McCann Worldgroup shined a light on brands' meaningful roles while boosting business
McCann has captured hearts and minds with socially- conscious award-grabbers like Lockheed Martin’s “Field Trip to Mars” from 2016 and “Fearless Girl” for State Street Global Advisors in 2017. But in 2019, it showed how even big, established consumer brands can play an impactful and credible role when it comes to doing good
Last year, the shop helped Microsoft earn a Brand Experience and Activation Grand Prix at Cannes with “Changing the Game,” the integrated push around the company’s award-winning adaptive controller that makes gaming more accessible for players with disabilities. It began with a heartwarming holiday spot that depicted kids rallying around Owen Sirmons, a child gamer with a rare genetic disorder.
Behind-the-scenes footage from that spot ended up becoming a Super Bowl campaign featuring an endearing cast of young gamers and their families, who rejoice over how the controller has helped to level up their game—and their confidence. Ultimately, the effort went on to garner $35 million in earned media and 1.1 billion impressions, according to the campaign’s case study.
“I don’t think it’s a bad thing to be the best at creating purpose-led work, but what we stand for is creating meaningful work that is results-driven,” says Global Creative Chairman Rob Reilly.
Over the past five years or so, McCann’s senior leadership team has been hammering out a philosophy to help sharpen the agency’s focus on doing just that—and 2019 is when it all started to gel. "Our goal has been to show the meaningful relationship a product or brand can have in a consumer’s life,” says Chairman and CEO Harris Diamond. “The most important success barometer for us has been for the clients to adopt that mantra.”
Microsoft’s Corporate VP-Brand, Advertising and Research Kathleen Hall describes her company’s relationship with the agency as close to symbiotic, one born from the agency’s ability to recognize the marketer’s most valuable assets. “Rob has never wavered from his belief about the company’s greatness and that it deserves to be recognized for it,” Hall says. “There’s an amazingly close partnership.”
For Mastercard, McCann already made history with its “Priceless” campaign, but last year it deepened that legacy with a startling product idea. As part of its #AcceptanceMatters push around Pride Week, the brand debuted the “True Name” card, which allows individuals who have transitioned to put their new names on their credit cards—an idea that alleviates the awkward position people can be in when their card monikers don’t seem to match up with their physical appearance. It was inspired by the experience of Associate Creative Director Lucas Crigler, one of the agency’s creatives who had transitioned.
“We’re proud that a lot of our more interesting work comes from our team’s personal insights and passions,” says McCann New York Co-Chief Creative Officer Tom Murphy. He and fellow Co-Chief Creative Officer Sean Bryan say that among the most important tools for them have been “empathy” and “listening. “Looking at every conversation, with creatives or clients, has led to some of our most impactful and culture-shifting work,” Bryan says.
The meaningful ideas continued with Verizon’s integrated Big Game push “The Team That Wouldn’t Be Here,” which assembled a “new” NFL team comprising 11 players that would no longer be around had it not been for emergency calls that saved their lives in various crises. The agency also went on to win the 2019 Cannes Lions Grand Prix for Good for a March for Our Lives ad featuring a young girl who schools a group of office workers on the finer points of gun violence lockdown drills—something in which American kids are well-trained.
Though 2019 was a year of big creative wins for the agency, its revenue dipped, clocking in at about a 1.5 to 2 percent gain in the U.S. compared to at least 5 percent in recent years. Diamond attributes that to losing the U.S. Army account late in 2018. But the team rallied. “Instead of retreating, we sold a lot, we created a lot of relationships and got a lot of shares of their wallets,” he says. In 2019, the agency saw 82 account wins amounting to $90 million. Among the U.S. and global wins were eBay, Fujifilm, LinkedIn, Coke with Coffee, InterContinental Hotels, TGI Fridays and Beam and Suntory.
Also central to McCann’s success has been the brand’s global proprietary intelligence group “Truth Central,” comprising 25 million data points about consumer behavior. According to Global Chief Strategy Officer Suzanne Powers, it’s not just a repository of stats. The agency also has “Truth 2 Meaning,” an established methodology for leveraging that data and applying it to client problems and briefs. “If you have a mission and don’t create a practical toolset, it just becomes propaganda,” she says.