeds and one fails. The [00:39:00] two ads look very similar. They look like, [laughs] you know, they look very, very, very similar in their approach.

And in fact, humans are not very good at picking the one that ultimately succeeded and the one that failed. But we came in to see if, you know, the new neuro measures and things like that could make a difference. And of course, going back to your original point, because so much of this is about emotional response and whether you evoke an emotional response.

And so, of course, if you can measure that emotional response more directly, well then hopefully there’s a basis there for assuming that that could deliver some benefit. And in fact, it did. It was very successful. You know, we went from traditional metrics being about 58% accurate in terms of identifying what would’ve been threes and fours to about 78%, you know, accuracy and even higher when we were looking at very specific genres like particularly funny ads and things.

So, you know, that was a great project. We certainly learned a lot from that project. Again, not only in terms of the results [00:40:00] of the study, but in terms of interacting with you all and seeing how your culture works to kind of like systematically keep digging in to understand not only the what but why. Why was it that this ad was successful?

Bruce: Yeah, it was a good– a very powerful initiative and we set ourselves two targets when we first started looking at the 40%. One was, we wonder what we called ‘raise the floor’, which was just, ‘let’s make sure more of our media money goes into what we identify as effective advertising’.

And once you’ve done the portfolio review, it’s relatively easy to do that. But we also want to increase the strike rate of the ads that we do. And the reason we end up engaging with you, Duane, was that we did a bootcamp of our top hundred advertising generators in the business and with our agency partners with single source copy.

So you’re really testing, how good are they at saying, ‘I would put money behind this or I would not put [00:41:00] money behind it’. It’s very simple. And we were targeting, you know, we wanted them to at least, identify the top third of ads that you would wanna put money in and you’d be in that top third. Get it right more than 66% of the time and get it right more than 66% of the time are the ones you’d stop.

So you don’t wanna put craps on air and you don’t want to not put good stuff on air, you know, hold it back. And we found that basically, other than a handful of people who got in the elite performance of being able to pick good ads and stop bad ads. It was about 50/50 split.
So we realized that we need other mechanisms to help those people make judgment calls. And so that’s part of the whole learning culture is that we’ve got this great body of proven ads at work or don’t, let’s use that to understand more about how to make those decisions. And it never stops if you get the right evidence in place, the opportunity to use that data if it’s [00:42:00] highly repeatable and predictive, it is just enormous.


Duane: Now, of course, your challenge is even bigger than the way that we’ve been discussing it so far, because in your CMO role, that’s a global role. You know, that’s not, you weren’t CMO for a country for the US market. You were CMO for the world. And when you talk about the world, the world is a pretty diverse kind of place.

Marketing in China is very different to marketing in Russia, which is very different to marketing in the United States. And of course the other thing that we should qualify is that your access to the data would have varied enormously as well, like what you call single source data, and the quality of that single source measurement would’ve been, would’ve varied enormously market to market as well.

How did you go about tackling with this approach that you had now– you love this approach, you know it’s useful, it’s productive, it’s helping you eliminate waste. Now you want to kind of like apply that on a global basis, or at least in [00:43:00] certain key markets. How do you go about doing that?

Bruce: Yes. It was challenging because, firstly, a certain level of market size and media spend that wasn’t appropriate to say, ‘let’s put single source into every single market around the world’. You’re spending too much of your money on the research and not enough for spending. So we had to try and say, ‘okay, are there groups of markets that the ads would be more predictable, if you had successful piece of copy in X, Y, and Z markers, then these other markets should follow that’, because it’s a better estimate of performance than somebody sitting there themselves guessing.

So we had to do that, and then we had to check the cultural differences. And then, yeah, I worked in Russia. I had to rely on talented Russians around me to pull the ad together because I didn’t speak the language, I didn’t have the whole, the cultural background. I could set the ambition of what we’re trying to achieve, but I had to really trust those people ‘cause having an expat in a market, trying to set advertising [00:44:00] was, it’s almost impossible.

So we wanted to devolve that down into talented people. And if there were expats overseeing those that were not native to those countries, then you know, it’s more about what’s the ambition we’re trying to drive. And we did see some interest, you know, we saw ads travel across many cultures.

We saw some, and you were involved in, a piece of work with it in China where, on certain ads, humor did not carry, and it actually turned people the other way. It was a Skittles spot that I remember well, the whole idea. And Skittles is pretty off the wall advertising to start off with.

But yeah, if you ate Skittles and you’d break out in Skittles box and you know, Skittles would start popping up around your skin and the other person would pluck ’em off your skin and eat them. In China, that was just terrible. People just reacted very, very poorly to that and did not find a humor in that at all.
So it was important for us to try and figure out why and what sources of humor is, and you know, you have an ongoing learning process to do that, but [00:45:00] again, that you’re looking to find the holes in your mechanism as well, not just to say, ‘great, we’ve got single sources working, let’s just apply these ads everywhere’.

