CX Business on the Move Future of Media

Why Mars retained MediaCom and Essence for its media business


By Sam Bradley, Senior Reporter

February 22, 2022 | 7 min read

Mars announced last week it had retained MediaCom as its global media partner. We catch up with the brand on why it stuck with the WPP agency.

skittles on a production line

Mars has retained MediaCom as its global media agency / Mars Inc

Mars, Incorporated presides over a huge commercial empire that includes confectionary, petcare products and food. But shifts in the way that consumers purchase and engage with its many brands have accelerated during the pandemic, meaning that some of its business lines are under pressure to adapt. At the same time, the company has vowed to double in size over the next decade.

It’s a fair amount for its agency partners to be getting on with. The corporation, which typically invests about $1bn a year in media, recently renewed its partnership with WPP’s MediaCom, which managed to expand its business with Mars by bringing Essence and The&Partnership on to the account. Following a 10-month review, the partnership will last until 2025.

Rankin Carroll, chief brand and content officer at Mars Wrigley and executive sponsor for media at Mars, tells The Drum that ”media is a massive growth driver” that will help the company meet its goals.

Mars is ”stepping up” its investment in addressable media, he says, and exploring auction-based biddable media hubs – which will allow it to buy media at a huge scale, but with the granularity required for personalized content to hit home.

With its commitment to that strategy deepening, there were only a handful of agencies that could meet Mars’s needs. Carroll says it came down to a two-horse race between WPP and Omnicom. ”We challenged them, before we go looking elsewhere, to show us what they have that would enable us to shift,” he says.

In the end, Mediacom’s ability to draw in support from Essence was a major factor in the win. ”Being introduced to a partner within the GroupM network like Essence has been very powerful,” he says.

Simon Sadie, chief executive of GroupMW, WPP’s team for Mars, explains why MediaCom brought in its sister agency. ”Mediacom retains the strategic leadership on the business and Essence performs a very specific role, about establishing the regional capabilities,” he says.

In particular, Essence will help expand Mars’s ability to use addressable media across different markets through its system of regional hubs. While MediaCom already operated such a hub in the US, the same infrastructure in Europe, Latin American and Asia Pacific is operated by Essence. ”We always ensure that Mars gets the very best of what WPP can bring, irrespective of what agency it comes from,” says Sadie.

Persevering with Mars’s existing, 30-year-long relationship with MediaCom was also a pull factor. According to Sadie: ”One of the great things about Mars that sets them apart is they tend to be quite loyal to their partners when those partners deliver for them. They take the view that a partnership is like a marriage, and that one should only get divorced if something serious has happened.”

Pet subject

Petcare will be a key focus for the agency after Mars identified strong growth potential post-Covid. Demand for pet products and services – Mars supplies both the consumer and specialist markets through its petcare business – has risen significantly during the pandemic. Since 2019, the domestic dog population of the US has risen 9m to 108m, while the cat population rose 5m. ”That business has been very resilient, and had some nice performance over the last couple of years,” says Carroll.

However, the sector is in the process of transforming from a traditional store-and-customer model to one that resembles a service business more and more.

Sadie says: ”The way in which people choose to buy their products is changing. A huge proportion of their goods are being bought on impulse, but the proportion that’s being bought through new channels is growing very, very quickly. Their petcare business is digitizing very fast.”

Increasingly, pet owners want personalized food products delivered regularly – meaning the company must begin taking a very different approach to the market than it does for confectionary, if it’s to stay ahead of the competition.

”The way in which we help them maintain their profitability and growth is by creating a system that enables that ... and enables them to converge what they do in commerce and media together.” In practical terms, that means creating a ”data operating system” that allows Mars to make sense of the signals it’s already capturing, then using that data to make media buys that support its personalization goals.

Carroll says ”we need plans that are reaching both common needs and common messaging to large cohorts of people and pet owners, but equally we need to double down when it’s smart and when there’s a return on personalization.

”One of the things we’re trying to avoid is falling down the rabbit hole of personalization because for some of our businesses it becomes quite wasteful – it’s not going to get a better return.” At the same time, he explains, Mars wants to begin buying media in a more precise fashion. ”The investment and the rigor we put into this helps us get better answers, better analysis and better questions. If we just keep buying block reach the way we used to, we were probably wasting a great deal of our investment.”

Creative angle

Increased activity across multiple media streams will also increase Mars’s need for dynamic creative content. The&Partnership has been brought in to meet that need. ”We’ve created a structure that enables that team to work very simply for Mars,” explains Sadie.

Carroll says the creative agency’s inclusion in the partnership doesn’t affect its creative account, which is held by DDB. It’s a case of ”horses for courses,” he says.

”BBDO and DDB are longtime, fantastic partners that have delivered us incredible content and made our brands famous, and long may that continue.”

Rather than delivering ad creative, The&Partnership will fill the ”gap” created by Mars’s drive into ”personalization at speed and scale.”

”The content that we deliver needs to be done in such a way that it’s relevant, that essentially to growth, that it’s tapping into the customer agenda,” he says. ”And the stories we’re telling around our brands [need to be] purposeful in capital P terms, so that more of our brands are making a difference in the world. The capabilities of The&Partnership brought that into the mix.”

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