Content, targeting and the new era of platforms: The Hershey Company’s CMO, Jill Baskin


In this exclusive interview for WARC’s annual Marketer’s Toolkit, Jill Baskin – Chief Marketing Officer at The Hershey Company – speaks to WARC’s Catharine P. Taylor about short-form video, how the e-commerce and delivery culture effects impulse brands, and why major marketers need to make their voices heard concerning major digital ad platforms.

WARC: At Hershey, you have a focus on really short-form content. I’d love to get your perspective on how you’re adopting to the current environment, short attention spans, and so forth.

Baskin: Well, the beauty of candy is that everyone likes it. Everyone knows what to do with it. You don’t need to explain anything, and, so it makes it in many ways an ideal product for short-form. In a sort of turn of events, let’s say, the shorter attention spans and shorter media times, the types of things we can use like six-second video etc. really play into what we do best. There isn’t a lot I need to say about my product. I need to show it. I need to create a feeling – and you know what to do with it. So for us, the shortening of attention spans actually plays right into our product. In terms of what we’re doing, you’re right. We’re doing a lot of things. Our philosophy both in my media department and in my creative department is that we go where the consumer is, so if their attention spans are getting shorter we’re making shorter creative, and if they’re watching in certain formats, we’re there.

WARC: You do a lot with mobile. How do you make the mobile experience different from the desktop one?

Baskin: We just create creative for the environment that it’s in, but I would say that we’re probably way more focused on mobile than we are on anything else. Mobile and TV in video would be our two things that we’re focused on, and to me the creative is not all that different. Obviously, in mobile no one has sound on, so everything is designed to be sound off and incredibly quick, which – that’s what I was referring to in the previous question – there isn’t one of our ads – no matter where it is – that you don’t understand what the brand is and that it doesn’t look delicious in the first one second.

WARC: How do you deal with the trade-off between reach and context in the digital world? Given that we all love chocolate, is media for you mainly a reach play?

Baskin: It is a reach play and I do believe in lots of growth. And I do believe you have to constantly refill the funnel, so yes it’s reach, but not at all costs. I’m not going to be in bad environments. I’m very concerned about brand safety – so there is a trade off between quality and quantity but we are definitely a mass reach brand. That’s what we try for.

WARC: What are you looking at in the next 12 months in ad-tech, programmatic, addressable TV and so forth?

Baskin: Well, we sort of take [an]audience-based approach to buying … we build the audiences that we think – for the next dollar spent what’s the most likely audience to reach? It’s an obviously very fragmented ecosystem and there’s a whole lot of players still emerging really. We’re making a fairly big bet this next year on streaming TV. And we’re trying some of the big guys and some of the upstarts, so it’ll be interesting. And we measure everything, so we’ll know at the end of the year what did best for us. We’ll be looking at the big streaming services like Roku or Hulu but we’re also going to look at upstarts like Samsung and Pluto, so we’re going to place our bets in multiple places and see really what’s the most effective for us. We do really follow sort of our mantra: follow the consumer. Where are they going? What are they doing? A couple of years ago we made a bet on gaming. And we have invested more and more heavily in Twitch. It’s worked very well for us.

WARC: How do you balance building brand with driving short-term performance?

Baskin: You know, it’s funny. There are people who purport to be able to measure short term and long term and I’m not sure, but we’ve been working with some of those measurement tools because I’m interested in it. I grew up at The Leo Burnett Company … and Leo Burnett had a famous quote about [how]all advertising should work to build immediate sales and grow the brand over the long term. And I really believe that we – if you look at even our two-second ads – they have a brand building message in them. Storytelling is at the heart of all of our brands. … I live in a short-term world, quarter by quarter, so everything has to build a short-term sale, but I’m hoping that what we’re doing is also building a long-term value because our brand is in all of them.

WARC: Outside the marketing team what’s the perspective on the importance of advertising and marketing? What kind of discussions do you get int, about all these new directions that brands really have to take these days?

Baskin: I’m so lucky to work at a company that totally values marketing, from the CEO down. Michele Buck came up through the marketing department. She is a huge advocate, and we spend a lot of time figuring out how to get the most money we can to spend against our brand, so I never lack for support, financial and otherwise, of the brand. Just never, and it’s a wonderful place to be. … But the second half of your question is, how do you keep people up-to-date on all of these things and what it’s going to take to market those brands? And so while I don’t have any resistance in needing to market them, I do have like, “Well, wait. We used to just use TV. Why can’t we do that anymore?” And so there’s a huge focus in my department on education. We spend a fair amount of time educating our brand partners [on]… all of the new media forms, what we’re doing in programmatic, what we’re doing in all of the addressable media, etc. in order to keep everyone up to speed with us. And it’s hard because it’s moving faster and faster but it’s a big focus.

