On the occasion of the 2019 Cannes Creativity Festival, I sat down with Anheuser-Busch InBev U.S. CMO, Marcel Marcondes for his thoughts on creativity and marketing transformation.
Bruce Rogers: Tell us your philosophy on marketing and what you’re trying to accomplish at AB.
Marcel Marcondes: Here’s my philosophy: I believe, on top of a loving marketing and believing that the biggest assets that companies have are people and brands, for me, this applies to any industry or to any time in history. Companies are made of people and brands, so this is what makes me love my career and makes me do what I do. Now, when we talk about beer as an industry, it’s a gigantic category going through changes and adjusting to new consumer behaviors. I think that this industry was too much into its comfort zone for too long, and then we started to see wine and spirits doing a better job.
It’s about time that beer wakes up from that comfort zone and starts to play its best game again. For me, everything starts with putting people at the center of everything we do again. It’s easier said than done, but it all starts by reconnecting with people. And this is why we’ve been reinventing the wheel through better consumer insights and new technologies. Once we understand consumers as people and the opportunities for us to add more value to them, then there are two big priorities that we have. One is creativity. We need to be highly creative to bring what our brands stand for to life. Because otherwise, consumers will not pay attention to us. I really believe that, nowadays, creativity has a direct relationship with results.
The second priority is innovation. Once we understand consumers we then have plenty of opportunities of upgrading and updating our product offerings, so that we can better solve for consumer needs and better address the key trends influencing the industry, like health and wellness.
Rogers: How are you proving the value of that philosophy?
Marcondes: It’s all about driving results. I still believe that it’s about time for us to see marketing as a key area of the company that drives results, that sits at the cockpit driving the commercial strategy and bringing tangible results.
For example, we’ve been trying a lot of new models that are, by the way, not TV-driven, by design. For Bud Light, for example, Philly Philly, last year, was a great program, with creativity, digital content, new packaging focused on Philadelphia.
I love putting our brands back at the center of culture, being relevant to people, and these drive results. With Budweiser, our associations with Dwyane Wade and Jesse Robinson are great programs that are not only becoming part of the social conversation and part of culture, but also driving better results.
And our innovation rate has been increasing a lot in the company, with great results as well. Last year, we had some of the biggest innovations of the beer industry in the US, we had Bud Light Orange, we had Michelob Ultra-Pure Gold, which is the first big organic beer in the beer industry, we had Budweiser Copper Reserve, in partnership with Jim Beam, which is a very unique partnership between a bourbon and a beer. Those three projects drove more than $200 million in revenues in a one year time, they were some of the top share gainers in the industry. And we improved our performance at the company, from driving ten percent of all the innovation volume in the beer category, to driving more than 50 percent of all the innovations in the beer category. So, we were back as the number one company in terms of innovation.
So, again, philosophy being brought to life and driving results.
Rogers: Is that part of AB’s transformation journey?
Marcondes: Yes, the combination of powerful insights, powerful innovation and great creativity to bring all this to life is amazing. I really believe that this can only generate growth if it’s done the right way. I’m also super proud of how we’re managing all this transformation together with our partners. So it’s the second year that we do an agency assembly, we bring all of our media partners, digital partners, creative partners, to the same place in the same day, and we talk about what’s changing, our challenges and we make some commitments about what needs to change for the next 12 months. And this is how we drive the change: we drive all the change together. This is how we started to become more digitally-centric instead of TV-centric, this is how we started to be more local, this is how we started to take some risks together. This is how you make a difference: by bringing people together and by having a family spirit. This is how we do a transformation where everybody wins.
Rogers: What does your presence at the Cannes Creativity Festival mean to Anheuser Busch, to you, to your team, to your agency partners?
Marcondes: I take Cannes seriously because creativity today is clearly one element that can drive results. Cannes is still the most meaningful festival out there that really celebrates great creativity. And therefore, we are paying attention to that. I think we need to be proud of the results we have, but we also need to be self-aware, of the fact that, in the world as it is today, we need to be humble enough to learn every day. And so, I’m taking Cannes as an opportunity, first and foremost, to learn, because I think it provides a great opportunity for us to be inspired, to open our minds, to see new ways to reach out to consumers, to be meaningful to them, to grab their attention. And also, because creativity is one of the key pillars for us, I want to play to win.
Rogers: It also seems like you are returning humanity to marketing.
Marcondes: Yes, exactly. Beer brings people together, that’s what beer was created for. It’s a big privilege to work in this category because beer is already connected to great moments, to good times. We need to leverage from that.
Rogers: Where did you grow up?
Marcondes: I grew up in Brazil and graduated with a degree in marketing, which is unusual in Brazil. From an early age, a big motivation has always been to influence people’s behaviors and to make sure that whatever I was doing could have an impact on people’s lives.
Rogers: Did you have marketing role models in your family?
Marcondes: I was more connected to the arts world. By contrast, my father was an economist, so, he was all about numbers. So, I tend to believe that I got a little bit of both. Because I think the beauty of marketing is that you have to exercise both.
Rogers: What accounts for Brazil’s reputation for creativity, especially in advertising?
Marcondes: As a Brazilian, I identify two factors. It’s a country made of a big mixture of people coming from different places; there is a lot of diversity. So, a lot of influence from Africa, a lot of influence from Europe, the US and North America. Brazil is a huge mix of cultures. Diversity takes Brazil to that creative environment. I really believe so.
Second, Brazil is going through many transformations as a country and is really quite unstable, especially if you look at it from an economic perspective. People are improvising, every day, it’s all about changing plans and adapting and I believe that contributes to its openness and reputation for fostering new ideas.
Rogers: Tell us about your personal journey to the CMO role?
Marcondes: I had the privilege of having very good opportunities to learn, through different roles and places that I’ve been. I started my career at Unilever, as a trainee. Unilever is a great school for marketers and gave me a very nice opportunity to work with different geographic scopes.
When I got an offer to join ABI, I thought it was a great opportunity for me to have some thingsthat I wanted, as it is it’s also a company that incentivizes people to make decisions and to act as leaders of the business.
My first role at ABI was in Brazil to lead Skol, which is the number one beer brand in Brazil. I was hired to turn around the biggest brand in Brazil that was in decline. It took us four years to bring Skol back to growth. But it was the hell of a learning process to really get the pressure, the heat, and to turn things around in a big business.
I was then invited by Miguel Patricio, which was, at the time, our global CMO, join the global headquarters here in New York, as the head of some of our global brands. So it was awesome, because it was, again, back to marketing, but then with a huge scope.
I was finally invited to join the US as a CMO, which is, again, a privilege and an honor. It’s the biggest operation we have in the world, the most mature beer market that we have in the world, with an amazing portfolio of iconic American brands being the leaders in the category here.
I’m proud, together with the team, with the improvements we’ve made. But there is never an end to learning every day. And the important thing is to have fun and to be proud of the work we do, every single day.
Rogers: Thank you.