Cargill, Inc. decided at the end of the 1990s to recast its image as a staid commodities company to an innovative provider of solutions for its food industry customers. The company developed a 10-year plan to change the way it operated and was perceived in the world. A new logo was created to announce that change was under way at Cargill, and a fresh branding message was conceived. In the fall of 2003 an integrated marketing campaign dubbed ‘‘Collaborate>Create>Succeed’’ was launched to articulate Cargill’s new vision.
The campaign’s main target was director-level officers in food industry companies, the goal being to show them through concrete examples how Cargill could partner with them to solve problems and in the end help them make more money. The TV spots and print ads laid out a real-world problem and then revealed the Cargill solution that proved profitable to the customer. For example, one ad centered on Cargill’s efforts to help confectioners develop a better-tasting, low-sugar chocolate. Similar ads also presented these same stories on the Internet.
The long-term campaign, the budget of which was not publicly disclosed by Cargill, succeeded in improving the company’s image with the target audience, which also indicated that it was now willing to pay more for Cargill products and services. The ‘‘Collaborate>Create> Succeed’’ theme also galvanized the Cargill rank and file as they began taking to heart the concept of partnership with customers. One of the print ads in the campaign won a prestigious honor, awarded first place for the Best Single Advertisement in the American Business Media’s Creative Excellence in Business Advertising (CEBA) competition.
As the twentieth century came to a close, Cargill, the largest private corporation in the United States, with annual sales approaching $50 billion, found itself highly diversified yet typecast in the mind of its customers. The company was involved in virtually all aspects of the foodsupply chain yet remained pigeonholed as a trading company and low-cost processor. Cargill’s sheer size also worked against it, as customers had a difficult time associating such a behemoth with innovation, let alone possessing concern about the plight of the smaller companies it did business with. During the customer research phase of the ‘‘Collaborate>Create>Succeed’’ campaign, one respondent summed up an all-too-common opinion:
‘‘When Cargill says its believes in a win/win, they mean Cargill wins twice.’’
In 1999 Cargill initiated a 10-year plan called Strategic Intent, to reorganize the company for the new century and change its image. The stated goal was ‘‘By 2010, Cargill will be the recognized global leader in providing agriculture and food chain customer solutions that enable them to succeed in their businesses.’’ The achievement of this goal required a reorganization of the way Cargill did business, a communications effort to change the mind-set of its workforce, and a major marketing campaign to change the perception of Cargill with its customers. More importantly it wanted to make the case that Cargill was more than just commodities and that despite its size it wanted to partner with customers to help them solve their problems to the benefit of both parties. Cargill was restructured into 90 business units, thus allowing employees to focus on the needs of their customers. The company then began to reposition the Cargill brand, in 2001 setting up the Cargill Brand Council, comprising senior executives from the business units as well as public affairs and marketing people, to coordinate the introduction of a new logo and develop a new message. In essence Cargill became a master brand applied to a wide variety of products and services. The new logo was unveiled in February 2002, and in the autumn of that year Cargill began conducting customer research to flesh out the brand strategy. In May 2003 the new brand-positioning strategy was formulated, and in September 2003 the ‘‘Collaborate>Create>Succeed’’ campaign was launched to articulate that message to current and potential customers on an international stage.
While ‘‘Collaborate>Create>Succeed’’ tried to communicate to the world a new image of Cargill, it was primarily a business-to-business advertising campaign aimed at every level of the food industry, including processors, marketers, and retailers. But the ultimate target were primary decision makers, the C-suite, generally those executives with ‘‘chief’’ in their title (chief executive officer, chief financial officer, chief operating officer), who held the levers of power in the food-processing, food-service, and grocery retail industries. These were the people who established a company’s strategy and determined how money was to be spent. While changing the perception of Cargill among the lower ranks was good public relations and might trickle up to influence the C-suite, the campaign sought to reach senior executives directly, change their perception of Cargill, and lead to new business opportunities. In this way the company would continue to move farther away from the commodities model, selling large quantities of raw substances at cheap prices, to become a provider of more profitable value-added services—becoming a partner rather than a mere supplier. The campaign also targeted Cargill’s employees, making them more aware of the company’s new mission and encouraging them to buy into the program and begin seeing customers as partners. In the end it was the rank and file that would have to make sure that the new campaign was a promise to fulfill and not mere puffery.
With close to 100 business units, Cargill competed against a multitude of companies in a wide range of fields and virtually everyone in the food-processing, grocery, and restaurant industries. One of its chief rivals on the global stage was Archer Daniels Midland Company, one of the largest processors of oilseeds, corn, and wheat in the world, generating about half the amount of revenue of Cargill. A somewhat smaller competitor, Bunge Ltd., focused on soybean, grain trading, and fertilizer. In terms of the ‘‘Collaborate>Create>Succeed’’ campaign, however, Cargill’s competition was not the chief concern. There were not competing messages in the marketplace to address. Rather, Cargill was in a sense competing against the prevailing image of itself. The message was not that Cargill was better than ADM or Bunge but that it had more to offer to customers than they realized, that Cargill was not a complacent giant but a vibrant and innovative company.
