BBDO president and CEO discusses the competition for consumers‰’ attention in a rapidly changing world

11.4.2009 Faculty News, Global, News Release

Click here to watch the Wake Forest Leadership Speaker Series presentation by
Andrew Robertson, President and CEO of BBDO Worldwide.

When Andrew Robertson became president and chief executive officer of BBDO Worldwide Inc. in June 2004, he decided that a focused strategy for the organization was essential.

He turned to a photograph, and the simple image served as his inspiration. The photo showed his adolescent daughter, a computer on her lap and a cell phone to her ear. She was watching TV, though it did not appear in the image.

“It struck me that this, in a single frame, captured both the challenge and the opportunity facing those of us working in marketing and communications,” said Robertson, who spoke to a packed room in the Worrell Professional Center at Wake Forest University on Thursday, Oct. 29.

“The challenge,” he said, “was that it made crystal clear just how difficult it was to hold somebody’s attention, to change the way that they behave. Because, the world she grew up in … had moved on so much than the one I grew up in.”

Today Robertson, a native of Zimbabwe and a member of the Wake Forest Board of Visitors, leads the world’s second largest advertising network, overseeing 16,000 employees in 79 countries. In introducing him, Schools of Business Dean Steve Reinemund called Robertson one of the “true greats in the advertising industry.”

BBDO Worldwide and its subsidiaries develop and execute marketing and communications plans for international brands and companies as well as provide campaign planning, management and brand-promotion services. It has 287 offices and some 1,200 clients throughout the world. In 2008, The Gunn Report named BBDO Worldwide the “Most Awarded Agency Network in the World.”

The photo, Robertson said, does not depict multi-tasking.

“She was moving from something that was no longer (offering) any real reward for the use of her time to something that was. What technology had made possible was the she could switch, literally at the touch of a button … to any one of a millions of options.”

Media, he said, must not be viewed as a means of distribution but as a means of access.

“We are competing with every other option she has at the time for her attention.”

That’s the problem, Robertson said. But opportunity exists as well. “In this digital age, many of the things people used to pay for – time, distance, space – are limitless and free.”

The ability to earn time with a consumer changes the rules of the game, Robertson continued. The competitive advantage no longer lies in how much money can be spent to buy distribution. Rather, it’s about creating good content and earning consumers’ attention.

Robertson’s son is just 18 months younger than his sister depicted in the photo. But, as she pointed out to her father, he’s from a completely different generation when considering the advances in technology and digital communication.

“That’s what we’re dealing with,” Robertson said. And this must be dealt with, he said, through the magic of creativity. At BBDO, the mission is to create and deliver the world’s most compelling commercial content.

That goal is realized by three guiding principles: securing an unfair share of a limited pool of exceptional talent, which is defined by 10 characteristics; by leveraging that talent as widely as possible across brands, borders and cultures; and by utilizing the worldwide network to capitalize on the value of diversity.

Achieving those principles can be accelerated, he said, by spending time actually solving problems instead of working on ways to solve them; by observing behavior as opposed to relying solely on listening to clients and consumers; and by defining a “big idea” in a phrase as short as a text message, created by what Robertson calls “the workout” and involves co-creating, crafting and engineering of specific ideas across cultures.

Robertson illustrated the results of the workout process by showing campaigns for the 2009 Dodge Ram pickup, which included five Webisodes showing teams of contractors, firefighters, military members and cowboys taking the truck through an obstacle course, showcasing fierce competition and the elements of a hard-core reality show.

“How do you launch a full-size truck in the most difficult economy conceivable?” an announcer asks, citing a nearly 40 percent drop in sales for Ford trucks in September 2008.

The answer: “We had to create a program so cool, so different and so exciting, it would convince whoever was still in the truck market to say, ‘No doubt about it, I’m buying that frickin’ Ram,” the announcer says.

The five Webisodes, which were six minutes each, boasted a 90 percent completion rate by viewers who spent an average of 12 minutes on the site. The program ranked in the top 10 of IAG’s most memorable ads and has attracted more than 2 million visitors.

Robertson also showed ads for AT&T in which five spots were measured for return on investment; Wrigley’s Orbit gum; and a campaign for HBO, which featured an apartment building that gave viewers of “HBO voyeur” an intimate look at the lives of the residents who lived there.

An announcer says: “HBO wanted a piece of communication that said, ‘We’re the greatest storytellers in the world and we’re going to tell those stories not just on TV, but in a wide variety of mediums. So instead of creating a piece that just said those things, we created a media program that demonstrated those things.”

The program began with an image projected on a building in New York City, giving the illusion that an entire wall had been removed. It was then adapted for the Web, as viewers could follow the story on HBO’s site. More than a million unique viewers visited the site during the first week of its launch, and more than half of the network’s OnDemand viewers turned to the site during the first week of the program’s release.

“Everything is connected; everything is driven by a single idea,” Robertson said.

In the AT&T commercials the difference between the best- and worst-performing spots, according to the ROI, was 65 percent. “So, that’s why modeling this stuff and measuring the worth is that important,” Robertson said.

For Orbit, a hip-hop star called Big Pak was invented to promote a package that included 35 pieces of gum – “big enough to clean up the dirtiest mouths.” The “cleans dirty mouths” ad campaign featured a Web site in which Big Pak would clean up any word typed in by viewers; he also helped to host the 2009 MTV Movie Awards show, sponsored by Orbit, that incorporated the campaign theme.

“That’s what I mean by an integrated big idea,” said Robertson, citing “fabulous” results from the campaign. For instance, repeat purchases were up 24 percent vs. the norm, TV awareness was up 105 percent and digital awareness was up 81 percent.

He discards the idea of a revolution in favor of evolution, defined by “a very clear purpose, a very clear set of operating principles. And then progress that you make literally job by job, client by client, office by office, day by day.”