Woah….an adman puts ethics ahead of self interest?


When the big cheeses of the ad business get together to share their thoughts about a topic, whether the format be a conference or in the press, we’re talking new business. You get your name out there, you show how smart you are, you say some stuff that might resonate with a prospective client.

So it was that last year a bunch of well-fed geniuses and snake charmers were brought together by ad industry fanzine B&T to compare the marketing efforts of Australia’s supermarket duopoly players, Coles and Woolies.

Standing in judgement are six of adland’s “most illustrious creatives, brand experts and strategists”

  • Naked Communications founding partner Adam Ferrier
  • Co-founder of CumminsRoss, Sean Cummins
  • former ECD of BMF (and founder of TheDylanAgency), Dylan Taylor
  • Ex-FutureBrand MD Erminio Putignano
  • MD of McCann Melbourne, Simon Burrett
  • Managing partner at BMF, Stephen McArdle

Disappointingly if there were disagreeements or even punches thrown, the article didn’t mention it. Instead, what stopped me in my tracks was Sean Cummins’ response to the topic of Home Brands:

Cummins refused to attribute scores to either supermarket in this category on principle. “I am professionally and personally opposed to private label offerings. I find it a blight on manufacturers and brand builders everywhere that the IP and category knowledge is piggy-backed by supermarket chains,” he says. “Our market is too small to kill Brands in favour of generics.”

Did you get that? Cummins has principles … and he’s not afraid to use them. Even in front of his competitors. Even if it means he probably won’t get asked to pitch for any retail business where Home Brands are offered. I thought that was incredibly refreshing.  But wait, there’s more. He went on:

“It’s about jobs, it is about primary industry it is about maintaining standards. Naïve and moral I may be, but I hate this tension. It is not healthy.”

For what it’s worth Sean, I could not agree with you more. (That’s right Coles, you can leave me off the list, too!). And if I ever go client-side, I’ll call you in as a reward for what you’ve done.

And then I’ll explain patiently that having morals is not in fact a sign of naivety. It’s a sign of maturity and responsibility. Oh well, close enough is good enough!

By the way, our enlightened judges scored the supermarkets a draw. Maybe that’s not so surprising if the following earth-shattering customer insights from the head marketers of each supermarket formed the basis of their agencies’ briefs:

“Our customers want good honest food which is fresh, available and affordable”, says Mr marketing director of Coles. “We want our customers to trust us to deliver best quality food and the best value every time they visit one of our stores,” said Ms GM marketing at Woolworths.

Lucky they have ad agencies who come up with different  executions, otherwise nobody would have had anything to say at all!

PS this is the first blog I’ve ever started with a “Woah” and I promise it’ll be the last.

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