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How Diageo learns from failure

News, 17 July 2017
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CANNES: Marketers should be more willing to discuss their failures and recognise that these slip ups are often part of a longer journey towards making great work, according to Syl Saller, the Chief Marketing Officer at Diageo.

Saller raised this topic at the 2017 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. And she highlighted missteps made by Diageo brands like Smirnoff vodka and Captain Morgan – and how these offerings then responded with better messaging.

"We have all made bad work," Saller asserted. (For more details, including detailed examples, read WARC's exclusive report: How failure inspires brand building at Diageo.)

"Why don't we talk about it more? I think the humility to say 'I blew it' is the hallmark of a great leader. I think it means that you care more about getting things right on your business, right on your brand, than you do about your ego. And I think being that honest, that truthful, actually leads to better and better work, and braver and braver creative."

Elaborating on this theme, Saller pointed to Diageo's efforts to inject its brands with a clear sense of underlying purpose as an example of where failures are relatively common.

That outcome, however, reflects the sheer complexity of the task. "I reckon the track record on purpose-driven work is 50/50 at best," Saller said. "It's hard."

But persevering through the challenges is key. For example, Smirnoff is moving beyond a muddled past to now drive strong results by promoting inclusivity in nightlife, while Captain Morgan is championing a sense of fun in pressurised times.

More specifically, Saller concluded, having the "courage to fail" delivers significant pay offs in the long term. "Some people told us we were crazy to stand on this giant stage and talk about our failures," she said.

"But we think that's who we are: human. We get some things right. We make mistakes. But we are always willing to keep walking in pursuit of greatness."

Data sourced from WARC

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