Diageo: Australian marketers are too conservative

By By Paul McIntyre | 5 October 2012
Diageo director of brands, Matt Bruhn.

Australian marketers and brand owners have turned decidedly conservative in their attitudes toward creativity and innovation and would struggle to get consumer attention and achieve sales growth as a result, according to Diageo’s Australian marketing boss, Matt Bruhn.

Diageo and Leo Burnett Australia dominated the Asia Pacific Spikes advertising awards last week in Singapore and Bruhn said the achievement was a result of a decision 18 months ago to embrace a riskier, more creative approach to brand communications.

“There is a real conservatism in a marketplace like Australia which is facing a headwind,” he said. “I just see how much creativity is in the current and next generation of consumers and how creative they are becoming and it forces brands to match that. No longer can you just tell basic stories. You’ve really got to have a rich narrative and compelling creative to even get people interested.

“Businesses and brands have got to match that. We’ve been on a real journey for the last 18 months to two years to really ramp up our creativity. I think that is what is leading us to have some success now in these award ceremonies.”

Bruhn’s portfolio includes spirit brands such as Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff, Bundaberg Rum and boutique bourbon brands such as Bulleit.

He said changing the culture at Diageo to embrace more creativity had required some robust debate but it was the only option if the company was to lift its sales and market share in Australia.

“Every company has fiscal conservatism and incrementalism sitting just below the surface but when you start to say, ‘If we continue to do the same thing we are today we’re going to go the same way as the market, which is either flat or in decline’, then you start to get people’s ears pricked up,” he said. “In order to grow we need to disrupt and change the game. We need to make amazing advertising that gets people engaged. We can’t just do what we did in 2008, 2009 or 2010.”

Bruhn said not all Australian brands were locked into a “1% is better” mindset, citing NAB’s ‘Break Up’ campaign as a “very powerful moment”.

“They had a real crack at changing the game in banking,” he said. “So there are examples of some brands really swinging out and trying to break that traditional incrementalism.”

This article first appeared in the 5 October 2012 edition of AdNews, in print and on iPad. Click here to subscribe for more news, features and opinion.

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