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Emerson Group's Industry Day offers roadmap to capturing lightning in a bottle


PHILADELPHIA — What if? What if you could break down the process of capturing lightning in a bottle into its base components — the key ingredients that you could combine to be successful over and over again?

Colleen DeCourcy, chief creative officer for Wieden+Kennedy — which AdvertisingAge has described as “the world's most creatively-awarded agency” — joined the Emerson Group in late September to discuss how to keep catching that lightning in a bottle. Wieden+Kennedy is the small agency that DeCourcy said should never have landed the Nike contract that produced the widely successful "Just Do It" campaign. But they did, and its success offered insight into how to make a successful campaign more than a fluke. 

Capturing lightning in a bottle starts with being relevant — something DeCourcy said her agency helped Nike do with its Breaking2 effort, a quest to help an athlete run a marathon in less than two hours. 

"This idea of what does a consumer want comes down to [asking] ‘What do people want?’" DeCourcy said. "People want to see a brand take a risk. They want to see a brand do something that they're not sure they can do. To see human beings try; to make a claim that we're pretty sure we can all do better, it worked for them,“ she said. ”It exploded and redefined [Nike], that they were not an untouchable, weird brand in the echelon of giants. It was just a runner trying to run faster in a very improbable race.”

And that relevance is typically realized by something incredibly obvious, in hindsight.

“This is what we do when we're doing it right. It's usually based in truth,” she said. ”It's profound, it's huge and it's elusive. And when you can capture that lightning, and you can hold it long enough to show to the world, the world will go 'Ahhh!' And that's how you become relevant. ... That feeling they feel when it happens is inextricably entwined with the way they feel about your product and the possibilities they have in the universe," DeCourcy said. "Creativity is about connecting things."

And if capturing lightning in a bottle begins with demonstrating relevance DeCourcy said, it ends in delivering on what the consumers want — and not even necessarily by creating the ever-elusive the better mousetrap, but by delivering on how the consumers want to feel when they're engaging with your brand. 

"People want to feel like they're winning again," DeCourcy said. That was best exemplified in the Chrysler commercial below; the campaign taps into the resurgence of Detroit. "When it comes to luxury, it's as much about where's it's from as who it's for," the narrator dictates. "We're from America, but this isn't New York City or the Windy City or Sin City. And we're certainly no-one's Emerald City. This is the Motor City and this is what we do."

But even if companies can be relevant and deliver on how a consumer feels about their brand once, how do they replicate it? 


"We are finding that when you go out into the world and actually make experiences for people, and give them things they want to connect to their desires on a fundamental level, that great creativity, that lightning in a bottle, it scales itself," she said.

Once you've captured lightning in a bottle, however, DeCourcy warned against getting too comfortable.


“Beware of a strong culture,” she said. “I come from a company that's all about its culture. What I started to notice is that culture became a way to exclude people, temperaments and ideas that were different from ours. That winning had a certain structure to it. Culture is your guide. It's not your output.”

DeCourcy’s talk was part of the Emerson Group’s 10th annual Retail Industry Day, hosted in late September to a packed room of hundreds of merchants eager to discover how to better proposition their products for tomorrow's ever-evolving consumer.

Every day this week, Drug Store News will be featuring content connected to the Emerson Group's 10th Annual Retail Industry Day. The first presentation emphasized the importance behind connecting with people, including employees, colleagues and consumers, in an effort to get at the heart of business with CNBC's Marcus Lemonis.


And up next is Musab Balbale, VP and general manager for Walmart e-commerce, who discussed how Walmart and endeavor to capture consumer attention in an increasingly digital world.

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