WARC: How do you get beyond education to getting people feeling in their hearts that you’re right about this?

Baskin: We are constantly testing things and proving them out, so that may be part of why [leadership believes]me. … We did a recent test [where]we’re shifting media weight to beef up spending around Walmarts where sales haven’t been as good, and it’s working, so that’s wonderful. I think it’s a combination of proven testing, [and]I also think it’s partly that there is a corporate culture that we’re all rowing in the same direction. I think people really are working together.

WARC: Could you go into more detail about the Walmart targeting initiative?

Baskin: We had a theory that we can look at some of our Walmart sales data, and see when sell-through during certain seasons wasn’t as high as we expected …and when we saw it was lower, we shifted media weight from Walmarts that were doing fine to Walmarts that were lagging and sales perked up. So [as a]result of that working – and we’ve seen it work across a couple of seasons now – I took a look at that and [Hershey] said “OK, what do these Walmarts have in common?” … so we’re doing a deeper dive to see if we can make any correlation between the ones that aren’t doing well. What is it? Is it a demographic issue? Could we predict it in the future?

WARC: Are you advertising on Amazon?

Baskin: Of course, yes… I think actually what is the bigger ecosystem coming online, and we’ll see whether it works or not, is that our retailers are starting to sell media. Walmart being the biggest one, Target. And they’ll have closed ecosystems so that we should be able to read immediately who’s buying, what they’re buying and whether it’s working, so that can be huge if it works. I mean it’s all getting setup for next year but we’re going to be one of the players in that ecosystem.

WARC: People buy everything through e-commerce, but do your products still tend more to be bought in actual stores?

Baskin: One of the scary things about the rise of e-com for us, and of food delivery for us, is that it takes out the impulse. Trips to CVS and Walgreens are down, and they’re down because people are getting their drugs delivered by mail, so there’s not as much need to go to the pharmacy. Those things can hurt us. … We’re keeping an eye on it. We’re growing our e-com business as fast as we can. We’re learning about impulse within e-com because there is impulse purchasing in e-com. We’ll see where the market goes, but definitely those things are all impacting impulse purchasing.

WARC: What is your viewpoint in having so much of the ad market dominated by Google and Facebook?

Baskin: Well, it scares me. I’ll be honest. I’m not really comfortable with it. … We spread out [our adtech]because I don’t want them owning everything. It will not be good for us, but I don’t think it’ll be good for consumers either. I really don’t. I think it would be like going back to when there were three [TV] networks in the U.S. When cable came in it was better for consumers, and I don’t think it’s good for all of it to be owned in one place. I’m really uncomfortable with Facebook’s current positioning. I’ll be honest about it. … And what they’re claiming is an open market, so they’ll run any ad whether it’s truthful or not. I’m not comfortable with that and I voiced that to Facebook as a big customer. I am not comfortable with it.

WARC: What Twitter announced in pulling political advertising off its platform makes one wonder if it is partly about pressuring Facebook to do what a lot of people feel is the right thing to do.

Baskin: Well, it is and I think it’s also heading off more regulation of them too. I just think they’re all expecting to be regulated. … But I guess I also feel like – as a big advertiser – we do have a role to play in voicing our concern. We’re big purchasers of [Facebook’s] media and I want them to continue to be successful because it’s a very successful advertising platform for us, but I don’t think they’re making the right choices … so from that point of view, I’m going make my voice heard.

WARC: What are your thoughts on privacy? Obviously CCPA’s coming down the pipe. How does it affect you as a mass reach player as opposed to brands that are more niche? Their relationship with data is probably a little different than yours, I would think.

Baskin: You’re right, and it hasn’t affected us that much yet as it has some other players – you know people in DTC, like insurance or the hospitality industry that really have to worry about it. I sit on the board of the Mobile Marketing Association and it’s a big topic of conversation there. But as a result, we [at Hershey]have just started a small little subgroup, three of us, talking about the ethical use of data and what is our position at Hershey. We don’t have one currently, but we think we should. And so we’re talking about like, “What do we believe is right?” And for us a big part of it is, “Do we agree with how our partners are using data?” And we just want to get a lot more transparency from our partners. Once we invite them into our ecosystem, … are they keeping any of that data? How are they using it?

We’re careful in showing everything to the lawyer, but we decided that that just wasn’t enough, and so we wanted to take it one step further.

This article first appeared in

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