Alexander teaches instinct at Campbell

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Paul Alexander, VP-global advertising, Campbell Soup Co., was relishing his brief role recently as an ad-agency creative. Despite polite but firm insistence by his clients that they were not interested in testing a Charmin ad for the U.K. featuring a donkey and the tagline, "Your ass will love it," he prodded them incessantly. "Come on, this donkey ad is really something that would get the brand noticed, break through the clutter. You have to take risks."

Melissa Delphant, assistant brand manager on Campbell's Red & White Soups (playing the role of Charmin brand manager), stood her ground: "I could see people talking about it, getting the buzz going, but it's not sustaining for our strategy."

The role-playing was part of regular advertising training sessions that Mr. Alexander has run with junior marketing executives at Campbell for nearly three years since he joined the company. Like his agency persona, Mr. Alexander-and Campbell CEO Doug Conant-have pushed hard for breakthrough creative that, along with recent innovations in products and packaging such as microwaveable Soup at Hand, aims to make Campbell's portfolio more contemporary.

The training, Mr. Alexander's "personal passion" and something he dedicates 20% of his time to, helps young marketers "learn to be more comfortable and confident reacting to what the agency presents and communicating their thoughts back to the agency," he said. "Marketers can be very linear, looking only at the strategy, but they need to learn to trust their gut." One tip Mr. Alexander gives trainees is to develop their "gut meter," rating their initial reaction on a scale of one to 10. His personal criteria for accepting work, he said, is an eight or better. "An agency will never improve an ad more than 20%," he said definitively.

His hands-on approach has begun to pay dividends, at least according to Campbell's agency partners.

James Caporimo, exec VP-executive creative director at WPP Group's Young & Rubicam, which handles advertising for Campbell brands including Chunky, V8 and Prego, said, "Paul is somebody from `their' side of the table that shows his people our side of it. He has a lot of empathy for creative people, respects the creative product and creates a bit of a pathway for us, getting [his team] to react viscerally to the creative rather than go through their traditional marketing checklist. That's a huge help, especially with package goods, where there is a lot of testing involved."

fostering empowerment

Ed Maslow, senior creative director at Omnicom's BBDO, New York, longtime agency for many of Campbell's soup brands, agreed. He believes Mr. Alexander's focused attention on the company's smart young M.B.A.s has fostered a structure where "those people actually in charge of the brands are empowered to execute advertising that's responsible but also dedicated to being culturally relevant."

Mr. Alexander honed his own abilities to take "principled risks" during 15 years at Procter & Gamble Co. (hence the Charmin example). A regular at strategy meetings, he pointed to recent initiatives that "wouldn't have happened five years ago," including sexy Godiva work, Chunky Chili tailgate-themed advertising and Campbell's Chicken Noodle work for kids featuring soccer phenom Freddy Adu.The quest for edgier work has led Campbell to venture beyond its roster shops for ideas, recently handing an assignment for Pepperidge Farm brand Goldfish crackers to BrightHouse Live, Atlanta. Y&R had handled.

"When Y&R presented the Chunky Chili storyboards, they presented one in the traditional mama's boys vein [featuring NFL players and their moms] and everyone was nervous about the tailgating spot because it was so new and different from what had been done on Chunky," Mr. Alexander said.

While the financial community has noted the change, with Prudential Securities analyst John McMillin calling Campbell's advertising "definitely edgier," what matters to them, of course, are the numbers. Campbell's has slogged through years of declining sales for its condensed-soup lineup, but last week the company reported U.S. sales of its condensed soups rose 10% for the first quarter, largely a result of increased marketing and promotional spending. Overall sales at Campbell beat analysts forecasts, rising 9.5% to $2 billion in the quarter.

Whether or not Campbell can attribute any of its positive momentum directly to advertising-or specifically to training of its marketing folks-is unclear. But more and more companies view marketing talent as a key driver of growth.

training strategically

"There has been, since the middle of the year, a huge push from the corporate side to enhance marketing training," said Ada Agrait, senior director-training and development for the Association of National Advertisers. She cited the influx of training programs at companies including Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co., Novartis and Wendy's. "People realize marketing can give their companies returns and people are very important. They're thinking of training more strategically," she said. The ANA is running 10 global marketing training programs on-site for corporations and has had more than 100 participants for its Accredited Marketing Professional program this year.

For its part, Campbell may indeed be on the right track, at least in terms of the up-and-comer trainees who decided against the donkey ad. In reality, the Charmin team agreed to test it, and the results were terrible. As Mr. Alexander would say, good gut. Next up for training in '05: the senior marketing staff.

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