Geoff Whyte is no stranger to the creative award scene. Over the course of his 20 year career, he has collected enough statuettes to fill any career creative with envy.
Except that you and I both know that Geoff Whyte isn’t a career creative. Right now, he is CEO of Nando’s Southern Africa, but has held down a number of positions ranging from marketing manager at SAB-Miller to marketing director of organisations including KFC and Cadbury Schweppes. This means, of course, that he is much more of a suit than a creative – driven not by the number of gold and silver gongs in his cabinet but rather by sales, profit and business success.
The fact that he has managed to amass both is testament to his belief in the power of creativity as an effective business tool – and the reason why the Creative Circle has chosen him to be the first recipient of its Creative Champion award, launched to recognise marketers who advocate the use of creativity to deliver business results. Asking Whyte why he believes so wholeheartedly in the power of creativity is like asking a roomful of parents why they believe in the power of procreation.
“Because it works. Because it has been proven to work, time and time and time again. Because the results are unequivocal, incontrovertible and undeniable.”
“As a marketer, your job is to drive sustained growth in profit. In order to do this, you need to influence how consumers behave – by changing how they perceive your brand. To make this happen you need to break out of the ordinary. You will never change what people believe by showing them something similar to what they’ve seen a thousand times before.”
“Fresh ideas demand attention. They make people think. And, more importantly, they have the power to make people think differently.”
Whyte believes that it is this ability to shift perception that is so powerful. He often quotes Raymond Rubicam’s view that the power of a creative idea is inversely proportional to the number of times it’s been used before. He also wholeheartedly supports the challenge Rubicam made to his agency in the early days of Y&R – “Resist the usual!”
Whyte referred to this in his 2010 Apex Awards keynote address saying “In the world of marketing, the familiar is only attractive to the mediocre.”
Interestingly, Whyte is full of praise for South African creativity. Unfortunately, he also believes that, far too often, this creativity is disconnected from what makes a brand appealing to consumers. This results in what he terms ‘sponsored entertainment’ – intriguing short films with a logo stuck on at the end.
“You can’t change what consumers believe about your brand if you don’t know what beliefs you want to create in the first place,” he says matter-of-factly. “Well constructed brand positioning enables creativity.”
According to Whyte, a significant challenge facing the creative industry is the scarcity of marketing know how amongst clients. As a result, too many people in marketing positions dump all their research on the agency then ask them to do the brand positioning work and write their own creative brief – which really irks Whyte. He is almost evangelical when he talks about the importance of separating the disciplines of marketing and advertising:
“Your job as a marketer is to clinically define and substantiate your brand’s difference and advantage.”
“Your job as an agency is to find a fresh, creative way of creating belief in this difference and advantage in order to change consumer buying behaviour.”
“For a marketer, it all comes down to positioning. If you define your brand well and have the balls to buy something new creatively, it’s hard to make bad advertising. Get this wrong, however, and it will be almost impossible to produce anything good” says Whyte.
And what defines good advertising?
“It’s a fresh creative idea that grabs consumers’ attention and changes what they believe – in turn positively influencing sales.”
Unsurprisingly, as the Creative Circle’s first Creative Champion, Whyte’s career is littered with how he and his agency partners have successfully used creativity to drive brand performance. The results are documented not only in the agency world’s coveted figurines, but also in the business world’s language of hard facts and figures:
Whyte relaunched a struggling Castle brand in 2004 with revised packaging and a fresh new advertising campaign that ditched the brand’s many clichés. The first commercial in the new campaign, the controversial “Worldwind” won both a Gold Loerie and a Silver Clio, while the rest of the work on the brand netted another 11 Loeries, as well as several Raptors for its rugby and cricket sponsorship campaigns.
But more importantly it marked the beginning of the brand’s turnaround from an eight-year decline. At the time, many South Africans believed that Castle was headed in the same direction as the ill-fated Lion Lager, but today, Castle Lager has regained its status as one of South Africa’s most iconic brands.
During his time at SAB, Whyte also relaunched Hansa with the much-lauded “Love/Hate” campaign, Carling Black Label with “More Refreshment, More Reward” and Castle Milk Stout with the ground-breaking “Suitor” commercial – SAB’s first TV ad produced in an African language.
The fortunes of both Hansa and Milk Stout turned around from double-digit sales declines to double-digit gains, whilst Carling Black Label hit a record market share high. All of this contributed to SAB being awarded the Loerie for Marketing Organisation of the Year in 2004.
In 2006, Whyte made the move to Cadbury Schweppes, where his work across brands including Cadbury Dairy Milk, Lunch Bar, Chappies, Endearmints, Stimorol, Halls (and many others besides) captured the attention of the creative community again, through the likes of the much-loved Lunch Bar Bear/Crutches “Obviaas” campaign, the Chappies “Unwrap the Adventure” series, Hall’s UFO ad and the Endearmints “Library” commercial which was an early success for director, Dean Blumberg.
While the creative accolades flowed thick and fast, so too did sales: The team’s work contributed to the company’s double-digit growth in market share through 2007-2009 in every business division – moulded chocolate, chocolate bars, candy and chewing gum. Over that period, the South African business led the Cadbury world in market share gains which resulted in several global awards.
Other accolades at the time include the National Business Awards Marketing Excellence prize in 2008 and 2009; the Sunday Times/Markinor Top Brand Award in confectionary for 2008, 2009 and 2010; three Apex awards in 2010 for Lunch Bar, Stimorol and Dentyne, and for Whyte personally, the coveted title of Sunday Times Marketing Person of the Year in 2009.
More recently, Geoff’s work with FoxP2 on Frank.net and Ster Kinekor has been recognised both locally and internationally, with the Frank.net “Death doesn’t have to try too hard” campaign winning in Cannes and at D&AD, as well as garnering the Loerie Radio Grand Prix. Ster Kinekor’s “Intersection” ad was recognised with a Gold Loerie, as well as a Gold Loerie Creative Effectiveness award. Both campaigns went on to win Gold Apex awards having driven exceptional business growth.
Over the past year, in his current position as CEO of Nando’s Southern Africa, Whyte has been instrumental in launching the brand’s “Good Mood Food” campaign, including the hugely popular “Blue Lights” ad which attracted over half a million YouTube downloads in just one week in late 2014.
Geoff is excited about this new campaign, creatively yes, but more so in terms of what it can do for the brand, by positioning it in the minds of South Africans as the brand that “Fires it up”, igniting debate on issues ranging from blue lights to potholes and load shedding, providing ordinary people with the opportunity to vent their frustrations – but always with a trademark smile.
Clearly, Geoff Whyte is a marketer with the enviable ability to bring home the double whammy of figurines and figures, the Gold Standard when it comes to marketing success.