Leo Burnett taking the power back to the people with HumanKind

By Biprorshee Das , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising
Last updated : November 12, 2010
In an exclusive chat with afaqs!, Tom Bernardin, chairman and chief executive officer, and Mark Tutssel, chief creative officer, both from Leo Burnett Worldwide, spoke of their new book, HumanKind and the growing importance of putting people at the centre of all that a brand does.

Tom Bernardin, chairman and chief executive officer, Leo Burnett Worldwide and Mark Tutssel, global chief creative officer of the agency were in India to launch their book, HumanKind.

HumanKind is a book about people -- what engages them, moves them and stimulates them to act in a certain way. It invites readers into the world of Leo Burnett and gives them a behind-the-scenes look at a global creative network, which believes that modern communication needs begin and end with people.

afaqs! spoke to Bernardin and Tutssel, as they shed more light on the philosophy behind the book, what they believe brands should focus on to be iconic and the power of creativity.

Excerpts from the conversation:

afaqs!: Explain HumanKind.

Bernardin: Humankind is about people and putting people at the centre of everything that we do. Simply put, we pride ourselves, at Leo Burnett, in understanding people and their behaviour and that is our starting point.

When we work with our clients, we want to understand what the human purpose of our client's brand is in people's lives. That allows us to create ideas that can truly be transformative.

Also, what we really seek is to get people to participate in a brand. Once we get that kind of participation, we can ultimately get to the Utopia, which is populism. We can create popular brands.

McDonald's, for example, which arguably is the people's restaurant; or a brand such as Kellogg's that could be called the people's cereal.

This book is about the different kind of brands that are able to do that; our own brands and other brands. It is, I think, the story of the power of creativity today.

Tuttsel: You can look at a business problem as a set of numbers from a rational point of view using data or conventional research; or you can look at it from a humane lens. What we do, first and foremost, is not think about proposition or conventional approaches to communication. We look at the meaning of a brand.

When you think of people today, a generation that has technology at their fingertips, who are ad-literate and who are constantly looking for content that is interesting, intriguing, relevant, stimulating, and above all useful, you have to be driven by purpose.

It is not what a brand is, but what a brand means. It is not what a brand does, but why it exists.

We try to portray the conviction a brand has and then to find smart, intelligent ways to amplify and activate that purpose.

afaqs!: Could you elaborate on the concept of people's participation in a brand?

Bernardin: When I talk about people participating in a brand, it is about getting people engaged.

The days are gone when we push ideas to people and hope that there is something that would make them go out and buy the product. We want ideas that have people engaged.

The purpose of McDonald's is simply enjoyment. That means different things in different parts of the world, but we want people to engage with McDonald's and come in for simple enjoyment of the quality of food.

That can be true for many, many clients. A brand such as Coca Cola -- it is getting people to participate and engage with the brand.

Tutssel: People are not passive receivers of the brand anymore. They are far more active in their relationship with brands. The result of all this is populism. Populism, by definition, is of the people. At the end of the day, iconic brands are not created by advertising agencies or marketers, but people. At Leo Burnett, we create people's brands.

It is an approach that is really an expansion of where we began. Leo Burnett himself was the most human of communicators. He had the people's touch. He knew how to connect with people. He created some of the most iconic brands that are still growing.

afaqs!: What triggered the book?

Bernardin: What triggered the book is the power behind the simplicity of understanding the importance of people. We are in a time that people talked for generations. In the advertising and the creative industry, it is a time when we can truly have one-on-one conversations with people.

Technology facilitates that and the thing that glues them together, the connecting tissue is creativity. The power is that we are able to connect with people in so many different ways and so intimately.

afaqs!: Would you comment on the relevance of the book in the current advertising and marketing culture?

Bernardin: It is relevant to anybody interested in the creative process. The kind of creativity that we all strive for is the kind of creativity that transforms human behaviour; in this case, for the sake of our clients, brands or products.

What we are finding though is that not only is this book appealing to the people in our industry, but also to small business entrepreneurs -- people who are probably entering the market for the first time with some new product and they want to know how to do that.

This book tells what can happen if you put people at the centre of everything that you do, understanding the purpose of the product, marrying those things together, and hopefully, getting the participation. That can be true with an established brand or a start-up entrepreneur.

afaqs!: "A brand without purpose will never be embraced by the people, but a brand designed with a human purpose in mind has the power to inspire in all kind of ways." Will you elaborate on this?

Bernardin: A brand that has no purpose is very short-lived. It is like fashion, I suppose. Fashion, we all know comes in and out. A brand without a true human purpose, what good is it really?

Though it may be momentarily entertaining or popular, if it does not fulfil a basic human purpose in people's lives, it will be very short-lived.

The most famous global brands certainly have a human purpose at their core. It sounds pretty basic and it is, but it is powerful.

