Born: Texas, USA
Worked in: New York, London, Shanghai, Singapore
Name an innovative idea or business solution for which you are most proud. Mindshare leads the global communications strategy for Unilever, including the Dove brands. The “Campaign for Real Beauty,” which aims to challenge conventional perceptions of beauty, takes on different forms in each market.
However, China posed a challenge. The Chinese have a practical view towards beauty, which they see in absolutes: you are either beautiful or you’re not. Karl’s challenge was to take Dove’s global platform and apply it to a market like China. Karl’s solution stemmed from a Chinese saying, “There are no ugly women, only lazy women.” He realized that he could challenge the conventional perception of beauty in China by taking a woman and making her more beautiful by showcasing her spirit, attitude and determination. This insight led Karl to three standout innovations in a single campaign:
- He created a platform that featured the right message, instead of searching out for one that simply reached the target. Karl was able to take the already successful US show Ugly Betty and create a Chinese version. Because Mindshare was the producer, Karl was able to mold the story line to match the goals of the “Campaign for Real Beauty.”
- Rather than rely on product placement, Karl made the client part of the show by setting Ugly Betty in an advertising agency and making Unilever her client. He also brought Betty’s advertising suggestions to life. If Betty came up with an amazing idea for anoutdoor installation in Shanghai, then Mindshare would actually build that installation.
- The campaign changed the financial dynamic of media. The “Campaign for Real Beauty” was done with a limited budget, yet the program punched above its weight via the scale of a national TV network. This changed the economics of media, because Mindshare did not need to buy media as it became an active investor in content.
Why do people see you as an innovator? Karl understands that innovation is not about creating something that no one has seen before. It is about using existing things differently. It is not about creating a new technology, but rather about developing an idea that uses the platform differently and in a more engaging fashion that goes through the line with a single strategy.
What role does innovation play in your marketing strategy today? “Innovation is not a question of choice. Consumers are innovating every day. When a new piece of technology is created, consumers will come up with unpredictable ways of using it. So we need to understand these changes and react to them with an equally creative response—as quickly as possible. Facebook launched in 2005 and now has 500 million users globally. We cannot ignore these trends or the speed at which they change. The challenge is that there are no correct answers.”
Any other interesting aspects to your international background? Karl began his career as copywriter at Comedy Central before moving to a design agency that focused on the launch and re-launch of TV stations. Razorfish bought that company, and he spent several years working in digital creative before eventually moving to media.
Any internationalist trivia about yourself? Karl is one of a few Americans (or Ad guys) to actually go to North Korea. After handing over his phone, he traveled throughout the country, only to find one ad—a billboard in Pyong Yang.