Dana Anderson's Signature Style of Storytelling Helps Sell More Oreos

The Mondelez marketing strategist is the client agencies wish they had

Dana Anderson, svp, marketing strategy and communications at snack and gum giant Mondelez International, recalls a new business presentation she made in the early 1980s that was anything but sweet. 

Photos: Kyrstina Archer; Hair and Makeup: Ashley Vest; Lettering: Jen Mussari

“I looked at my boss, John Hayter, who was running the [Young & Rubicam Chicago] office, and I said, ‘I think I need a little help.’ I plopped right over and they took me into the office of someone who had a couch. The lady at the front desk thought perhaps I was dying, so she called the medical people and they showed up.”

Thirty years after that fainting spell, she won’t identify the client, though she confides, “We didn’t get the business.”

Today, Anderson laughs as she tells the tale—and well she should. Public speaking has become her forte. She ranks among the most in-demand presenters in the marketing industry, renowned for her wry, witty and insightful presentations at confabs for the Association of National Advertisers and the 4A’s and at the Cannes Lions Festival.

Moreover, she serves as a catalyst for the advertising created by Mondelez brands, which last year invested a collective $180 million in domestic media and about $1.5 billion in marketing worldwide. Working closely with CMO Mary Beth West, to whom she reports, Anderson guides internal teams and outside shops as they shape the public image of brands like Oreo, Cadbury, Trident and Ritz. She joined the company in 2012, when Mondelez spun out of Kraft Foods, and was praised for shaking up the firm’s agency roster by hiring hot young shops and bringing a renewed vigor to its rather predictable creative.

But back to that fainting spell. Anderson was at the time just beginning her career, and when she arrived at work the day after the episode, she was still upset, naturally. Summoned to Hayter’s office, she got a pep talk that transformed an embarrassing moment into a powerful learning experience. “He said, ‘You shouldn’t be nervous. And when you get nervous, I want you to look at me and know I’m fighting for you.’”

That encouragement inspired a period of reflection. “I realized that I was focused on the wrong thing,” Anderson says. “I was focused on how I felt, not on what they”—the client and, by extension, consumers targeted by the company’s advertising—“needed.”

Of course, it was but one event among many that shaped her outlook over the course of a nearly 35-year career. Still, maintaining an outward focus has become an Anderson trademark. Combine that with a love of and talent for narrative storytelling (she studied journalism and advertising at the University of Missouri) and it’s perhaps no surprise that Anderson has guided memorable campaigns and won raves on the speaking circuit.

After nine years at Y&R, she moved across town to JWT, where she ran global planning on Kraft. Next, she launched FCB Chicago’s planning department and rose to CEO, a role she later held at DDB Chicago, also a Kraft shop and her final agency post before going client side in 2009.

At Mondelez, which generated $35 billion in sales last year, she leads brand strategies, consumer insights, design and media (including digital, social and mobile), with the mission of crafting content that transcends tried-and-true marketing tropes. “If you have the choice between being bored and being engaged, that’s an easy pick,” she says. “So we work really hard to make sure we take the right risks and try new things because they almost always pay off—and that makes it so much more fun for people to engage.”

She gets deeply involved in the creative process, devising brand strategies and briefing agencies on their assignments, reviewing work and providing feedback at key points in campaign development.

Getting Krafty
Colleagues say Anderson’s daily demeanor reflects her quirky, impassioned public persona. She can be a ball of energy, rattling off ideas and one-liners, but is also disarmingly plainspoken and direct. Her intense and sometimes demanding approach is tempered by unbridled enthusiasm. “She doesn’t suffer poor creative well at all,” says Tim Scott, president of mcgarrybowen, Chicago, who worked with Anderson for three decades and whose shop currently handles Mondelez’s Toblerone and Tassimo brands. “She challenges all her agencies to ‘get to great’ whether they’re big or small. She keeps pushing.”

Adds Jill Baskin, senior director of global marketing communications for Mondelez’s biscuit brands: “Does her personality get reflected in the work? Yes, in that she frees people up” to stretch their thinking and take chances.

David Droga, creative chairman of Droga5, says of Anderson, “You can see her footprint on the work,” which can be a bit edgy, while still serving its message with a wink and a smile. Droga first collaborated with Anderson three years ago, generating considerable attention for Kraft’s Athenos hummus brand with a spot starring an elderly Greek woman who informs her hip, twentysomething granddaughter: “You dress like a prostitute.” It would have been so easy, Droga says, for Anderson to remove the word “prostitute” from the script and avoid the possibility that anyone would take offense, but “she understood you had to have that dimension to make it pop.”

Now, Anderson and Droga5 are taking chances for Mondelez’s Honey Maid graham crackers by examining the notion of “wholesomeness” in today’s society. Honey Maid focuses on real-life parents from different backgrounds, including gay dads, mixed-race families, a single dad and even a family of punk rockers. The work generated lots of coverage this spring—and a predictable share of complaints. Droga5 responded to naysayers with a memorable video, using printouts of hateful comments the campaign received to spell the word “Love.”

“Willingness to let part of an audience go is bold,” says Catharine Hays, executive director of the Future of Advertising program at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, who applauds Mondelez for “doing so with a positive message [that] suggests there is hope for advertisers having a conscience.”

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