Diageo marketing boss: ‘I was sick and tired of wasting strategy money’



Diageo marketing and innovation chief Adam Ballesty has predicted more companies will want a single agency to handle both their creative work and media buying after admitting he was “sick and tired” of having his strategy interpreted differently by a variety of agencies.

His comments came as the alcohol beverage giant beds down its newly-struck agreement with Leo Burnett, with Diageo confirming in July that it had dumped media agency Ikon Communications and appointed the creative agency to oversee its media account in addition to its creative work.

While only two weeks in to the new arrangement, Ballesty told Mumbrella it will be “phenomenal”.

“My vision is to create and deliver the one strategy through the one partner,” he said. “What was happening was that we were having one strategy interpreted three or four different times in different channels by different partners.

“What I was sick and tired of was paying for strategy and not seeing my hard-to-get dollars being used to create love and fun for our brands and with our consumers and customers.”

Asked if Diageo’s move was likely to be replicated, Ballesty said: “Yes, I reckon that once they see what we are bringing to life and the ease of bringing it to life. I know a lot of them are thinking about how they get this done.”

While the Mediavest arm of Starcom Mediavest will be the registered media company, the strategy, channel planning and “important chunky bits of media will come out of Leo Burnett”, he said.

Diageo’s approach comes as the industry faces mounting marketing challenges amid declining levels of alcohol consumption, which are at their lowest level for 15 years.

Ballesty said the market has been “flat or stagnant for some time” as companies have struggled to combat the declining consumption levels of alcohol.

“On all our core brands, Bundaberg, Johnnie Walker and Smirnoff, we have not seen the growth that we have seen in previous years so it has not been all singing and dancing,” he said. “In pockets there has been growth but there have also been pockets where it has been flat and pockets of small decline.

“I always say that doing ok is not ok. When you have iconic brands we should be blowing the doors off every year.

“People are drinking less and my personal view, and it is something that we are trying to quantify now, is that there is a lot more choice on how to spend a dollar. On Friday night when I was growing up you either went to a movie or the pub. But people don’t have to go past their phone to entertain or be entertained now. There is just more choice.”

Drink has been replaced by food as the centrepiece of an evening, Ballesty added, which has further diminished the appetite for alcohol. But

“The food culture of today is fantastic and I see that as a fantastic opportunity,” he said.

Innovation has fuelled what growth there has been, Ballesty said, with Diageo “now making rums that are best in class”.

“We have a range called the Master Distillers Collection and that liquid is now award winning at the big spirit shows around the world,” he said. “Bundaberg at that premium end of town is getting its liquid credentials and we are looking at export opportunities and how to get even more value out of that brand globally.”

Steve Jones


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