McDonald's again is a great example. Its purpose is simple and easy enjoyment. We tell a quality story of the brand, and it fulfils the simple purpose in people's lives of enjoyment in the choice of food that they offer.

afaqs!: What exactly would you mean by "creating acts and not ads"?

Tuttsel: What we mean by that is how we activate the human purpose in a fresh, new way that uses this incredible canvas and channels that we have available to us to weave the idea into the fabric of society.

We are looking for a much bigger platform of ideas that really enrich people's lives; that reward people for spending time with communication.

If you take, for example, the work for Canon that won at Cannes this year, most camera advertising is rational and technology led. It is looking for latest innovations and amplifying it in different ways. With Canon, we arrived at the purpose of creating inspiration for people, and lead them to participate in the brand and amplify that in a fresh way. We changed the conversation in the category and moved from a very singular experience that you have with a camera, documenting with your own lens, to documenting the whole world and sharing it with others.

That demonstrates Humankind thinking at its very, very best, because the purpose of creative inspiration was the key that unlocked the door and invited people into the brand.

The greater the involvement, the greater the participation of the people, the greater is the effect of the campaign in the marketplace.

Bernardin: Probably the best example that I can offer, and it is in the book, is the Earth Hour. Earth Hour started with the work that we were doing with World Wildlife Fund in Sydney. It drew attention to global warming.

We started that in Sydney, getting people to perform an act, which is to turn off lights for an hour a few years ago. And when we did it last year, over a billion people 'acted' and turned off lights for an hour to save the earth.

That probably is the most well-known act that was created ever. Not just an ad, but it forces people to do something.

afaqs!: But would you think that when certain brands do create such 'acts', people tend to look at it a bit suspiciously, or find it gimmicky?

Bernardin: Sure! You have to be careful that it is not gimmicky. It is high stakes today, because it is found out pretty quickly if brands are insincere, not real or do not fulfil a purpose in people's lives.

Everything is so transparent today, which means we have to do everything right. We've got to have simple ideas, great creative ideas, because we do not have a God-given right to people's attention.

Therefore, what we do better is to be truly engaging and make a difference. It makes things more challenging and at the same time, more focused too.

Our (agency) role in the creation of a brand is nothing more than a great idea, something that people want to engage with. Once we have done that, it is in the people's hands.

afaqs!: Tutssel, you said selling communication is dead. Could you explain?

Tutssel: People do not buy what you do, but why you do it.

Creativity right now is the primary asset of communication and the most valuable asset in the business. Clients are now looking at great communicators for the highest order. I was present at Cannes this year, and it was interesting to see 350 of the world's major clients in one place at one time in the South of France. They were there to be inspired, to be educated and informed, and ready to be stimulated by the power of creativity and how creativity can connect with people and create value in people's lives.

I think advertising is dead. We do not have the divine right to people's attention. People are no longer passive receivers of the brand story. People are no longer interested in advertising. People do not pick up the newspaper or magazine to read adverts. They do not put the television on to watch commercials. We have to create content that is as interesting, if not more interesting, than what they are already consuming. At the touch of a button, they can gain access to content that is intriguing and enriching.

Communication, by definition, has to change the game. We have to change the way we work. We have to be quicker and smarter, and also remember that people right now are complete students of communication. You can no longer pull wool over people's eyes. You cannot sell them anything in the old-fashioned way.

The great joy of working in this industry right now is that we have this infinite canvas that has no borders, which will allow us to produce thinking, ideas and content that capture people's imagination. We christened it 'imaginative populism'. It is really the power of creativity and imagination to transform the behaviour of people.

What we are doing as a company is moving from brand planning to behaviour planning. Understanding behaviour will become far more important for clients and agencies to truly connect with people in a far more meaningful fashion.

afaqs!: Besides the launch of the book, what remains the primary agenda of your India visit?

Tuttsel: I have been promising my friends, Prasoon Joshi and Piyush Pandey that I would spend some time in India.

However, I wanted to spend time in the Mumbai office. This region is vital to the Leo Burnett brand. It is exploding. Obama's recent visit was testimony to the role India plays on a global stage. It is no longer a nation that is rising, but one that has already arrived.

I wanted to bring the Leo Burnett Global Product Committee here to really focus on our ability to do the work that we need to do in this region to use it as a springboard to the next level.
If you look back at the past few years, there has been some exceptional work done by Leo Burnett Mumbai, certainly on the world stage.

I cannot run a company or be part of a company that runs by e-mail or from afar. Human contact is important.

This is an inspiring place. It is an exciting place to be. It almost mirrors what is happening in the industry right now.

I always expect to see interesting work from India. What I like is that it is highly competitive. The days of the Western world are well over. You see great work coming from China, India, Latin America, South America, New Zealand, Australia and Russia. You see great thinking and execution coming from different parts of the world, and it is a far more interesting landscape for the industry to operate in.

There is a real passion for creativity here. A passion that burns in people and I love to be a part of this.

First Published : November 12, 2010
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