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Don Draper has been the center of many a marketing conversation since the cliffside closure of the Mad Men epoch. But as Wendy Clark took the stage at Summer Brand Camp this year, I found myself overwhelmed with gratitude that the giants and geniuses of the marketing world have metamorphosed from the “Mad Men” of the 60s into authentic leaders and innovators like the one who now stood before us.
Which is why the title slide of her presentation took me completely by surprise – “Bravery, Belief & Being Underestimated.” Who in their right mind would underestimate this woman – the President of Strategic Marketing at Coca-Cola. Who could overlook the innovation powerhouse who had orchestrated the #ShareACoke campaign that continues to take the web and the world by storm? Not me. Not ever.
And then Wendy began.
Be brave – and fuel your bravery with curiosity and passion was her first message, which she underscored by leading us through the daring execution of a complex campaign that had debuted the world’s first “drinkable ad.” With the sentiment of 40MM PR impressions hanging in the balance, Wendy explained her point of view on this risk by saying – “Bravery is having a point of view and stating it, putting actions around those words that you say in light of the fact that it might be easier not to do it.”
Wendy spoke of belief, and related the story of how she and her team had recently entrusted “Hilltop”, the crown jewel of the Coca-Cola brand, to the producers of Mad Men without knowing how it would be used. My heart started to pound as I tried to put myself into her shoes, and I quickly decided that I needed to spend a little more time on the bravery section of her talk before I was ready for this level of belief.
The pollen count must have been a bit high in Dallas that afternoon, because the entire room suffered from a case of watery eyes as Wendy next showed us the danger of underestimation by demonstrating the power of recognition. Masterfully walking a captivated audience down the path of a core business challenge, she surfaced a key insight that could have been easily tossed aside as too emotional to drive a rational buying behavior. There was probably ample research to more strongly suggest paths like packaging updates, stronger health benefit messaging, even a heartthrob celebrity spokesperson – but Wendy and her team wouldn’t allow this “family” angle to be overlooked. And then, Wendy played the Minute Maid ad that showed what a mistake it would have been to underestimate the power of family and the majesty of affirmation.
It was over in what felt like seconds, and as I stood with the room to applaud the profound power of what we had all just experienced, it hit me: I will always underestimate Wendy Clark. Not on purpose, of course, but simply because no matter how high my expectations are for her work or her words, she will always deliver even more than I could have imagined.