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Kraft's Fly Garage Inspires Innovation in Latin America

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Making the Trident brand fun was the mission when Kraft Latin America's Maria Mujica led the company's first Project Fly last November, launching an ambitious innovation incubator for digital projects in the region.

Now Kraft is opening the Fly Garage, a permanent home in trendy Buenos Aires neighborhood Palermo Soho for the two-week immersion sessions that will bring together Kraft marketers, agencies and other collaborators like Hyper Island to focus on a single brand and its challenges.

"We want to create trends, be ahead of consumers' thinking and deliver work they don't expect," said Gustavo Abelenda, president of Kraft Latin America. "For that, innovation is the key word."

Ms. Mujica, Buenos Aires-based marketing director for gum and candy for the region, tapped Nicolas Pimentel, the founder of +Castro, to help. She knew his work as an innovation director on projects for brands like Nike and Pepsi, involving a mix of strategy, creative work and production. He became the project's co-leader, organizer and production resource when she brought together the first group of flyers, as participants are called, to tackle Trident.

Maria Mujica
Maria Mujica
"We work as a single team with one goal and one problem," said Ms. Mujica, who is aiming for the feel of a startup. "The Garage is a mental and physical space, where we can experiment and create innovative consumer connections."

Out of that first session, nine of the best ideas generated were prototyped, ranging from designing intricate models to doing tests in real markets, and three of those ideas will be implemented on a large scale in the next six months.

"One will cross borders and turn into a global idea," Mr. Abelenda said.

One idea tested was using Trident to enliven the dull mood of a tiny Argentine town where nothing ever happens by literally creating an explosion of laughter. A giant pinata was placed in the town square and filled with fun by stuffing it with gum, candy and small toys. But the only way to inflate the pinata was by sending funny tweets to the small town. An electronic device converted each message sent to the town's hashtag into a burst of air. The local people watched in fascination as the tweets (sent by flyers) were displayed on big screens next to the expanding pinata, as well as streamed live on a website. The pinata burst after four hours, showering everyone with treats.

"It's a perfect example of how far Kraft is willing to go to test an idea," Mr. Pimentel said. "It's not just a prototype, they raised the bar and did a test market."

Three more two-week Garage sessions will be held this year, in early August, October and November. Each will bring together about 20 people, including half a dozen young Kraft execs from around Latin America, Ms. Mujica, Mr. Pimentel, other contributors like agencies and digital media partners, and three Hyper Island students. In addition, "agitators" from companies like BrainJuicer and innovation studio Deeplocal turn up for a day to provoke and inspire with workshops.

Which Kraft brand is the subject of the next two-week Fly Garage session? Flyers won't know in advance.

"The level of uncomfortableness we want to create is massive," Ms. Mujica said. "Before, we tried to have everyone on board, with a plan. This is the anti-plan."

The young Kraft flyers will come from all over Latin America. In the first session, they included Hortensia de Gainza, who joined Kraft a year ago from a local digital agency; Christian Calabrese, a Venezuelan marketer for Kraft's powdered drinks who previously worked at Procter & Gamble; Javier Leon Brenes, who worked in R&D at Kraft for years before a recent switch to marketing the company's chocolate brands in Costa Rica; Jose Tomas Leon Lecaros, a sales manager from Chile; and Marisol Cabrera, a Trident brand manager formerly at Jose Cuervo in Mexico.

On a conference call, the five talked enthusiastically about how inspiring they found working so closely in a creative, hierarchy-free environment with each other and their agency partners. None of them knew each other before the Trident session, but they stay in touch, "mostly on Google Hangout," said Javier.

To become flyers, Ms. Mujica said Kraft execs aren't required to have worked on the brand that is the topic for their session. She's looking for a good fit between that session's challenge and the individuals participating, and each business unit can present a candidate.

"Then it's like American Idol!" she said.

The Fly Garage is regionally funded through a standalone budget, Ms. Mujica said. "This is not about advertising," she said. "It's about creating experiments."

Trident's global agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, participated, and Ms. Mujica said all the new ideas and projects generated can lead to more work for the agencies.

Mr. Abelenda is a big supporter, staying in close touch and bringing execs like Ms. Mujica in to present to senior Latin American managers, who he said all now want Garages for their own business units.

"I'm a flyer!" he said. "The Garage could be for any kind of innovation in any area, not just marketing. It could be for product innovation, or how we work in finance. The dream is to have as many Garages as needed."

Ms. Mujica said the plan is to set up the master Garage in Buenos Aires this year, then expand around Latin America in 2013.

Next week, Ms. Mujica, Mr. Pimentel and others will talk about the Fly Garage at a Cannes Lions seminar and the www.flygarage.net site will go live. The site will include a "Want to be a Flyer?" section that will enable Ms. Mujica and Mr. Pimentel to do "speed dating" with prospective candidates while at Cannes.

In a major restructuring coming up, Kraft will break into two separate companies later this year, with most of the Kraft Latin American brands becoming part of the new Mondelez International business that will focus mostly on global snacks.

"We're representing a big portion of the new company in Latin America," Mr. Abelenda said. "One of the big challenges is to increase consumption per capita."

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