You have to row test the sea. Where are the boundaries? Again, good science. Where are the boundary conditions on what can apply and what can’t? And we did find some of those. I think there were certain markets where the data quality, I’m not sure, was as reliable as I’d like it. And therefore, were we making decisions in those markets on data that maybe it wasn’t as reliable.

And in hindsight, I would’ve liked to test, row-test single source in those markets to make sure that our predictions were actually playing out in certain geographies. We didn’t do that, so that’s probably a regret. How do I know this piece of research that we’re doing is working? I was very confident in well developed markets with good data sources.

I was less confident we didn’t do enough testing in that, so… and that’s not a shame. You should, you know, you should put your hand up and say, ‘I want to go prove that this isn’t [00:46:00] right or isn’t working, so I can improve it’, rather than just blindly following it. And I probably let that slip underneath the
carpet too easily.



Duane: You know, you were talking about the China research. I remember being shocked at the data when we looked at it. I mean, absolutely shocked at the data because, I mean, you expect some variation, but generally the way that variation looks when you’re measuring across cultures is about the intensity.

You know, it’s something as funny in one country. In the US market, things tend to be a lot stronger, a lot weaker. Other cultures, maybe it’s a little bit more subtle, you know, but generally, the– [laughs] We did the China stuff. We’re looking at people physiologically, remember, we’re seeing the data of their body’s reaction to this content, and people were reacting in patterns that were completely different to anything we had seen, and it just highlighted that–

Bruce: They were disgusted. [laughs]

Duane: Well, it just highlighted again how [00:47:00] we can’t make assumptions that everything that we do, you know, we really need to get to points where we have less assumption in our industry and more evidence to kind of like really guide our decisions, and certainly that kind of highlighted that and that particular data, just particularly around how different the Chinese market was to western markets.

Now, Bruce, you alluded to this earlier, but I wanna pick up on this theme a little bit more, and that is that your work on this culture of growth on applying scientific principles towards the culture of growth was not really limited to the marketing function within Mars either. Which I think is again, another one of those exceptional contributions that you made in your career, which is you actually worked hard to collaborate with other parts of the business and to make sure, so there were people from other divisions that were going through the courses that you were developing.

I mean, there were a lot of efforts that you were doing to really bring this approach, you know, not just to the marketing function, [00:48:00] but beyond the marketing function to other parts of the organization really collaborating, kind of like across the organization.

Bruce: Yeah. It stems from, you know, my strong belief that growth is a team sport.

That there is no individual function that can drive growth. And also that, you know, if you’re a management team in a business, in a market, running a segment, then you’ve got lots of choices as to where you want to deploy your money and your resources; not just money, people a whole lot. So you really need to be able to break down what is it that is potentially holding the business back or where is the biggest opportunity to explode out.

And yeah, we believe that went right across, you know, from classical marketing stuff around media and brand copy through the sales impact on your distribution, quality of distribution, through to your product performance, through to your manufacturing scale, and your R&D and your profitability of the brand.

And so if you’re not making those trade offs, then you can end [00:49:00] up investing in the wrong thing and solving issues. So the goal was to develop a growth model, not a marketing model, not a media model, not a advertising model, but a growth model. And that was probably, yeah, the biggest breakthrough is that we got a growth model around how to drive brand growth.
And that was as relevant if you’re sitting in manufacturing as it was if you’re sitting in sales or marketing or finance. And it gave a framework and a language to have meaty trade off discussions at the management table. And so I think that was a big breakthrough. Probably the thing that we are missing since I’ve left, was for transparency as it was too brand focused.

So, so much of the growth is on how categories grow. So we weren’t putting enough attention as, you know, big category leaders about how to drive the category growth. And I’m still involved with Ehrenberg Bass. I do one day a week with them as an industry professor and, you know, working with people there, Magda Nenycz-Thiel, has led this category growth initiative.
And again, [00:50:00] it’s what you realize when you dig into this and you pick up one stone, you realize, ‘well, there’s so much I don’t understand about how businesses grow’. We’ll never, ever stop learning about this. And so I think just pushing us to say, ‘okay, how could the growth model we pulled together back in Mars in 2012 be better now though?’

There’s a lot of ways it could be better now, and there’s a lot more science and research and understanding that happens. My strong push to everybody so it talks to me about my experience at Mars is that, yeah, it was good, created some impact, but there was a lot of stuff we missed, A lot of stuff I missed and a lot of stuff you could therefore continue to learn from it and push the needle further.

