‘Awards are the best retention tool we will ever have’ – Mark Tutssel of Leo Burnett

On the sidelines of Adfest, Mark Tutssel, president of the grand jury and executive chairman and global chief creative officer at Leo Burnett spoke to Mumbrella's Ravi Balakrishnan about why awards still matter 

What are you looking for in award entries as a judge?

“Advertising competes not just with other advertising but with popular culture. And so we have to create and reward content that people seek out, share and respond to.”

What were the lingering effects of Publicis Groupe’s decision to stay away from awards?

“It wasn’t about awards. What we decided to do was take 12 months out and invest all the money we spent on promotional expenses including awards, and building a platform for the 85,000 people who work within the Publicis Groupe.

“It was exposed at Cannes which was then mistaken as Publicis pulling out of Cannes. While that was not truthful, I can understand how people reached that conclusion very quickly.

“The impact was on the creative community – particularly the younger community who did not understand the why.  We didn’t do a great job of talking about the value the platform will create for them.

“The commentary and the press was only ever about pulling out of awards. Nobody looked into the greater ambition: to create a platform that moves the company from a communications group to a platform.

“It’s something we have invested heavily in. We are partnering with specialist brands to bring that to fruition.”

Did the time you spent away make you more circumspect about awards?

“Let there be no doubt: awards are really important. I am religious about awards and their value.

“They are a barometer on the health of our industry, a celebration of creativity, a magnet for talent and the world’s best shop window for new business. And the best retention tool that we will ever have.

“But we have to celebrate creative effectiveness. We are not in the creative business but in the business of creativity. We have to prove the relation between high creativity, business and social and human impact.

“It is exciting when we do that well.”

What would you consider a good example?

“McDonald’s in the UK. They celebrated their fifty-third quarter of consecutive growth, recently.

“It’s a brand that creates value in people’s lives. ‘I’m Loving It’ is not an ad tagline. It’s a human emotion. If we were watching cricket on a sunny day, having a beer and India were winning and I say, ‘Are you having a good time?’, you’d say, ‘I’m loving it’.

“Everything McDonald’s does is designed to elicit that emotion: two for the price of one, open 24 hours a day, home delivery, the taste of the Big Mac.

“It’s a brand that understands people and it is constantly creating human value and telling the story in a beautiful way.

“McDonald’s in the UK is really a celebration of the relationship they have with the people. And it is as British as fish and chips.

“People today don’t buy brands or advertising: they buy what it represents.”

How has your approach to work changed?

“Connecting two people has never been easier because of technology. But connecting with people has never been more difficult – also because of technology.

“We are not an advertising agency: we are a creative solutions company. Our belief in creativity and alchemy and magic has never been stronger.

“But we don’t have a divine right to people’s attention. We have to reward them for the time they spend with our communication and we can only do that by being stimulating and useful.

“Great brands understand that and have a concise point of view on why they exist and what they believe in.

“Unicorn brands like Airbnb, Uber or Spotify pour all their energy, time and effort into creating value in society.

“For instance, I loved the way Leo Burnett in India used technology to create the anthem spot for Spotify.

“They were trying to find the beat of India. They sampled sound, different dialects and found the common denominator. One beat that is universally appealing to all ears, tastes, emotions, geographies and languages across the country and that was used to create the Spotify anthem.

“Now, that’s an idea Spotify can take around the world. Every country should have a Spotify anthem.

“I love it when technology can serve a human purpose.”

To your point about brands having a point of view – we’ve seen many cases where brands have expressed a point of view to a very polarising reaction. How do you feel about that?

“I chaired the inaugural sustainable development goals at Cannes. It was enlightening for me because we have as a planet major issues to combat.

“And over the course of five years, 17 important categories and subjects were ratified by 125 countries. Now, we have a blueprint for the planet.

“I would urge brands to really focus on those if they are going to enter into that world.

“Success resides when ideas are true to a brand’s philosophy and belief.

“When brands get it totally wrong, they graft themselves to bigger subjects of importance when they don’t really have a reason for being. It becomes ‘sponsored for good’ as opposed to natural authentic belief for good.

“When you try to attach yourself to these incredibly important emotional subjects, without true reason for being, you are in danger of alienating yourself.

“Brands that can and do make a difference, are phenomenal. For instance, P&G with education in India, or Samsung creating human experiences that people are rewarded by. Those are natural extensions of who they are.”


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