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The Global CMO Interview: Trevor Edwards, Nike

'Ideas Rule. Ideas Are in Charge'

By Published on . 2

CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- As Nike's top marketer, Trevor Edwards, VP-global brand and category management, has helped the world's leading footwear and apparel company grow its market-share lead by becoming possibly the world's most accomplished digital marketer.

Trevor Edwards
Trevor Edwards Credit: Michael McDermott
Under Mr. Edwards' watch, with a global marketing budget of $2.35 billion (which includes advertising, promotions and endorsement contracts), Nike has grown an already impressive record for innovation with new products such as the iPod-integrated Nike Plus and the online shoe-customizing NikeID. And it has set ROI-obsessed marketing industry tongues wagging as it repeatedly finds ways to create compelling content viewed online by millions without so much as a TV spot fueling it.

Nike executives say there's no formula for their hit-making, but rather, in each case, the company starts with a story to tell consumers and then decides which media or technological tools will be best suited for it.

For instance, at this summer's FIFA World Cup, which Mr. Edwards notes will be watched by half the world's population, Nike executives say they are particularly excited -- ironically, given their digital leanings -- about an epic TV spot called "Write the Future," from Wieden & Kennedy, which Mr. Edwards said was one of the best the company has ever done.

Ad Age: You have had tremendous success with big, global ideas, but we've also seen you connect with very successful local insights, such as the "Huevos" soccer campaign in Mexico. What's your strategy for finding those local insights?

Mr. Edwards: We have teams of passionate people all around the globe. And they love sports, and they love the sports they participate in. We have a process in our organization where we share ideas across the world. When we did the last World Cup, one of the things we did do was follow the rise of social networks. But we didn't think of it as social networks, we viewed it as a phenomenon of people on these social sites connecting with each other. And that started out [with local sites] in Brazil and in Korea. And we saw that and said, "Well, that's a pretty cool idea."

Ad Age: At the same time, though, so much of what you do is global, particularly a lot of the viral video stuff. And different markets have different sensibilities, so the recent Tiger Woods ad, for instance, might not be well received everywhere. How do you deal with the lack of control?

Mr. Edwards: "Control" is an impossible word. I don't think it's something we can control. What's interesting is that, as much as we've had tremendous successes with videos, we've also had quite a few things that just didn't work. You just don't hear about them, and that's part of the reality of what we do. But, yes, there are things we do that are sometimes polarizing. Yes, we knew it would be provocative. But we felt the athlete's voice had been lost in the conversation. And having him, his voice, out there was important for him, and it was for us.

Ad Age: You work with so many agencies. How do you manage a global agency roster?

Mr. Edwards: Loosely. (Laughs) Look, ideas rule. Ideas are in charge. And they come from people who work inside Nike and from people who work outside Nike. The way that we work isn't the classic "we brief you and you do this." We like to keep the process very open so the best of the ideas can come out. And if you sat in on a meeting with an AKQA team, an R/GA team, a Wieden & Kennedy team and a Nike team, you would have no idea who was whom. We see ourselves as all on the same team trying to get the best ideas for the consumer. And the work we're doing around the World Cup is representative of that.

Ad Age: You also approach ROI a lot differently than, say, Procter & Gamble or some of the big, global consumer-products companies. You're a bit more relaxed about it. Why?

Mr. Edwards: If you seek to innovate and you're constantly trying to measure the price of innovation, you are going to struggle. When you're innovating, you're often breaking new ground, so you can't measure that sense of what's yet to come. Our model focuses really on getting the best message to that consumer in the most holistic way. And, within that, we're going to take some things that we know work. And we're going to take some things that we're still trying out. But we don't sit there and try to measure all the different pieces. We try and see how the whole thing works, and what we learn from it. We really pride ourselves on innovating. Consumers expect brands to be smart and creative and fun. And if you try to measure it all the way, you might never get there.

Ad Age: What's the thing that you, as a global marketer, spend the most time worrying about?

Mr. Edwards: Making sure we're staying ahead of where we think the consumer is going. Are we making sure our teams are enabled to do creative in the best way they possibly can? At Nike, the value of what the marketing organization brings to the company is embedded in everything. We spend much of our time thinking about how the landscape is changing and how we have to change our brand in the context of that landscape.

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