And it’s about developing exactly what you talked about before, is a learning culture. Am I really interested in finding out where my assumptions are wrong and learning from that? And if you are, then you continue to grow and the business will continue to grow.[00:51:00]


Duane: Now, Bruce, you retired and left not only Mars, but kind of like, the industry so to speak, at a fairly young age. You know, you had a lot of juice left in you to squeeze. [laughter] What led to your decision to retire, you know, so young?

Bruce: Well, my kids are two years apart. My youngest son was 18 at that time and he– not at that time, sorry, six years earlier.
And both of them said they wanna move back to Australia. So Mars was fantastic. They let me be CMO for the last six years of my career from Australia, which, you know, a decentralized business that can work. ‘Cause I was spending lot of my time traveling outside the head office anyway. But Australia’s not the best location to be a global CMO.

And my boss always used to say, ‘there’s a desk right here, you can come here, stop complaining about your travel or the time zones or whatever’. And it was true. And I think it’s just, it’s just a period of time [00:52:00] where I didn’t want to move away from my family. They wanna be based in Australia. They had followed me around a world all their lives, and my wife and two kids had followed me.

And so time was, now that they’re an adults, we all base ourselves here and I had a shelf life of how many planes, as much as I liked travel and moving everywhere, how many planes I could sit on and how many time zones I could go through in a year was just wearing me. And I think you looked at that and I said, when my energy started to sag, it made a lot of sense to say, ‘yeah, I don’t wanna milk my role for the next five years’, as attractive as that was, but not be able to give everything I wanted to give because I was just getting physically and mentally tired.

So I made the call, stayed in a capacity with Mars for the next couple of years in a kind of part-time consulting role, and I’ve got great contacts back in Mars and group of people there that I still love to pick up the phone and chat with them.

Duane: So you’re like those athletes who leave at the peak of [00:53:00] their career.


You were really at the peak of your performance. I understand what you’re saying about the wear… [laughs]

Bruce: Yeah. You would, you’re sitting there in the WA.

Duane: My body has certainly endured lots of that. But I certainly appreciate that.


Bruce, what advice would you give now? So if you were looking at the new generation of media advertising marketing researchers, knowing what you know, having experienced what you experienced, seeing where the industry is, you’re still engaged. What would your advice be to this new generation of researchers?

Bruce: It’s about sounding like a old fossil preaching from a mountain. [Duane laughs] I think people have asked me what do I value most in people in business? And curiosity for me is what I value most. That people need to look at the area they’re in [00:54:00] and say, ‘how does it tick?’ But then also look at the area they’re not in, look at other businesses, other disciplines and say, ‘how does that work?’

And I think people who are genuinely curious want to learn more about something and are willing to be proven wrong, will develop into much, much more effective managers or business or individuals. And I think that’s my advice. Is, you know, stay curious, stay skeptical.

Curiosity and skepticism are not mutually exclusive. They actually, they are together. You should be skeptical of everything that’s being put in front of you. From a research point of view is what we’re suggesting: repeatable and therefore predictable and be willing to be proven wrong. But yeah, healthy degree of skepticism and a huge dose of curiosity I think just gets the better results.


Duane: I do wanna commend you as well, Bruce, for what I think of as your greatest virtue, which is your humility. You know, you’ve talked throughout this podcast about, you know, your [00:55:00] openness, your receptivity, almost your hunger. It’s like you want to be proven wrong all the time. [laughs] You truly embrace…

Bruce: My family would say something different to that.


Duane: You truly embrace that role with a particular style and approach that made you approachable. You know, I think everybody in the organization felt you were approachable. There was never really that sense that you felt you were better than anybody else.

There was always really that willingness to listen, to be open, to being challenged, to be open to being proven wrong, and that is just such a great quality and really, at the core, again, of the culture of science. You know, the culture of science is about that receptivity to being proven wrong, you know. So it’s just such a wonderful trait.

And there’s, of course, a lot more detail in the story. And in a one hour podcast, we’re not gonna be able to cover all of it, but truly what you achieved at Mars was exceptional. It [00:56:00] truly is in this legend’s league because, you know, not only is there the significant cost savings, but again, there’s the lasting impact in terms of the legacy of the culture.

So, you know, kudos. Huge achievement. CMOs around the world really would benefit enormously from learning from your life lesson. Thank you so, so much.

Bruce: Thank you, Duane. That’s very, very generous. Thanks a lot. I appreciate that.

Duane: And of course, we want to thank you, the audience, for joining us today.

Remember, if you enjoyed this podcast, to tell your friends about it and make sure you follow it so that you get the next episodes automatically loaded up and leave comments, feedback, anything you can to do to help the podcast. And if you’re interested, stay tuned at the end of the podcast for a little promotional message from MediaScience.

So I’m Duane Varan, CEO of MediaScience, thanking you once again for your participation today and thanking you again, Bruce for sharing your insights with us.


Thanks, until our next episode of Legends of Media Research.[00:57:00]

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