Advertising Interviews

Maarten Albarda

VP - Global Connections | 09 Jul 2010

I think mobile, if you look at the distribution of availability and consumer usage, is all about being mass. It is not a new medium. It is an incredibly personal and highly relevant medium. It may be the number one medium, but as an advertising medium, it is still very much in its budding stage… In India, mobile phone penetration is very high, however, the number of smart phones is still very low. It is up to the industry to take note and say, sure there are smart phones, but the majority doesn’t use them, so what do we do about that?

Maarten Albarda started his career in advertising and spent 14 years working for (respectively) J Walter Thompson Amsterdam, Leo Burnett Amsterdam, Leo Burnett Regional Headquarters London, McCann-Erickson Regional Headquarters in London, and Universal McCann Worldwide, New York.

In 1999, he joined The Coca-Cola Company and moved to Japan to develop an integrated marketing communications structure to support planning and execution of the FIFA World Cup 2002 activation. After successfully completing this assignment, he transferred to Coca-Cola Germany in November 2002. As Director of Marketing Communications, he was responsible for all brand marketing communications across all brands. His responsibilities included advertising, media, interactive, sponsorship, events, and PR.

From October 2005, he joined The Coca-Cola Company corporate headquarters Global Marketing and Commercial Leadership group as Worldwide Director of Media & Communication Innovation.

Being given the opportunity to join the senior executive team at Anheuser-Busch InBev and help accomplish ABI’s goal of building ‘the best beer company in a better world’ was a rare and challenging opportunity. Based in New York since September 2009, Albarda has visited all top 10 ABI markets and started the process of developing strategic direction and capabilities covering media, sports and entertainment, digital, online, etc.

In this interview with Noor Fathima Warsia, Albarda speaks about connecting with the audience via multiple platforms and use of mobile for greater audience connect.

Q. How do you view the very famous picture right now – a teenager with iPod in one ear and gaming in another… probably consuming five forms of media at one time. While it is a difficult attention span to get into, is it right to interpret that it is five different ways of reaching the individual at the same time? Is it fair to look at it that way?

I feel that for any target audience – and we target 18+ or 21+ – we are thinking too much in boxes, with the digital box and the digital campaign, there is the PR box in the PR campaign.

My mother is almost 80 years old and she has a Facebook page. She communicates with her friends from all over the world via emails. So, I think it is less about categorising and we have to look at all the channels together and work it out all over the menu. They are the people who are passionate about mixing the right ingredients and getting the consistency in the high quality of our products all around the world.

So, it’s not about how much we put it out from one box to another – from television to online. The question is what is the mix of the message that is to be conveyed.

Q. Is it fair to expect or to gauge the revenue or return on investment in all of these various returns of the mix?

Yes, and we are trying to do that. We are engaging with a company called Marketing Evolution. They have a rather unique product called ‘Romo’, which allows one to literally track on a long term basis.

Q. Have you been able to gauge any results from this so far?

It is much too early to tell. We just got the first wave results for three markets that we are doing – the UK, the US and Brazil. The pilots that we did in the UK in 2009 definitely provide an opportunity to gauge results.

Q. So, if I could pick up on the pilots, what are the returns that you are getting on your various pieces?

I don’t think I will be able to tell yet. There was only one pilot. I cannot tell you about what returns we are getting, but it will help us to understand the mix. So, we have 50 per cent in TV, 20 per cent in out-of-home, and 5 per cent in search. And we have to see how these different components are contributing. We shouldn’t base that on a one-path thing, because it is on a weekly basis. For example, I see this week that the television campaign is picking up, while the digital campaign’s pickup is slow. So, I need to make sure it is over a period of time.

Q. Coming to the mobile medium, there are so many conversations about mobile that it is no longer niche – there is augmentative reality, there is social networking, there is locative data. What is your take on mobile? Are we being too optimistic about it once again?

I think mobile, if you look at the distribution of availability and consumer usage, is all about being mass. It is not a new medium. It is an incredibly personal and highly relevant medium. It may be the number one medium, but as an advertising medium, it is still very much in its budding stage.

In most markets, people do not have technology like 3G. At times, the industry in New York and West Europe thinks anything is possible because they have an iPhone and 3G. But the markets that have the most experience in My Network are the ones like Ukraine, which is because they don’t have Internet access everywhere as compared to other markets, but everybody has a mobile phone. And these are not the high-end handsets, just normal mobile phones. I think the mobile phone is still very basic at the moment. As a medium, we may deny it is there, but as an industry we haven’t the cracked the codes yet.

Q. All these forms of technology were so-called ‘diminishing the borders’, with whole concept of differences between audiences minimising. Somewhere do you think – like 3G and iPhone are doing well in one part of the world and not doing too well in another part – are we creating a digital wall?

Yes, it is like the digital haves and the digital have-nots. At the same time, in an under-developed market, they will have to build it in today’s perspective. What we have seen in some parts of the world, take Russia for example, where the mobile phones in use are well developed and of high standard. And we see how we can connect with people through the mobile medium.

In India, mobile phone penetration is very high, however, the number of smart phones is still very low. It is up to the industry to take note and say, sure there are smart phones, but the majority doesn’t use them, so what do we do about that? We can make meaningful connections with that audience if we are a super premium brand, but they have to use smart phones. So, we have to target to the audience. That’s why I had said that in mobile we have not really cracked the codes yet. But it is undeniably an important medium.

Q. How has the shift been for you from a cola giant to Anheuser-Busch InBev?

We build brands with incredible equities and incredible position as the number one or two in the market. What we now need to do is creating out of all these entities that form the company, a single approach, philosophy and one thinking model around it. That is why we use these external institutions to help us further clarify our theories, move our thinking to the next level, and then to accelerate that concept. Then we overlay with our approach and our philosophies.

We are moving very fast in that respect because we are very committed to growing and building our brands. I believe that if a brand goes topline tomorrow, that brand’s equity is going to be very important. We have 13 $1-billion brands – that’s a lot of brands. We want to double the number of billion-dollar brands. But we also want to ensure that the 13 that we have now remain healthy, vibrant, current, and relevant. In order to do that, we need to really accelerate and invest in our knowledge of marketing and communication.

Q. For you, as an experience, it must be a different experience, a little more fun...

I am definitely having a lot of fun, which is also important. And I need to give the credit to my team to have it pulled it off.

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