The task of the ‘‘Collaborate>Create>Succeed’’ campaign was challenging because of Cargill’s sheer size. ‘‘Cargill is quite a complicated company,’’ Ann Ness, the company’s director of advertising and brand management, told Nicole Garrison, writing for the Minneapolis/ St. Paul Business Journal. ‘‘What we’ve found is that there is so much more that we offer that our customers don’t know about. They might know us as an egg company, but not know us as a meat company. They might know us as a meat company, but not know us as a chocolate company.’’ The last marketing campaign Cargill offered, almost three years earlier, promoted the idea that Cargill played a major role in ‘‘the world’s diverse appetite for food.’’ While it boosted the company’s image, the advertising failed to tell the world what Cargill actually had to sell. ‘‘Collaborate>Create>Succeed,’’ on the other hand, sought to provide concrete examples of what Cargill did. More importantly these examples were crafted into stories that followed the same pattern: if a customer had a need that could not be met in the general marketplace, then Cargill intervened to use its expertise to address that customer problem. Thus a major task for the marketing team was the selection of the case studies that would make the most compelling stories to illustrate the campaign’s message. The case studies were categorized within three general challenges facing customers: how to grow new products; how to simplify a complex supply chain; and how to improve the health and nutrition of a product.
‘‘Collaborate>Create>Succeed’’ was an integrated campaign with elements that included radio spots, online media, and a campaign microsite, but the anchors were 8 television spots, 12 print ads, 8 banner ads, and a website. An example of a success story told on television was the spot called ‘‘Better Beef,’’ which juxtaposed images of cattle-driving cowboys and people pushing shopping carts on the range in search of a better cut of beef. The spot’s voice-over explained how Cargill worked with supermarket chains to ‘‘round up’’ a line of high-quality hand-cut beef, followed by the tagline ‘‘This is how Cargill works with customers.’’ Another spot, ‘‘Sugar-Free Chocolate,’’ began with the problem facing people who loved chocolate but had to cut back on sugar. The solution was Cargill using its knowledge of sweeteners and sugar replacers to team up with candy makers to produce a new generation of better-tasting sugar-free chocolate.
Five of the six television spots had a corresponding print ad that made the same point but added some detail. In the ‘‘Better Beef’’ print execution, the cowboys were seen sitting on the railing of a supermarket parking lot ‘‘cart corral.’’ The text made the point that Cargill focused on the ‘‘entire ranch to retail process.’’ The ‘‘Sugar-Free Chocolate’’ print ad used a child for its image rather than a young woman, but the text made the same point about how Cargill used its expertise to help develop new better-tasting sugar-free chocolate. The print ads also relied on the tag ‘‘This is how Cargill works with customers.’’ Other ads showed how Cargill helped Italian cheese makers increase the production of Parmesan cheese by providing a specialized feed for the cows supplying the milk; how Cargill established a culinary school for sales reps so they could better serve the needs of chefs and restaurant managers; how Cargill helped baking companies to develop a new ‘‘heart-healthy’’ bread; and how Cargill worked with food-service customers to create the Thick’n Tender hamburger, a proprietary recipe for a burger that could remain in a warming tray for extended periods of time without losing its taste. Because a major goal of the ‘‘Collaborate>Create>Succeed’’ campaign was to educate the audience about the breadth of what Cargill had to offer, the print ads that touted success in one area of the food industry were run in a trade publication covering a different aspect. For people who wanted further information, the campaign’s website offered details on the case studies that were the germ of the TV spots and print ads.
The media strategy of the campaign had to take into account the nature of the C-suite target audience. Hard working and pressed for time, they watched little television, aside from business programming. Hence the television spots were shown mostly on national cable news channels, including CNN, Fox News, and CNBC. Airtime was also purchased on certain sporting events, like golf and the Olympics. The target audience read a great deal, so the campaign’s print ads ran in a range of publications, from trade publications to general business publications, such as Forbes and the Wall Street Journal. Ads also appeared on a number of websites, including WSJ Online, MarketWatch.com, and SmartBrief (a repository of daily food industry news). The online elements proved highly influential, as many executives increasingly turned to the Internet for up-tothe-moment information not available through other channels.
Minnesota-based Cargill, Inc., was established in 1865 by William Wallace Cargill when he bought his first grain business in Iowa. He was later joined by his younger brother Sam and in 1868 moved to Minnesota, where the company established its headquarters and began to take advantage of the post–
Civil War western expansion of the railroad and agriculture.
The ‘‘Collaborate>Create>Succeed’’ campaign met its intended goals. An Annual Awareness and Attitude Study conducted by Cargill in 2005 demonstrated that as a result of the campaign, decision makers in the food industry were now more likely to see Cargill as a partner able to offer innovative solutions. Moreover they were willing to pay more for Cargill products and services. ‘‘Collaborate>Create>Succeed’’ generated a great deal of interest in Cargill, reflected by the more than 50,000 visits to the microsite during the first four months after the campaign broke. The balance sheet also showed improvement, as Cargill experienced double-digit sales and profit growth in each of the two years immediately after the campaign began in 2003.
‘‘Collaborate>Create>Succeed’’ was also recognized by the advertising industry. In the autumn of 2005 one of the campaign’s print ads, the ‘‘TNT Burger,’’ won first place for Best Single Advertisement in the American Business Media’s Creative Excellence in Business Advertising (CEBA) competition. But perhaps most important of all was the effect the campaign was having on the Cargill corporate culture. The ‘‘Collaborate>Create>Succeed’’ slogan was incorporated in almost all internal and external communications and became something of a rallying cry among employees—as the message and the behavior began to reinforce one another and play a major role in Cargill, making the goal of its 10-year plan a reality.