Once lumbering and conservative, Kraft Foods is anything but these days, keeping Wall Street and Madison Avenue players on their toes with frequent ad agency changes and a radical plan to split the company in two.
Friday, at the Association of National Advertisers convention in Phoenix, one of the food giant's top marketers provided some clues about what might be behind all the changes: a new risk-taking philosophy that embraces change in big bold strokes, rather than shorter incremental moves.
"You get the people right, you give them very high goals and then you give them freedom," Dana Anderson, Kraft's SVP-Marketing Strategy and Communications, told her fellow marketers. She described the company's new strategy of tossing aside conventional thinking to take what she calls "leaps."
While on stage, Ms. Anderson followed her own advice, delivering a presentation that was anything but conventional. It was a little bit hard to follow at times--she attempted to cover a lot of ground and in so doing jumped from topic to topic--but the content was engaging, entertaining, and drew frequent laughs as Ms. Anderson invoked everyone from Dr. Seuss to the "Numa Numa" guy, the lip-synching phenomenon made famous on YouTube.
Her point was to encourage marketers to take risks. "There is a big wet kiss at the end of leaping, a great big one that is worth the effort," she said.
At Kraft, risk-taking has even meant unlimited budgets for big ideas in an initiative called "blank checks" led by Sanjay Khosla, Kraft's exec VP of developing markets. "Your constraints should not be your budget but your imagination," Ms. Anderson said. "If you have an idea and you can't afford it, you come to him, he gives you the blank check, you fill in the number."
"He's given away 13, and 12 of the 13 times people have met his goals," she said. "He says they are more careful with his money than they are with his own, and one guy even brought back change."
She also referenced another internal initiative dubbed "Operation Spark," whereby Kraft summons new ideas to market some of its smaller brands such as Breakstone sour cream, Stove Top stuffing and Athenos dips. The brands, which did not have their own ad agencies, were paired with five creative shops for short-term projects.
"We paid for the date. We gave them eight weeks," Ms. Anderson said. "At the end of the day, you don't have to keep going but three of them did." One of the agencies, Droga5, was named agency of record for the Athenos line of Mediterranean foods. It created a campaign featuring a Greek grandmother who in one spot accuses her granddaughter of dressing like a prostitute, yet the grandmother still approves of her serving Athenos hummus.
Even though the ads were called offensive by some in the Greek community, Kraft has stuck by them. Droga5 defended them as well, saying in published reports that it was "thrilled to be working with a company so willing to push creative boundaries."
And it appears that pushing boundaries is the hallmark of the new Kraft. Part of risk-taking involves being open to new ideas that might take you new places, Ms. Anderson said in her speech.
"Your destination might change. You might think I'm going to Toledo, but at the end of the journey you may be in Tokyo."