Kit Kats as postcards? This is not the work of Mad Men

JWT’s world chief Bob Jeffrey tells Ian Burrell the secrets of global advertising

Bob Jeffrey has an expression: “idea racism”. He uses it to describe the mind-set that says the only environments in which creative work can flourish are the island of Manhattan – the Madison Avenue of television’s Mad Men – or Zone One of the London Tube map.

But the global chairman and CEO of JWT says he is allowing the “hunger and ambition” of staff in outposts such as Malaysia and Argentina to reinvigorate one of the world’s leading advertising agencies. “I would define idea racism as this very narrow-minded view that creative ideas have to emanate from New York and London. What we are demonstrating is that great ideas can happen anywhere.”

Ironically, the ethos of Jeffrey’s worldwide operation is best summed up by the work produced by JWT (formerly known as J Walter Thompson) in London for HSBC: the famous “world’s local bank” campaign, showing how customs change from one country to another. You can’t pass through an airport without seeing it. Accordingly Jeffrey likes to think of JWT, with its 200 offices in 90 countries, as the world’s local ad agency.

That local insight is exemplified by a recent campaign to sell Kit Kat chocolate bars to the Japanese. In Tokyo, the term “Kitto Katso” translates as “surely win”, so JWT capitalised on the Japanese tradition of sending students a good luck wish ahead of their exams, persuading the Japanese postal service to accept Kit Kats as edible postcards. “The Kit Kat became a mailable bar of chocolate that you could send to your class friends to wish them well in their exams,” Jeffrey says, proudly. “It has become a new ‘wishing you well’ device in Japan and it illustrates what we are doing around the world.”

Less obviously, JWT’s new pan-Asian work for Unilever’s Lux soap products features the Swansea-born Catherine Zeta-Jones tossing her auburn locks. “For a certain section of the population, Western glamour and Hollywood is very appealing to Asian women,” Jeffrey says, describing how the Lux campaign was carefully researched. The approach seems to be working. The Kit Kat campaign won a prestigious Media Grand Prix at last month’s Cannes advertising festival, where JWT also picked up five golds, nine silvers and 11 bronze awards.

JWT’s India office took home three golds and the agency’s Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou offices all picked up trophies. Jeffrey’s policy of countering “idea racism” is borne out by JWT’s global campaign for Kleenex, which was created by the Malaysia office, the Nestlé ice cream work from Argentina and campaigns for Nokia that were made in Brazil and China. Appropriately, he is talking in the restaurant of the Mandarin Oriental hotel, in London’s Knightsbridge, across the road from JWT’s London office – the fifth-largest agency in the UK and one with a chequered history.

Last September, its chief executive, Alison Burns, was recalled to the US after two years of battling to turn it around. Jeffrey thinks she and the executive chairman, Toby Hoare, have done a good job in improving the shop’s output, though he concedes that “two years ago, we really had some major issues in London”.

JWT is part of Sir Martin Sorrell’s WPP media empire, within which it is the best performing agency, recently securing new business from Microsoft and Johnson & Johnson. “We are now winning business that four or five years ago we wouldn’t have even been in a consideration list for.”

But WPP is having to shed|thousands of jobs in the face of the economic downturn, and Jeffrey agrees with those of JWT’s clients who do not foresee recovery until the latter part of 2010. He is restructuring his 10,000-strong workforce to include more young people who have grown up with digital technology, describing them as “digital natives versus digital immigrants”. “I am really putting more focus on skill sets and disciplines which are of the future, digital being the number one,” he says.

Large agencies such as JWT are often criticised by smaller rivals who claim to provide a more bespoke service, but Jeffrey points out that he spent 10 years running his own boutique Goldsmith/Jeffrey agency and makes a point of hiring people with a similar background. By combining that outlook with an appreciation that ideas can come from any culture, “I have put confidence back into being a global network,” he says.

“I’ve actually used talent in a disruptive way, to change a culture that had become conservative and stodgy.”

News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £45000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Key featuresA highly motivated ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel you sales role is li...

Head of Marketing (Online & Offline, Media, Digital, Strategy)

£85000 - £100000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing - Slough, Berkshi...

Administration Assistant / Office Assistant

£18 - 20k + Bonus: Guru Careers: An Administration Assistant / Office Assistan...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone