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THE BRAVEST MARKETING LEADER 2019, in association with Campaign

It's been two years since The Marketing Society launched its brave agenda. Since then, it has "tackled taboos, broken down barriers and faced up to sometimes uncomfortable truths".
Brave marketing is becoming more commonplace, with a growing number of brands adopting a social conscience. Of course, behind those brands are brave marketers and this year sees The Marketing Society change its Marketing Leader of the Year award to The Bravest Marketing Leader 2019. In previous years, Society members and Campaign readers voted for who they wanted to win. For the new award, The Marketing Society is injecting more rigour into the process.
The judges, led by Society president and Diageo chief marketing and innovation officer Syl Saller, will be looking for evidence of brave marketing leadership over a sustained period of time, not just with a single campaign. Below is the shortlist — five marketing leaders who have made a difference to the industry, whether that’s adding value for customers, growing brand share or demonstrating the value of marketing.
'We are on the hunt for a marketing leader who fits this brief, who is a real game-changer, a pioneer leading the way forward to a new and braver industry and importantly someone who is an inspiration to all marketers in the UK. The winner will be someone who has demonstrated not only marketing excellence but also bravery in their approach to a considerable challenge, pushed boundaries or made an impact either in business or society in general.'
Gemma Greaves, The Marketing Society’s chief executive
The Bravest Marketing Leader 2019 was announced at the Brave Awards on 12 June at The Pavilion at The Tower of London. You can also read the piece in Campaign.

The winner

We're pleased to announce Mitch Oliver of Mars took the title. Read more about her here.

The nominees

Benjamin Braun
Samsung Europe

Michele Oliver

Mark Given

Martina Poulopati Gerhard
Essity (Bodyform)

Aline Santos Farhat

Nominee: Benjamin Braun, chief marketing officer, Samsung Europe

In just three years, Audi UK’s Benjamin Braun has made his mark on the automotive brand, creating beautiful, mould-breaking ads, including the Cannes Lions Gold-winner “Clowns”, and overhauling its approach to marketing. Braun’s personal mantra is "dare to be different", an ethos he applies to himself and inspires in his team. He is relentless in pushing beyond the boundaries of a sector often characterised by convention, epitomised by his strategic brainchild “Beautiful cars with amazing brains”. He completely reinvented Audi’s events strategy, transformed its digital experience and reengineered its media approach. His work has been recognised with a coveted Grand Prix at the IPA Effectiveness Awards.

Note: Braun has recently left Audi to join Samsung as its top European marketer, but his charismatic and risk-taking approach to marketing at the firm has left an indelible mark.

Nominee: Mark Given, marketing director, Sainsbury’s

The big four supermarkets are vying for attention in an increasingly competitive retail sector, facing threats on numerous fronts, from the economic instability around Brexit to the online giants and German discounters. It’s an environment that demands brave marketing leadership, thankfully a quality that Sainsbury Mark Given has in spades. In just two years, he has reshaped Sainsbury’s marketing function, creating a team blending creativity with data and digital. Given also epitomises the growing influence of marketing in the corporate boardroom. Realising the importance of fully owning its customer data, he convinced the board that Sainsbury’s should acquire the entire Nectar loyalty scheme and negotiated the £60m deal in 2018. Given is not one to shy from tough decisions, having had to cut his team’s headcount by 30%. He has done this whilst also leading the way on diversity and inclusion, with over 50% of senior marketing leaders female, 20% from a BAME background, while fostering an open working environment around mental health challenges.  With Given and his team producing around 500 campaigns a year, the pressure is unrelenting, and, as he says, it “takes balls of steel”.

Nominee: Michele Oliver, global corporate brand director and purpose director, Mars

Chocolate marketing is often wacky, down right objectification or just saccharine. Making it socially conscious, taboo-busting and yet funny takes a brave marketer. Michele Oliver has propelled Mars's marketing in that direction, producing advertising that tackles issues including sexuality, disability, race, age and gender. Oliver and her team's award-winning "Look on the light side" campaign started by redefining the roles of disabled people in advertising and now includes gay women and older women, by celebrating awkward but often funny moments in their lives, while its "donation" of the Skittles rainbow icon to Pride and Snickers' partnership with Gay Star News has seen it embrace LGBT+ communities. Last year Oliver was promoted to her current role, as part of Mars's mission to take its diversity agenda global.  She also advocates diversity via her role as non-executive director at The Marketing Society and as a trustee at Stonewall.  And yet for such a busy, formidable woman, she is not afraid to show weakness and believes kindness is the most underrated leadership quality.

Nominee: Martina Poulopati Gerhard, global brand communications manager, Essity (Bodyform)

When an initial version of Bodyform/Libresse's taboo-busting "Blood normal" film met with resistance from broadcasting authorities in several countries, Bodyform marketer Martina Poulopati, her team and Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO decided to change the ad. But not by toning down the content. On the contrary, Bodyform reworked the commercial to incorporate the objections, while the inevitable social media fallout the ad provoked was not merely ignored, but became central to the campaign as it ran. Poulopati continues to challenge conventions, with a prude-defying follow-up campaign celebrating vulvas to promote its shower gels. 2018 was an outstanding year for Bodyform, with "Blood normal" winning The Marketing Society Brave Brand of the Year accolade. Given its industry-wide, globe-spanning recognition it’s easy to forget just how brave Poulopati was, summed up in her words before the work’s launch: “I’m going to lose my job. But, let’s do it anyway.”

Nominee: Aline Santos Farhat, executive VP global marketing and global head of diversity and inclusion, Unilever

As a little girl growing up in Brazil, Aline Santos's mother told her she was a born activist. She has spent her life fighting for causes and bringing her spirit of activism to bear in her role at Unilever. Having joined Unilever in 1989 as a marketing trainee, she was part of the Dove global brand team in 2002 when "Beauty theory" was created. Santos admits that breaking barriers is not always easy, but at Unilever she and her team have "addressed the elephant in the room", introducing training to combat stereotyping. She has also introduced flexible working creches, more generous maternity leave and measures to tackle unconscious bias. It's an ideology that extends into Unilever's marketing output, such as in Dove's #RealBeauty and Lynx's #FindYourMagic campaigns movements. More recently she has been rallying the industry to remove stereotypes in advertising throgh #Unstereotype and The Unstereotype Alliance with UN Women.