During a capabilities pitch a few years ago we were sharing our agency mission – To create inspiring ideas for courageous clients – when the potential client suddenly stopped us in our tracks saying, “I’m not sure we’re that.” This transparent confession threw us for a moment and ultimately ended our prospects with that particular client, but we are forever in her debt. She knew her company culture and ultimately spared us the demoralizing impact of a time and expense-sucking pitch for a client for whom we were ill suited.
When we crafted our agency’s mission we took Bernbach’s advice – “If you stand for nothing, you’ll find nobody against you – and nobody for you.” We were determined to not only describe what it is we do, but to be one of the few agencies to describe the kind of client for whom we wanted to do it – the “courageous” ones.
To us, “courageous” isn’t about doing an off-color ad to get noticed (although that kind of disruption has its place). No, to us it’s really about playing the marketing game on offense and doing everything that you can to make your brand way more relevant and compelling than any other player in your category. That takes some guts.
I give you this context as we name our latest Courageous Client Award Winner, because unlike last quarter’s winner, Ragu, with its hilarious and risky, “A Long Day of Childhood Calls for America’s Favorite Pasta Sauce” (boy interrupting parents in flagrante delicto), our latest winner might not be that obvious. Yes, Dick’s Sporting Goods marketing is beautiful, inspiring and emotionally-charged. So where does the “courageous” come in?
It comes with the February 2011 arrival of CMO, Lauren Hobart. At that time, Dick’s wasn’t a broken brand that needed to be saved. It had been steadily growing its footprint across the country and was neck-and-neck with Sports Authority for sporting goods category leadership. What it was doing was obviously working; so don’t fix it, right?
Wrong. Ms. Hobart’s personal vision and 14 previous years at Pepsi obviously led her to the conclusion that Dick’s TV advertising wasn’t as good as the brand could be. Here’s where the “courageous” comes in. For years before her tenure, Dick’s ran boring, undifferentiated price and item advertising on TV. Dick’s TV was an electronic version of their newspaper circular. And I’m sure previous marketing leadership could point to its sales effectiveness. But Ms. Hobart knew better. She left that newspaper circular pretty much alone to do its thing. But on TV, she challenged the conventional wisdom, and I’m pretty sure some of her senior management team, to use the TV medium to do its thing – emotionally connect viewers with the Dick’s Sporting Goods brand.
Lauren Hobart had the courage to throw out price & item TV and push for TV that really makes you root for Dick’s.
Her agency, Anomaly, gets a tip of the hat as well for its powerful storytelling. But just as Dick’s says “Every Season Starts with Dicks,” every great marketing story starts with a CMO who has the courage to push beyond “good enough” and swing for great.