Why Are Brands Looking To America For Marketing Bosses?

Why Are Brands Looking To America For Marketing Bosses?

Take a look online and you’ll see many Americans confused and confounded by Australian culture.

Lead image L-R: Susan Coghill, CMO, Tourism Australia; Amanda McVay, chief customer officer, Coles; Vandita Pandey, CMO ANZ, snacks and beverages, PepsiCo. 

Whether it’s the lack of parking at the MCG for Taylor Swift’s recent gigs, musician Azealia Banks calling the entire country “unimportant” and “culturally stale” or simply the Australian accent — the yanks can’t quite seem to wrap their heads around the land down under.

But three of Australia’s most important marketers hail from the land of the free and the home of the brave — Susan Coghill, CMO, Tourism Australia; Vandita Pandey, CMO ANZ, snacks and beverages, PepsiCo; and Amanda McVay, chief customer officer, Coles. What’s more, Pandey only arrived in September 2020. McVay arrived just last year. Though having spent more of her professional career outside the US than in it, Coghill stands as something as an exception. So why are brands looking overseas to head up Aussie marketing?

“This is a big move for our family and I’m looking forward to all that is to come,” McVay wrote when her new gig was announced.

She had previously spent 11 years at Michigan-based retailed Meijer and nearly 10 years at Minneapolis-based retail behemoth, Target. Speaking to B&T as part of the CMO Power List, McVay noted that food was “incredibly important to Australian culture,” though she was “still getting to know” how Aussies tick.

Pandey, meanwhile, said she was still getting her head around some Australian celebrities despite her longer stay in the Antipodes. However, her transition would have been slightly easier given the near-11 years she had spent within the PepsiCo family. Her previous role had seen her serve as the general manager of Bare Snacks in Dallas.

For Coles, the transition away from her predecessor, Lisa Ronson’s, CMO role to McVay’s chief customer gig involved getting closer to the products, technology and, of course, customer concerns and demand — McVay has direct experience with all three.

“We won 19 Product of the Year Awards all own-brand as part of my chief customer officer role. One of the other ways we measure ourselves is through trying to reach as many customer need states as possible. One of the 19 award-winning items was the gluten-free Coles brand chocolate chip cookies,” she explained.

“I’ve watched and been a part of different retailers that have made this transition,” McVay said.

“The way that I’ve looked at it is that marketing is one part of the entire customer strategy. It’s the way we present ourselves in many forms and it all starts with that customer insight. What are we trying to achieve from that customer perspective and tying that into generating demand. That’s everything from the exclusive products we put on the shelf to the way we conduct research and the responsibility we have over customer data. Then, bringing that together to ensure we go to market with creative content to the right customers at the right time through the right channel?”

McVay’s crowning experience, however, is in retail media. The format is one of the hottest tickets in town for Australian marketers. Yesterday, B&T revealed that oOh!media would start separately reporting the financial performance of its reooh retail media arm in 2025. In December, Morgan Stanley estimated that retail media networks would siphon $1.1 billion in ad spend away from traditional media owners by 2027. Just a day later, the Interactive Advertising Bureau launched a foundational retail media training scheme.

Coles360, the grocer’s retail media arm has been growing quickly and had installed 500 screens across its store footprint in March last year, seeing its revenues through the channel just by 27 per cent. However, it lagged some way behind Woolies’ Cartology retail media business.

“I could talk all day about retail media,” said McVay, “it was very much part of my job in the US. They’re really important to the ecosystem of advertising, marketing and media. Retailers, for a long time, have really understood the customer from the point of purchase and transaction. What’s refreshing about the evolution of retail media is understanding the full circle of advertising efficacy and tying your advertising objectives into reaching certain customers and what actually changes behaviour. But it’s still very much in its infancy here in Australia.”

Pandey’s remit at PepsiCo is different. Rather than looking to bring the best learnings from America down under, she’s focused more on building Australian distinctiveness among its stable of global brands.

“Smiths is a great example,” she explained.

“Obviously it’s Lays in most other markets, Walkers in the UK, Sabritas in Mexico and they’re very similar in product but also in positioning. There are more similarities than differences. If you take a step back, you realise that even if you look at the last 10 years of communication, innovation and any activation we’ve done, there are a lot more similarities. We’re trying to do a better job of, at least for similarly developed markets with similar cultures, etc. how we build on the ‘hero’ work from the centre in partnership with the markets.”

For what it’s worth when we mention Gary Lineker, the longstanding star of Walkers’ ads in the UK, Pandey is none the wiser — though her need to brush up on long-retired English footballers is perhaps slightly less pressing than her need to know her Karl Stefanovics from her Kyle Sandilands.

But what is clear is that the American influence on Australia’s top marketing gigs is growing — whether through experience with particular technologies in McVay’s case or a renewed focus on global brand building with Pandey. And we all stand to benefit.

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