Ann Mukherjee, CEO and Chairman at Pernod Ricard NA, will be chairing the Brand Purpose category of the 2022 WARC Awards for Effectiveness. Here, she talks about the challenges brought about by the pandemic, consumers’ new expectations of brands and Pernod Ricard’s definition of authentic purpose-led work.
Describe your role.
I drive the North American business for Pernod Ricard, which is the second-largest spirits company in the world. My job is to lead the company in our purpose, which is about conviviality: unlocking the magic of human connections with the brands that we sell. We believe that these connections help people achieve things that they couldn't alone, and so we celebrate such moments, responsibly and with respect.
How has your role been impacted by the pandemic? What have been the biggest challenges?
The pandemic started with trying to keep our people physically safe as they worked, because our industry never shut down. Then, over time, it became just as important to keep people mentally safe. This situation has taken a huge toll on the way people live and work, especially here in the United States with the social unrest we’ve experienced.
Additionally, as CEO, my job is not just about a return on investment, but also about a return on responsibility: the long-term sustainability of our people, our industry, and our planet. How brands communicate changed a lot during the pandemic: brands had a huge responsibility to stand up for what they believed in. People didn't want to just buy brands during this time, they wanted to buy into them: to see what they stood for, and what they stood against. At Pernod Ricard, for example, we responded to a call to action from the U.S. Administration by producing and donating hand sanitizer to help reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus, within the first week of a lockdown.
Lastly, our industry witnessed massive growth during the pandemic, so we had to be able to cater to consumers’ demands, which were very different from the ones of the past. Consumers wanted more convenience and they wanted ideas on how to consume spirits differently. It was a time of change and innovation and the approach we adopted is what I call ‘advancing through ambiguity’. In such situations, it’s only possible to succeed by being focused on the intersection between what is important and what is in your control.
Which of the changes from these past couple of years do you think are here to stay?
There are several things that are here to stay coming out of this pandemic. From a human perspective, people are re-evaluating what's important: they want to work and live differently, and they are going to demand things from their employers that they probably never would have thought of before.
In our industry, we've seen tectonic shifts that will never go away in terms of how people shop alcohol and how they consume it at home.
I also think the role brands play won't change: people have gotten much savvier and they're going to hold companies and brands to a higher standard.
What is your approach to brand purpose at Pernod Ricard? How do you ensure purpose is built into the work you do for your brands?
It’s our belief that brands have to tell timeless stories in timely ways. This means a brand has to understand its authentic historic voice and, if it doesn't have the credibility to speak, it shouldn't speak.
For example, if Harley-Davidson, which is a brand that is about being a rebel, did what we did for Absolut, which was standing up for consent and safe sex, nobody would buy it. But if Harley-Davidson wanted honour the people who protect the freedom of America, perhaps supporting the families of the troops coming back from Afghanistan, people would buy that, because that's authentic. That's the thing that brands have to remember: consumers are the savviest people we know. If a brand tries to get on an issue just because it's the issue du jour, consumers will sniff it out and you could go from being popular to unpopular overnight.
Can you share an example of a recent campaign (not from Pernod Ricard) that struck you as authentically purposeful work?
Here in the United States, Dove did a beautiful job during the pandemic. As a brand, it’s always been about real beauty, and what it did was celebrate frontline workers and their bruised skin, damaged by wearing masks for long hours at the height of the crisis. It championed the people who gave themselves to the cause of the pandemic selflessly and were proud of the skin they were in, and it worked because Dove has a lot of credibility to speak in this space.
What are you looking for in the entrants to the Brand Purpose category? Which advice would you give to them?
The first thing we will be looking for are papers that show how their work links to the timeless story of the brand told in contemporary, culturally relevant moments. The second thing we're going to ask of entrants is: “Is this solving a problem?” Brands will sometimes do things for the sake of doing them because they want to be heard. That’s fair, but at the end of the day brands have to grow their businesses and so we’ll be looking at whether their work is effective. Lastly, we’ll be looking for campaigns that promote the longevity of the brand and do it in a breakthrough way that makes people go, “Wow, I wish I had done that”.
What should entrants avoid when writing their papers?
It’s really important that the paper be written in a way that is truly credible. Good jurors can sniff out a paper that is not truthful in a second. We’ve all seen a lot of work, so we easily understand what’s original and what’s not. So, when entering a paper, it’s important that there is real rigour put behind it: entrants should put the real story together and not be creative in the outcome.
The WARC Awards for Effectiveness are now open for entries. The deadline for submission is 2nd March, 2022.
Entry is free. For more info on how to submit your work, visit the Awards website.