Mars promotes marketing VP Michele Oliver to global brand purpose role for US diversity push

Oliver has been the ultimate driving force behind Mars’ quest to put diversity and inclusion at the heart of its brand values / Mars

Mars has promoted its vice-president of marketing Michele Oliver to the newly-created role of global corporate brand and purpose director as the FMCG-giant brand looks to take its fruitful diversity agenda to the US.

The move comes as Maltesers launches its latest UK campaign. It continues the brand's effort to make its ads more inclusive, with the creative focused on misrepresented women in society.

Oliver told The Drum that Mars is now having conversations about how to scale similar “ambitions and intentions” in the US.

“There is room for every market to be more inclusive, it’s just a case of where you focus first, and in the US [diversity] is very top of mind at the moment, they are in a similar situation to the UK,” she said.

Oliver has worked at Mars for 23 years, and of late has been the driving force behind Mars’ quest to put diversity and inclusion at the heart of its brand values – be via casting, creative or media partnerships.

In the UK, the snackmaker has set the blueprint for using the lens of diversity to create more effective advertising, tackling sexuality, race, gender, disability and age head on.

Mars’ 2016 Maltesers ads which celebrated universally awkward moments from the perspective of disabled people proved to be the brand’s most fruitful campaign in a decade, delivering 8% growth in sales and a 10% uplift in brand affinity.

Elsewhere, for the past two years Mars has shed the Skittles rainbow to mark Pride Month while Snickers has sought to appeal to the community via a tie up with Gay Star News.

In March, Mars also announced a deal with the Football Association (FA) to sponsor the England national women’s and disability teams as well as retaining its hold of the men’s national team. As part of the partnership, the group will put media spend behind inclusive messaging across several brands in its portfolio and seek to get more female and BAME coaches involved in the game.

And it's this kind if activity that Mars will be hoping to translate stateside. Last week, Oliver went to New York to meet with fellow members of the UN and Unilever’s cross-industry Unstereotype Alliance – which brings advertisers together to tackle the use of gender stereotypes.

A colleague from Mars’ US office was poised to join Oliver so they could “share best practice” as a starting point to “try to make a bigger impact” by leveraging the sheer scale of Mars’ advertising across the two countries.

"The intention is that some point in the future people won’t even notice that we’re trying to be more inclusive in our advertising," said Oliver, adding that from a diversity point of view "intersectionality" was key.

"Gender is the first place you go because 50% of the population are women," she mused. "You start there because it’s the most obvious place to do so however it is really important that we're intersectional in everything that we do... the point is not to include certain sub groups but to be inclusive to everyone and anyone."

Mars has carried out its own research into this globally, with Oliver noting that in the US advertiser focus is currently fixed on including the African American community, while the UK is more tuned in on gender.

"Although, the gender agenda has become a lot more prevalent in the US thanks to campaigns like #MeToo," she caveated.

When Mars unveiled its most inclusive Maltesers iterations they came on the back of Channel 4's Superhumans Wanted competition, which was launched to coincide with the Rio Paralympics. The contest gives brands the chance to win chance to win £1m of the broadcaster’s airtime to develop a creative idea that put disability and diversity at the heart of the campaign.

This year's airtime was awarded to Lloyds after Volvo unceremoniously pulled out of the race. When asked how the industry can get to a point when broadcasters don't have to dangle a carrot for brands to bet big on diversity Oliver pointed towards a number of initiatives she's currently involved in to ensure the inclusively agenda is for the long-term.

"There is a real pull from the industry - people want to do this but what they need is a bit more help as to how and what to do differently," she added.

As well as representing Mars on the Unstereotype Alliance, Oliver's role as non-exec director of the marketing society allows her to share her learnings with other marketers. She also chairs a cross-client panel for Maltesers' agency of record AMV BBDO which is focused on diversity.

"The wonderful proof point I have is Maltesers... I literally couldn’t have a more persuasive way to say not only can we appeal to your sense that we have a responsibility to do them in way that is positive, good and progressive for the world – it also sells chocolate and that makes commercial sense."

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.