Be a dragon, not a unicorn, says Mondelez’s Bough

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Mondelez executive B. Bonin Bough equates being a dragon with fearlessness. Right now that means Oreo embracing messaging apps as brands begin to test the waters.

In investment circles, startups with billion-dollar valuations are known as unicorns. Unicorns blow up out of nowhere. Unicorns are beautiful and powerful creatures. Who wouldn’t want to be a unicorn?

B. Bonin Bough, chief media and ecommerce officer at Mondelēz International, for one. Delivering the closing keynote at the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) Leadership Forum in New York City yesterday, Bough pointed out that unicorns often fizzle out, just as quickly as they rose to the top. A November New York Times article called LivingSocial “a cautionary tale for today’s unicorns.”

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Bough thinks it’s much better to be a dragon.

“A dragon uses the mindset of a startup and the strength of its parent company to launch an industry-disrupting business,” he explained.

For Bough, there are three steps: hatching the dragon, raising the dragon and riding the dragon. In other words, come up with a great idea, execute it and continue to improve it.

It takes fearlessness, something Bough credits Dana Anderson, Mondelēz chief marketing officer and 2014’s Ad Person of the Year, for bringing to the organization. Some of Mondelēz’s dragon husbandry includes turning the brand into a legitimate publisher.

“Every brand tells you, ‘I’m a publisher!,'” said Bough. “The difference is, publishers have to get paid by consumers buying their content or advertisers paying to advertise on the content.”

Mondelēz sells ads on both Ritz Crackers’ CheeseRank site (“It’s like BuzzFeed for cheese,” explained Bough) and the Oreo Twist, Lick, Dunk game.

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The app’s very existence shows a bit of a dragon quality, as Mondelēz opted not to have an agency involved with it. Making smartphone games isn’t their thing so instead, the brand tapped New Zealand game developer PikPok and gave them free rein.

“Don’t desecrate the Oreo and make the game make money,” said Bough, on his only two rules.

Brands can show their fearless, dragon side in simpler ways, as well, such as bold posts on social media. With the infamous Super Bowl tweet, the brand capitalized on a moment without over thinking it. In another viral post, Oreo posted something on Facebook that could have pissed off a lot of people (it did). But hundreds of thousands also liked it. Both of these examples come up all the time, despite being a few years old.

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Embracing messaging apps is Oreo’s next dragon move, something many brands are hesitant to do. Bough pointed out that of the 10 most-used apps worldwide, six – including WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and KakaoTalk, which is used by 93 percent of South Korean smartphone users – are for messaging. By contrast, Skype was the only one to make the list five years ago.

He added that messaging apps are much more inherently social than social media.

“The promise with social was one-on-one communication, but when you engage with someone on Twitter, the rest of the world can see it,” he said. “Now, you’re talking to people on the same devices as their loved ones.”

Mobile phones are very personal devices, as they’re essentially extensions of our arms. (Yours is within reach right this second, isn’t it?) We also spend approximately one million hours a day using them. Therefore, the trick with messaging apps is not to be too aggressive, kind of like how Sephora uses its chatbots to give advice, rather than blatantly push products.

“Even a brand like Oreo, which is 104 years old can sit at the intersection of disruption and wonder,” said Bough, precisely because he understands how interactions with consumers work. “With Facebook, we’re trained to accept ads. On a messaging app, it has to be about a relationship. For a relationship to start to have real value, people have to want it.”

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